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FDT technology provides vertical integration in Nedmag’s automation system

11 August 2009

Wouter Hendriks, of Yokogawa Europe B.V, describes the implementation of an integrated automation system by Nedmag Industries at its plant in Veendam in the Netherlands.

Nedmag is the leading European supplier of very pure, synthetic dead burned magnesium oxide (DBM), processing about half a million tons each year. The raw material processed at Nedmag Industries Mining & Manufacturing is extracted from deep inside the earth. In the north of The Netherlands, the highest-quality magnesium chloride salt deposits lie 1500 m below the surface. About half a million tons of them are extracted by Nedmag every year. Nedmag, which employs approximately 160 people, is the leading supplier of very pure synthetic dead burned magnesium oxide (DBM) in Europe. In 2007, sales of DBM, magnesium and calcium chloride, in solutions or as solid matter, yielded a turnover exceeding €75 million.

Magnesium oxide, sintered at high temperatures, is used in steel and cement production. Magnesium and calcium chloride are put to use in oil and gas extraction, or as animal feed additives in agriculture. They help to keep the streets ice-free during our cold season, while in hot places like Saudi Arabia they bind sand to the streets. Thus, their uses are numerous and varied.

Automation – a haphazard mix
The company’s automation installations had evolved over time into a somewhat haphazard automation mix of assorted controls, process control systems, remote I/Os and field devices. In addition, the various components used different communication protocols and device integration technologies.

In the last few years, the enterprise has continuously invested €8–10 million annually in new projects and the modernisation of the site’s automation network.

Nedmag has now met the challenge of vertical integration by the use of field device tool (FDT) technology, a highly versatile frame application and a clever gateway. The integrated solution saves money throughout the complete plant life cycle and opens up the way to efficient asset management.

In the FDT frame application, it was required to establish point-to-point connections between devices and laptops, read the data on the laptops, and synchronise them on the server. Fieldmate, the Yokogawa assistant for device management, meets these requirements, and is able to communicate with all devices. It supports FDT and device description (DD) technologies and does not differentiate between HART, Foundation Fieldbus or Profibus. With a few quick clicks, Nedmag engineers now have unlimited access to all modern field devices and considerably more efficient maintenance services.

In the future, it is the company’s aim to access, read and maintain all of its 4000 intelligent HART devices from one single server and to implement modern asset management.

The integrated solution saves money throughout the complete plant life cycle and opens up the way to efficient asset management.

A promising concept
When Wim Zomer, Head of Technical Automation at Nedmag, joined the company, it would take two days of downtime until the plant could be restarted after any failures. That situation was costing so much money that the company decided that it would be more efficient to make investments to keep the plant running.

The next big target of the division manager was, within the next five years, to have the inconsistent, patchy automation basis of the three separate production plants of Nedmag - dry and wet production and Calmag - to be harmonised and communicating with one another. In the future, it is the company’s aim to access, read and maintain all of its 4000 intelligent HART devices from one single server and to implement modern asset management.

“At first, we decided it had to be HART. This is the technology we want to keep. Today, a third of our devices are intelligent”, explains Zomer. “The big idea was to make all devices accessible from one central point. I made up a concept in my mind, and implementing it will still keep us busy for a while.”

To find out how they could best develop their automation structure, his team began contacting various suppliers. Eventually they evaluated half a dozen software packages for device integration, and the Nedmag team decided that FDT technology would be the solution that suited them best.

Whenever someone from maintenance has to do work on site, the hours quickly pile up. According to Zomer, “The costs go right through the roof; we were spending too much money on this. There is room for improvement, and in future we want to do a better job here. With FDT technology, we can increase availability and reduce the number of downtime periods. Whenever some plant unit fails for one day, it can cost us as much as thirty thousand euros.”

Added value from start to finish
In the FDT frame application, it was required to establish point-to-point connections between devices and laptops, read the data on the laptop, and synchronize them on the server. Not every software package enables this. Fieldmate, the Yokogawa assistant for device management, does meet these requirements as a real universal storage platform (USP). The integrated tool for device management is the first available on the market that is able to communicate with all devices. It supports FDT and device description (DD) technologies and does not differentiate between HART, Foundation Fieldbus or Profibus - providing one more reason for Nedmag to opt for this solution. With a few quick clicks, it enables unlimited access to all modern field devices and considerably more efficient maintenance services.

In Zomer’s words, “We, the users, would like to use a single configuration tool through which we can access all remote devices. What we do not want are manufacturer-specific and time-consuming special software packages that may be used only once a year and which therefore no one knows how to operate.”

The benefits of FDT become clear during the engineering phase. For example, it is no longer crucial for all the instruments to be configured. Up until now, Nedmag needed two technicians to parameterise all instruments. Today, the task is completed by only one worker in a shorter amount of time.

It often happens that when everything is finished some modification of the measurement range is required. This
Process used to require the automation team to remove the device again and recalibrate it. “With HART communication, this has become so much easier. We are saving time and money. The higher flexibility allows us to react much better and more quickly to later requirements from process engineering”, explains Zomer.

Communications between different worlds
The long-term intention is that staff can access Fieldmate via an Ethernet network. “The brilliant thing about the concept is that we can use the infrastructure already existing in each room”, says Zomer, not without some pride in his voice. Via secure Internet connection, members of the team can even connect and act at night or during weekends from home if necessary.

To access the remote I/O (a Siemens ET200M system connected via Profibus) from a central point, however, one last piece of the puzzle was missing: an Ethernet/Profibus interface. At an exhibition, Nedmag engineers discovered a gateway enabling HART transparency via the Internet. However, the supplier could not provide either support for the Siemens remote I/O or a device type manager (DTM). As a result, the Nedmag automation team went ahead with looking for an integrated solution in the form of a gateway and driver from a single source and supplier. The solution was found in communication specialists Trebing & Himstedt. 

As part of the Trebing & Himstedt DTM Library, the DTM for the ET200M Siemens remote I/O had already been certified. “The Ethernet-Profibus interface was up and running immediately, without any problems”, confirms Zomer. “Without this gateway, we could not ‘see’ a single remote I/O or device in the FDT frame application. Central access would have become a very distant goal. A key feature is that HART over Profibus is now available and accessible independent of the system provider.”

Cost-saving data
At the moment, the Nedmag automation specialists can still only access some of the 4000 instruments through HART and via portable PCs, but that number is growing. Because of the positive experience with device operation via FDT, further parts of the plant are to be connected step by step in the coming years. At present, four pilot projects are running in the Dutch enterprise. The team wants to speed up things considerably, and automation of the sintering furnace for the main DBM product is scheduled for 2009.

“We would like to carry out Asset Management, but it cannot be done overnight. The main thing is to dare to take the first step into the future”, underscores Zomer.

“The detailed, comprehensive information supplied by these intelligent devices is what brings about the cost savings.” For instance, parameters can be compared and cooling water consumption can be read. If the latter increases, this points to a dirty cooler which needs to be cleaned the next night. Efficient life-cycle management means the right amount of maintenance work – not too much and not too little. FDT technology, the Yokogawa Fieldmate, and the Trebing & Himstedt xEPI make this possible.


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