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First installation of the new generation HMI for process control at CRH cement plant

Visualization is critical to the process, providing the main interface between humans and the production site at the Hoghiz cement plant in Romania. The new visual control graphics make it easier for all control system users to take the right decisions in any situation and allow operators, maintenance and engineers to collaborate in new ways.

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The challenge
  • fewer people managing much larger plant areas
  • complexity of daily cement plant operation
  • increasing demands on control room personnel
  • visualization is critical to the process
A new visual control graphic interface with unique alarm system - the first to display process information in its situational context:
  • instant alerts with much clearer process displays
  • finding the root cause of the problems much faster
  • responding with good decisions at the right time
  • optimization of plant efficiency and reliability

Located in the center of Romania, the CRH Hoghiz plant has been producing cement for 45 years and has raw materials reserves to last at least another century. The current plant has a cement production capacity of about 1 million tpy from a single 4000 tpd dry-process clinker line, which features a four-stage preheater tower. The plant is located close to the Carparthian mountains, requiring it to adhere to strict dust emissions level and operate various pollution control systems in order to keep the surrounding air as clear as possible.

Increasing the level of automation with control systems consolidation

The Hoghiz plant recently upgraded the process control system on Cement Mill 3 (CM3) as the first stage of a three-step process control upgrade project involving local CRH engineers, CRH Global Technical Services and ABB. CH3 is a 100 tph horizontal ball mill, specializing in the production of high-quality cements and special cements, using a hybrid third-generation separator. 

Before the upgrade, the plant ran the ABB 800xA 5.1 System, ABB Advant Controller AC400 PLCs and AC400 libraries. However, these would not have been able to handle a number of planned new projects to improve the Hoghiz plant, of which automation is a key part; an upgrade was therefore required. The upgrade to CM3 included the following:

  • Upgrade of the distributed control system (DCS) from ABB 800xA 5.1 to the newly-released ABB 800xA 6.1.

  • Upgrade of the CM3 AC450 PLC controllers to ABB’s new AC800M PM891 controllers.

  • Migration of CM3 from the old AC400 library code to the new Minerals Process Control Library 6.1.

  • Optimization of the CM3 human-machine interface (HMI) with the redesigned Minerals Process Control Library 6.1 VisualControl

"Legacy control systems would not have been able to handle a number of planned new projects to improve the Hoghiz plant, of which automation is a key part."

Increasing digital capability with a modern approach to HMI

The desire for increased digital capability at Hoghiz mirrors the digital revolution currently underway in many industries, including the cement industry. Plants have never been so interconnected, resulting in growing opportunities for automation of process controls. As a result, single operators are now able to manage sections of the plant that would previously have required a team of personnel to control.

This places increased demands on operators. Across process industries as a whole, 40% of preventable unscheduled downtime is still caused by operator error. Meanwhile, operators often remain dependent on outdated – and often overly complex – HMI to do their jobs. With the increases in operator responsibility and plant digitalization, such HMIs have become a hindrance to successful plant operation.

“A well-designed HMI is of utmost importance for high operational efficiency, productivity, and safety,” said Michael Marending, Lead Engineer – Process Control Engineering at ABB. “The industry is investing a tremendous effort to implement the latest research. The right level of detail, colors, and contrast; converting data into information for the operators; removing all distraction, while keeping the information available; drawing the operator’s attention to upcoming issues; addressing Abnormal Situation Management concepts; automatic linking of related objects, as well as a pleasant and modern looking interface – all are key elements in designing and implementing a state-of-the art HMI.”

"Single operators are now able to manage sections of the plant that would previously have required a team of personnel to control."


ABB Ability Minerals Process Control System

ABB Ability™ Minerals Process Control System is upgraded with a new colour-coded alarm screen to enable operators to immediately detect, understand and resolve all types of process disturbance in minimum time.


Simple and intuitive displays for each process

ABB VisualControl is a new generation of HMI that displays process information intuitively within its situational context. It offers an evolution in its approach to process control graphics, providing a HMI that improves operator situational awareness and supports him or her in optimizing the process. The most noticeable change that VisualControl brings is its simplicity. ABB has stripped back the user interface of most colors and animation in favour of a less colorful, more modern, almost minimalistic look that is designed for operator comfort. It removes distraction for the operator, ensuring that key information – such as abnormal condition alerts – is immediately visible.

The new HMI also moves away from attempts to show all information on one display. Rather than showing every individual piece of equipment, it focuses on whole processes (e.g. a complete milling circuit). Similarly, rather than attempting to cram everything onto one screen, there are now three process displays for different situations:

  • Start/Stop

  • Production

  • Abnormal Situation Mode (ASM)

Navigation has also been streamlined in the new system with the faceplates reworked to ensure a high consistency of information.  The menu structure and symbol options are the same across all elements, while text is now used for more complicated menus, such as the alarm list. This provides intuitive navigation around the system, reducing the number of clicks required to access information, and avoids the operator having to memorize a large number of symbols – with the attendant risk of symbol misinterpretation. The aim: a system that requires minimal use of the manual.

