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4 min read

Meet Your Sustainability Goals through Control System Modernization

Manufacturers today are faced with increasing pressure from a variety of sources – governments, consumers, investors, and even employees – to improve processes in ways that ultimately reduce energy usage, production waste, and pollution. As a result, sustainability initiatives are becoming increasingly prevalent in the manufacturing space.

Sustainability Modernization

While it may not be obvious, for many manufacturers, tackling sustainability efforts is synonymous with performing a control system modernization. This is because updating mature and obsolete systems opens the door to adding more modern technologies that will allow you to better control your equipment and process, resulting in lower energy usage, reduced waste, and better control of plant emissions. Below are some ideas that would allow you to take advantage of your organization’s sustainability initiative funding to implement your next control system modernization project and meet your organization’s sustainability goals.  

Modernization Tactics for Reducing Energy Usage

Over the past decade, many companies have launched initiatives to lower their carbon footprint by coming up with ways to reduce energy usage. But did you know there are a variety of control system modernization and automation projects that will fast track these efforts? One addition to consider for your modernization project is the replacement of any motor starters with fixed speed motors on equipment such as fans, pumps, and compressors with variable speed drives (VSD). Instead of running motors at a constant speed regardless of demand, a VSD will slow a motor’s speed when load decreases, both saving energy and increasing the life of the pump, fan, or compressor (which will also lead to less wear and tear on equipment and reduce future waste). You can also checkout Part 1 and Part 2 of our series on how to further optimize your VFDs to learn more about energy-saving and lifespan-increasing features of VFDs.

Another way to reduce the energy footprint of your system during a modernization is to implement advanced process control (APC) algorithms in the controller or by using external software packages that perform optimization calculations. APC can be used in a variety of ways to optimize operating conditions of various equipment and processes throughout the facility, improving energy efficiency. For example, if your site uses multiple boilers to provide steam, it is likely that not every boiler needs to run at full load all the time. During your modernization, you can add an advanced algorithm designed to optimize when to use which boilers. By determining which boilers to run at base load and which boilers to modulate based upon steam demand, you will reduce your energy costs, extend the life of your equipment, and reduce emissions. 

Modernization Tactics for Reducing Waste

Reducing the amount of waste or off-spec product that needs to be reworked can be addressed through different control system modernization techniques as well. For batch processes, understanding and modeling the process with a batch manager and appropriate modules is important. You can then setup appropriate control modules, phases, operations, and other elements of the batch model to create recipes that allow for control within tight tolerances and automatically address deviations during the batch. Adding further automation to eliminate manual actions can also reduce user errors which will result in a reduction of off-spec product as well. 

For discrete processes, updating your manufacturing execution system (MES) so that it is configured to collect the right data, and make that data available for easy analysis, is an excellent way to help identify any steps that are deviating from the intended process and generating waste product. By collecting this data throughout production and correlating it with your waste content streams, you can determine which areas of your production process need improvement. This may involve updating the control system with additional controls, logic, or communication infrastructure.

Modernization Tactics for Reducing Pollution

There are several control system upgrades that can help in the reduction pollution, too. First, incorporating newer measurement technologies to monitor air quality in stacks or water quality in discharge lines can help ensure that your facility is operating as it should. These enhanced devices have built-in diagnostics and control systems can be programmed to communicate with them via Ethernet or another bus. Building out a network architecture to support these smart instruments is an investment that can pay off big as your health, safety, and environmental (HSE) department inevitably faces new environmental monitoring requirements in the future.

Much like when we talked about energy usage, another control system update that can help with pollution reduction is the implementation of enhanced algorithms such as APC or model predictive control (MPC). Whether these algorithms are used for functions such as burner control, vapor recovery, or reaction control, the detailed logic possible with these modern control algorithms will allow you to configure for multiple scenarios if a deviation occurs so that each possibility can be resolved individually. Old control system may have limited you to one single action for all scenarios – shut it down – to prevent pollution releases, which is generally not an ideal scenario for most facilities unless the situation is dire.

If your organization has set sustainability goals around reducing energy usage, waste, or pollution, a control system modernization is often one of the best methods for helping attain your goals with funding that is likely easy to obtain. To get the most out of your investment, we advise working with an integrator, such as Applied Control Engineering, that is highly qualified in control system modernization. Contact us today to learn more.