System Integration & Control Systems Design

Giving back control to RCL Foods’ Pongola plant

July 2018 System Integration & Control Systems Design

RCL Foods’ Pongola sugar mill is situated in northern KwaZulu-Natal and was operating a proprietary DCS that was installed in 1980. This obsolete and antiquated system resulted in unacceptable production delays due to excessive downtime, aggravated by a lack of production information and limited diagnostics.

The client requested Control Software Solutions (CSS) to institute a phased-in system that would allow the RCL team to run the plant with minimal support. In addition, it needed to be scalable, it had to provide detailed trip diagnostics and sufficient production information to ensure the optimisation of the process by process engineers, as well as being equipped with an effective disaster recovery plan. “It was essential that there was an adequate knowledge transfer to the RCL employees to ensure that they could take over the running of the system, allowing them to maintain and expand it as needed in the future. Aligned to this was the requirement for the system to provide a 25% improvement in lost time availability, together with an increase in production throughput,” says CSS’s Pieter Venter.

Scalability was a driving factor, since the project was planned to take place in various phases over an eight-year period. A number of other requirements outlined by RCL included the improvement of software standards with additional functionality in terms of industry-specific control modules; a user-friendly interface; redundancy in order to secure plant control and information; and intuitive reporting that was easily accessible and with traceability throughout the system.

The solution provided by CSS included System Platform, which would unify all of RCL’s applications and its management in a central hub and InTouch for supervisory interface, together with Historian for data storage and Historian Client for system diagnostics and production analysis. WIS and FLOW software is used for production efficiency reporting, TOP Server provides device connectivity (including for legacy systems) and Unity allows for all PLC configuration. Systems diagnostics and first-up alarming was built into critical control areas of the plant to assist in root cause analysis. In addition, the project team had to develop and document the plant control philosophy from the existing software and old plant manual, as this did not exist.

Once control documentation was finalised, all software coding was performed off site with regular remote collaboration taking place with RCL systems and operation personnel. Technical review meetings ensured the alignment with customer expectations and the CSS solution. Full system simulation was natively built into the system to assist during the FAT testing, which was conducted with the entire team from RCL’s operations, training, maintenance and systems departments. Plant operators were trained in the simulated environment, thereby allowing them to become a part of the commissioning team with a resultant reduction in the time to start-up.

Not only was there a requirement for a new system, but furthermore for old data on the existing system to be transferred to this new system. CSS used the TOP Server OPC DA Driver to extract the legacy data, thereby allowing them to present unified reports on information from both the old and new systems.

The implementation of the new system has contributed immensely to the extremely attractive statistics between 2015 and 2017:

• 40% improvement in lost time availability.

• 20% increase in cane crushed vs budget.

• 39% increase in sugar production vs budget.

• 0,7% reduction in bagasse moisture to boilers.

• Almost zero unplanned blackouts.

“There was a visible improvement in the working relationship between the production and maintenance personnel. All the noted benefits contributed to the plant being awarded two improvement awards from the RCL Group In 2017,” says Venter.

For more information contact Pieter Venter, Control Software Solutions, +27 (0)31 914 0040,,


Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page

Further reading:

Accelerating high-precision assembly of micro-optics
Beckhoff Automation System Integration & Control Systems Design
PC-based control technology automates component assembly.

Siemens guides Tiger Brands along its digitalisation journey
Siemens South Africa System Integration & Control Systems Design
The project involved upgrading the legacy plant control system with the implementation of a combined Siemens WINCC scada and PM-addons along with the associated network and control equipment that included communication converters, PLCs, VSDs and ASI modules for various process areas.

The MX-System: the controller becomes a modular control cabinet
Beckhoff Automation System Integration & Control Systems Design
The new MX-System from Beckhoff is quite simply a revolution in control cabinet construction.

Benefits of PowerView CP for pipelines
Omniflex Remote Monitoring Specialists System Integration & Control Systems Design
Omniflex has developed the PowerView CP cathodic protection system over several years to bring up-to-date technology to impressed current cathodic protection.

TwinCAT for test rig automation
Beckhoff Automation System Integration & Control Systems Design
Flexibility and high performance in control program generation for endurance testing.

ABB moves toward zero-carbon mines
ABB South Africa System Integration & Control Systems Design
ABB has launched ABB Ability eMine, a portfolio of solutions that will help accelerate the move toward a zero-carbon mine.

Legacy alarm upgrade for Uganda’s power generator
Omniflex Remote Monitoring Specialists System Integration & Control Systems Design
In a digital age, where we rely so heavily on computer-based equipment, do we still need bulky, hard-wired annunciator panels?

Real-time-capable data communication via OPC UA
Beckhoff Automation System Integration & Control Systems Design
Direct integration of OPC UA Pub/Sub in TwinCAT 3.

EtherCAT saves space in wind turbines
Beckhoff Automation System Integration & Control Systems Design
At this year’s Husum Wind during September, Beckhoff demonstrated its many years of know-how and its broad product range for the wind power industry.

Smart production line configuration
Iritron System Integration & Control Systems Design
In the discrete manufacturing environment, a tool change or the reconfiguration of a production line is a major cause of production loss.