Careful planning, along with the latest batch automation and control technology from Rockwell Automation, has contributed to a production increase of 30% at global specialty chemicals company Cabot Corporation.
Cabot produces treated silica, which is an anti-caking, thickening, and reinforcing agent that is used in a number of industries such as coatings, adhesives and sealants, composites, toners and printing inks.
Up until last year, Cabot’s treated silica manufacturing system used a combination of manual and automatic operations relying on dated programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and human-machine interface (HMI) software. “Under our old system, a large part of the manufacturing operation required operators to set up manual valves, enter setpoints and prepare pre-mixes by hand – a process stuck in the dark ages by today’s standards,” said Todd Ray, senior process engineer for Cabot.
“The process was also slowed by the use of dated PLCs. And we were concerned that we would not be able to locate spare parts in the future, when they will likely become increasingly hard to find.”
Cabot considered several upgrade paths. “Ultimately, we chose to go with Rockwell Automation because of its performance reputation, service expertise and its ability to standardise across operations, which helps us reduce overall costs,” says Ray. “The company is unique in the industry as it was able to offer us a common unified control platform for batch, continuous, and discrete manufacturing through its integrated architecture.”
By studying Cabot’s business requirements, process flows and manufacturing setup, the automation supplier was able to ensure a smooth transition from Cabot’s old business process to a new automated process. The upgrade resulted in a production increase of an estimated 30% for the company.
Because Cabot was looking to increase throughput and accuracy by automating the operators’ tasks, Rockwell Automation recommended implementing a solution revolving around the use of complementary control, communications and visualisation technologies – core to the company’s integrated architecture. Specifically, the supplier promoted leveraging the international standard for batch models and terminology (ISA S88.00.01), new batch software, improved manufacturing controllers and updated HMI software.
Cabot opted to use Rockwell Software RSBizWare Batch and RSBizWare BatchCampaign software in tandem with Allen-Bradley manufacturing controllers to fulfil the need for greater throughput.
In Cabot’s operations, RSBizWare Batch automates batch management as well as the operator’s task of loading hundreds of instances of the same recipe onto the batch list – minimising the operators’ roles in making critical batch decisions and mechanical equipment adjustments.
The new software provides better batch records; the standard event log captures all significant activities during a batch and is easily configured to fit customised entries. RSBizWare Batch can also provide efficient, predictable operation of batch processing, consistency between batches, and generation of event information during batch runs. Its batch process management lets manufacturers reuse code, recipes, phases and logic between processes with similar procedures.
To get all of its operators and engineers up to speed on the batch technology, Cabot took advantage of a Rockwell Automation RSBizWare Batch training session. Cabot also signed a support contract that allows it to keep up with any RSBizWare Batch updates.
Cabot reports that the new control system started up with minimal production delay and delivered the throughput and accuracy improvements promised. The manufacturer also experienced additional benefits from the upgrade. Production record keeping, for example, is more accurate. Each batch creates an event file, which captures and time-stamps the events and the phase-generated snapshots of process variables. And, Cabot’s treated silica products have been more consistent since the upgrade because the new system enables operators to fine tune to reduce variability and keep abnormal situations under control. Best of all, the new system improves safety by providing better training through documentation and graphic capabilities.
The new system at Cabot is much simpler than its previous manufacturing process, which employed a complex combination of interlocks, standard operating procedures and manual setups. Under the new system, RSBizWare Batch software controls operations, performing all recipe selections and unit bindings, allowing the operator to monitor performance curves, respond to alarms or even leave the control room to retrieve a quality control sample.
The control module subroutines in the PLC-5s, combined with new HMI faceplates act like a distributed control system (DCS), complete with configuration, inputs, outputs and connection points. Combined, the software and controllers provide a cohesive system that essentially runs on autopilot.
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