Surviving the Pandemic – Through Remote Control!
Published by : Industrial Automation
Krithika Velan and Tamil Selvan describe a comprehensive IT-enabled remote troubleshooting and remedy package, the R-STAR.
The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we now live our lives. Working from home and managing both our professional and personal lives remotely has become the new normal. People and organisations big and small have to evolve to meet, match and tackle this new challenge. Professionally, we have all been rudely awakened to the fact that optimising the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and improving Return on Investment (RoI) has become of paramount importance in any corporation and in fact, the very basis of survival and continuity.
Over the past few months, as the full impact of Covid-19 descended, we as engineers working in operations noticed a surge in enquiries related to maintenance during the Covid shutdowns, understandably because maintenance and site engineers were suddenly unable to have direct access to the systems and equipment they needed to keep shipshape to keep production going.
Although the need for remote maintenance and troubleshooting of system operations always existed, the pandemic necessitated unique action on this front as companies across the globe had to compromise on how many workers could be on site tending to production fluctuations and outages.
Bulk material handling systems for industries like food, glass, chemicals, paint, soaps, etc., need to be kept running at optimum levels with high productivity with almost no downtime due to the nature of these businesses, which are essentially volume games.
Having recognised this need with inputs from our very large customer database and our large industry footprint we realised that remote control and troubleshooting of our systems would play a paramount role in the profitability of our customer businesses. With this in mind we embarked on an initiative to offer a comprehensive IT-enabled remote troubleshooting and remedy package which we christened R-STAR – Remote System Troubleshooting And Remedy.
Conventionally such remote control systems would sense impending malfunctions and send warnings or would self-correct depending on the nature of any impending trouble. With sensor technology now at its developmental zenith we thought that such systems should go beyond just troubleshooting and remedy but should also add value in terms of cost savings to the customer.
Our unique system thus not only predicts and prevents plant problems but also continuously delivers real-time data on the efficiency of plant performance. At any given time plant engineers will know how much power is being consumed per tonne of material conveyed or handled or how close to optimum the plant running parameters are. Sensors provided feedback and correction on such parameters like pressure, rpm, flow, level, temperature, etc., constantly compare with pre-set values and correct in real-time to keep as close to the pre-set values as possible thus ensuring an optimum and highly efficient system that was hitherto left unattended.
Such a remote system has already been installed in our system in Africa in December 2018 and shortly thereafter we have done the same in all our subsequent turnkey systems. It is essential that all the sensors and instrumentation that enables constant feedback is deployed in the system at the design and proposal stage itself so that this is part of our system delivery and not an option. The cost of such instrumentation and sensors is shown separately and in case a customer does not want to opt for our remote control supervisory system, he can always reduce from the total proposal cost though in our opinion this would be a short term approach.
A brief overview of the system is outlined below.
What does the system do?
RSTAR: Remote System Troubleshooting And Remedy is an IT-enabled system that enables your operator(s) and our engineer(s) to remotely control and troubleshoot your system from a smartphone or laptop/desktop. Being enabled on all electronic communication devices the system is truly 24/7. The mobile phone version is compatible with all operating systems including Android and iOS.
How does it work?
This is essentially a real-time 24/7 monitoring system that keeps tabs on system operation, health and operating parameters. By integrating and communicating with all the bulk handling plant equipment via sensors and instrumentation the system can predict and prevent malfunction and faults in advance while ensuring a high degree of plant productivity.
At the same time, it tells you whether or not your system is using the lowest energy per tonne of material conveyed or handled and gives warnings or self corrects depending on the nature of the factors that are at play at any given time.
What does it involve for customers?
For plants that are already running or installed either by us or others and which do not have the necessary instrumentation and sensors with the necessary feedback control loops in the control and operating system configuration the following are the steps involved:
Study and revamp/retrofit of:
• SCADA/HMI minor screen modifications
• Historical Data Management
• Report generation and analysis
• Troubleshooting reports in case of material spillage, blockage or choking
• User Management
• Preventive maintenance on scheduled intervals
• Database Management
• Bug fixes in PLC program
• Regular backups
• Telephonic support
• Remote support
• Adding comprehensive alarms/events for better analysis
• Onsite engineer visit
B. Instrumentation and Devices:
• Remote cloud module
• Pressure indicators and transmitters
• Level and speed sensors
• Level transmitters
• Pressure switches
• Hardware replacement
• Vacuum switches
• Flow switches
• Load cells with weight indicators
Why do Companies need it?
-Measures plant efficiency and gives energy cost per tonne of product conveyed in real time. (You will be amazed at the amount of energy your plant is currently wasting- because you don’t know!)
-Saves energy by optimisation of compressed air consumption as well as power consumed by other motors in the system.
-Collates all power data and gives you kWH per tonne of product handled.
-With such data plant engineers can optimise running costs.
-Regular built-in inspection loops limit and control production outage/downtime to the maximum.
Because the system is designed with the R-STAR already built in for new proposals there is very little cost involved when compared to the total system cost and the cost of maintenance once the bulk handling plant is put into operation. For existing plants that do not have such a system, new instrumentation and sensors have to be installed and have to be incorporated into the existing control system with the IT component added and enabled. Depending on the complexity of the plant these costs have to be worked out but will not be more than about 5 per cent of the original investment in the plant.
Krithika Velan is Chief Operation Officer, Scorpio Engineering BMH Pvt Ltd. A Chemical Engineer from RV College of Engineering, Krithika graduated First Class with distinction in 1999, and subsequently has 15 years of experience in the engineering and manufacturing industry after a brief stint in quality control in the pharmaceutical industry. She is currently handling operations in Scorpio Engineering and is responsible for order execution, client servicing and on-time delivery. She also controls cash flow management, compliance and oversees finance and streamlining.
Tamil Selvan Kumar is Assistant Manager (Marketing & Application), Scorpio Engineering BMH Pvt Ltd. A first class graduate Mechanical Engineer (2016), he is an experienced engineer in the field of erection & commissioning of bulk material handling systems and automation like PLC, HMI, SCADA programming, graphics development, etc. Tamil Selvan specialises in erection & commissioning of pneumatic conveying & batching systems in the area of Mechanical, Electrical and Automation at site. He also provides supporting services for electrical & controls during job execution.