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Managed switches for critical control networks

16 January 2017

Future proofed automation and data communications within the oil and gas sector is pivotal in improving operational efficiency and safety, which is why Unipetrol set out to upgrade the network backbones for an ethylene plant.

Chempark Záluží is the largest chemical production facility in the Czech Republic. Owned by Unipetrol, the facility is currently the seat of many chemical and service companies and is a daily workplace for 6,500 employees from 180 companies.

The part of the plant where ethylene is produced is particularly important as it is widely used as a component in many other products produced at the plant. A stoppage in the ethylene production would have enormous economic implications because it would affect overall production at the site. For this reason the ethylene plant has been the subject of a complete new network backbone for power control and distribution as well as an upgraded network backbone for the emergency shutdown system has to support applications in the unit.

The communication infrastructure and the systems was built and implemented by Inelsev, a Czech company that provides services for industrial automation and energetic systems. A decision was made to use Westermo switches as part of the design, based on an existing strong working relationship between Inelsev and Westermo’s Czech distributor.

“This is a plant where reliability is absolutely crucial. The systems are designed to be extremely robust in order to guarantee continuous operation and to protect the plant and the people,” said Pavel Ješina, R&D manager at Inelsev. “In the previous network solution, we used another switch brand that we had to replace. The main reason for that was the network ring recovery time. Whenever the network had to recover, it took so long that connected equipment (OPC servers) would not start up and connect properly. WeOS powered Westermo products, including the ring network protocol FRNT with 20 ms recovery time, was a perfect fit.” 

An upgrade project
The two networks were built in 2011. The emergency shutdown system was an upgrade project where old switches from another brand were replaced with Westermo Lynx switches in a dual ring network topology. The purpose of this network is to shut down the plant in an emergency situation. The power control and distribution network was built as a completely new system and connects 30 substations throughout the plant with a central control room. The network consists of 270 communication devices, over 500 process screens and panels, 13,000 I/O connections and more than 300,000 alarms. 

The many combinations of ports and the ability to mix copper and fibre media was another driver for selecting Westermo products. “Inside a building we can use regular copper Ethernet cables, but the cables connecting the different buildings must be fibre due to safety legislations,” explained Ješina.

 “The many models and port combinations in its RedFox Industrial range allowed us to select the ideal product at every location and to prepare for expanding the network in the future.”

Another positive outcome from using these devices is that configuration and maintenance is simple. All managed Westermo devices are powered by the same operating system, WeOS. This gives an identical experience whether configuring a Lynx, RedFox or other managed Westermo device. It also means that any new functionality added to any new WeOS version will be backwards compatible and available in any previously installed WeOS device. The operating system is designed to be as robust as the hardware. It is made to be simple to use and configure and thoroughly tested in the Westermo software test lab. “I have worked with many different brands of switches and routers, and compared to many others, configuring a Westermo switch is like kindergarten,” said Ješina.

Westermo also provides WeConfig, a ‘Made Easy’ network configuration management tool designed to simplify initial configuration and network commissioning. “I use WeConfig for upgrading the devices when a new firmware upgrade is made available. The tool makes upgrades simple and hassle free and I can access all units from one central point and automated updates are performed swiftly and securely. I am excited to start experimenting more with WeConfig when we expand our network,” concluded Ješina.

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