What is Process Automation?
Process automation involves using computer technology and software engineering to help power plants and factories in diverse industries, such as paper, mining, and cement, to operate more efficiently and safely. It’s a general term used to describe any process being automated through the use of computers and computer software, but at GlobaLogix we describe process automation as the software employed to create the most efficient operating value. Process Automation requires less human intervention and less time to deliver, which therefore involves less errors and significant cost savings.
Background and Technology
Prior to process automation, plant operators were tasked to physically monitor performance values and the quality of outputs in order to determine the best setting to run the production equipment. Maintenance is also carried out at intervals, resulting in operational inefficiency and unsafe operating conditions.
Process automation simplifies the above scenario, with the help of sensors throughout the plant that collect real-time data on temperatures, pressures, flows, etc. The information is stored and analyzed on a computer, where the entire plant and each piece of production equipment can be monitored in a control room.
By employing process automation, plant operating settings are automatically adjusted to achieve the optimum production. Plant operators can also manually override the process automation systems when necessary. The process automation system can also adapt and learn from the past and predict trends, which helps speed up the response time to varying conditions.
Process Automation and Increased Efficiency
Plant owners want their equipment to deliver the highest possible output with as little production cost as possible. n many industries including oil, gas and petrochemicals, energy costs can represent 30 to 50 percent of the total production cost.
A process automation program uses measurements to show how the plant is working, but also to simulate numerous operating modes to find the optimal strategy for the plant. It’s unique characteristic is the ability to “learn” and predict trends, helping speed up the response time to changing conditions. Process automation software regulates plant equipment to run at the optimum speed that requires the least energy, while also ensuring the consistency of quality—less energy is wasted producing defective products, and process automation forecasts when maintenance is required, so less time and energy is spent stopping and restarting equipment for routine inspections.
GlobaLogix process automation technology can be used, for example, to help power plant operators enhance their combustion process and reduce emissions from greenhouse gases and other pollutants by improving boiler controls, monitoring flame quality or measuring coal flow. Process automation can also be used to measure soot on the inside of boilers in coal-fired plants, which helps plant operators and engineers choose the perfect time for regular cleaning and translates into significant fuel savings.
A process automation system installed in a new plant ensures high operating efficiency from the start, while existing plants can achieve the same benefits from systems they already have installed.