"ABB has stripped back the user interface of most colors and animation in favour of a less colorful, more modern, almost minimalistic look."

Alarms by process function for rapid fault tracing

Another change is the indication of abnormal situations. Alarms are now shown by process function rather than by the individual signal that is causing the alarm. For example, the alarm may indicate a problem with a belt conveyor, rather than the specific signal or motor that is the source of the alarm. This intuitive alarm indication allows the operator to rapidly determine the root causes of production issues and to drill down from any given process level to immediately detect and understand any type of disturbance, keeping safety and productivity high.

Alarming also includes:

  • Consistent use of alarm colors (reserved) and redundant alarm information coding (configurable).

  • Alarm relations between objects in order to link different operational levels.

  • Process state-based alarm suppression (alarm/interlocks).

  • Advanced alarm handling (shelving).

"Alarms are now shown by process function rather than by the individual signal that is causing the alarm. "

41% reduction in the time taken to resolve abnormal situations

This combination of multiple process displays with simplified graphics, intuitive navigation and integrated alarm management, as well as the focus on process—rather than equipment—functionality, eliminates information overload and heightens operator awareness. This achieves the following:

  • Improves operator ability to manage DCS alarms on larger sections of the plant

  • Directs operator attention towards plant conditions that require assessment

  • Provides the right information for them to act correctly

  • Provides a high degree of personalization to gain overview of the entire plant process

Data has already shown the success of high-performance HMI against their standard counterparts. In a study of plant operators that measured and compared their situational awareness in a conventional distributed control system environment against performance in a high-performance HMI environment, operators using grey-scale abnormal situation graphics and integrated alarm management were five times more likely to detect abnormal situations before alarms occurred. They achieved a 96% success rate in handling abnormal situations, compared to a 70% success rate in a conventional system, while there was also a 41% reduction in the time taken to resolve abnormal situations.

"Operators using high performance HMI achieved a 96% success rate in handling abnormal situations, compared to a 70% success rate in a conventional system. "


ABBs new HMI 

ABB's new HMI provides operators with more information and can be tailored so users can navigate to needed information much faster.

ICRH Hoghiz - the first plant in the world to use VisualControl

The system upgrade at Hoghiz was successfully implemented within the very short shutdown allowed by the high production demands at the plant. This was achieved despite the fact the ABB 800xA 6.1 had to be migrated to a fully operation plant.

“Thanks to great collaboration among Hoghiz’s automation team and ABB engineers, an intensive SW FAT and painstaking preparation, the commissioning of the CM3 with the new Minerals Process Control Library could be finished on time and without any major disruption for the running plant,” commented Marending.

The switch was also assisted by immediate buy-in by the Hoghiz operators, who were embedded in the commissioning project in order to optimize training. Despite being a significant change from the previous system, it has proved easy to master with only limited training required. The system’s intuitive displays tell operators what is happening; the operators just needed to adapt to the new symbols and layout.

“It all comes together in a very nice package that makes the operator’s life easier, makes fault tracing easier, and tells the operator who to send where in the field, before anything wrong happens with the process,” said Razvan Cocea, Head of Electrical and Automation for CRH South East Europe. “I am proud that I pushed for this to be the first plant in the world to use VisualControl. Now I know this is one of the best decisions that I have made in my life.”

The new system will now be rolled out to the rest of the plant in two more steps. The first will be undertaken this Winter and will cover all cement grinding lines and the raw mill. This will be followed next year by the kiln, petcoke and dispatch areas.

Razvan Cocea, Head of Electrical and Automation for CRH South East Europe.
“I am proud that I pushed for this to be the first plant in the world to use VisualControl. Now I know this is one of the best decisions that I have made in my life."

A ready-to-use tailor-made automation solution

Part of the ABB Ability™ System 800xA Extended Automation Platform, which manages more than 10,000 industrial plants worldwide using parameterized process control, the Minerals Process Control Library is a ready-to-use, tailor-made automation solution for the mining and cement industries. It comprises software modules that are designed to achieve optimal plant productivity, availability, and safety, as well as the best operator efficiency.

In addition to Hoghiz, the Minerals Process Control Library is already installed at over 450 cement and mining sites around the world, increasing standardization, functionality and quality of process control software over the lifecycle of a production facility. This minimizes downtime caused by abnormal situations and allows the plant to operate and maintain the production process and assets efficiently.

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