If your process control system is more than 20 years old it's worth considering upgrading it. Installing new digital technology can reduce your staffing levels and maintenance costs and improve the efficiency of your production operations. As well as basic closed-loop controls, there are modern systems capable of more complex control.
You can replace single-loop controllers that are used to sequence simple activities, like the mechanical operations involved in process start up and shut down, with sequence controllers such as programmable logic controllers. These can be expanded as different aspects of production are automated. They can include both single-loop and more advanced controllers.
Distributed control systems
These are modular systems that control large or complex processes. Operators can adjust the set-points of many different controllers from a central control room. A high-speed network or 'control bus' connects each controller to a central control unit. This sends messages such as fault codes to other high-level systems so that you can make sure you achieve high levels of quality and throughput.
Supervisory control and data-acquisition systems
These sophisticated software packages are used to control a wide range of industrial processes and can store production details so that they can be analysed later. Advanced systems include features that help operators to control and optimise production automatically.
Issues to consider before upgrading
If you decide to upgrade your process control system, you should plan carefully as it will involve a high capital cost. You can do this by:
- keeping it simple - ensuring your proposed system isn't unnecessarily complicated and expensive
- carrying out a feasibility study - estimating what the project will cost and the value of the benefits it will bring
- involving team members - making sure everyone who will be managing, operating and maintaining the system is part of the planning
- carrying out a pilot study on part of the process control system
- raising staff awareness about the new system and why it's been installed
- putting operator training in place
- setting up a maintenance schedule to keep the system running efficiently