By: Linda Nohrstedt | Published: November 20, 2017 | NyTeknik (Swedish newspaper)
The process industry has already come a long way in digitalization. Since many years, the processes are operated and monitored by control and regulation systems.
But there is still more to do by linking additional machines, integrating IT systems, and analyzing large amounts of information. This is ABB's firm conviction as the company opens three new control centers for collaboration in different parts of the world.
The purpose is to remotely monitor and provide technical support to paper mills in real time.
Until now, such a control center has been established in Westerville, Ohio, US. In October, second center opened in Helsinki, Finland, where “NyTeknik Automation” attended at the opening.
The room is dominated by large screens along one wall. It shows that five pulp mills in the US are connected to the system. Green light shows that everything works as it should, while if there is yellow light it signals a deviation.
But the values we see are not real, but only examples to illustrate the business. "In reality, it would show more yellow and red light than green," says control center chief Juha Alamäki and laughs.
There are sensors and machines in pulp mills that are already connected to the Helsinki Center and send current information of condition and performance data. The information is analyzed by the software 24 hours a day.
This way, the technology experts at the control center can quickly diagnose problems, give advice on preventive maintenance, or suggest arrangements/measurements to optimize operation.
"We can be like a personal trainer knocking your shoulder and says: do like this", says Juha Alamäki.
A typical pulp mill is connected to the network for 50,000 points and generates 10TB of data each year. The information comes from control system sensors, laboratory equipment, transformers and switchgear.
Information amounts like that, demands a high level of IT security. Hence, along one of the walls there are two small rooms, like minimal cabins, where additional security check is required before entering. The idea is that some designated service technicians could use the cabins if there is need for any changes in the system for a customer. But then of course, the customer or the factory owner, must first approve the technicians’ competence.
One of the customers that have chosen to connect their electrical system to the new control center in Helsinki is Metsä Group’s bioproduct mill in Äänekoski. Several components at the factory, for example 650 drives, are connected to the control center.
Metsä Fibre hopes that the control center will help increase the factory's performance and runnability. The goal is to detect errors before they occur – on all components.
"It's a big challenge, but it is the goal we strive for" says Mikael Ingo, Manager ABB Process Industries, Northern Europe.
Later this year, ABB's third collaborative operations center for the pulp and paper industry will open in Singapore. The centers are spread across the globe so that they can leverage the "following the sun" principle to support customers anywhere in the world. When it is evening in Singapore, Helsinki can take over, then pass on to Westerville.
ABB refers to the new centers as “Collaborative Operations Center” to emphasize the importance of cooperation. The technicians in the centers will collaborate with the customers who operate the mills, both at operator level and management level, as well as with all ABB experts, regardless of geographical location.
However, remote monitoring of drives and electrical distribution systems in paper mills is not new to ABB. It has already been done for many years.
The new thing with the control centers, apart from the cooperation, is that information is mainly stored and analyzed in cloud services. ABB cooperates with both Microsoft and IBM in order to process large amounts of data.
"Some parts of the remote monitoring we have been able to do earlier, but not to this extent – monitoring so many different products and at the same time handling optimization of processes at the customer. The possibility of analysis have increased and everything is now offered in one and the same environment”, says Lena Stridsman, Digitalization Manager at ABB, Sweden.
Sweden will also have a new collaborative control center opening soon, in Västerås. But the intention is not to serve the paper industry, but primarily the local industries and, secondly the mining industry globally.
The background for focusing on this kind of control centers is that ABB has attained good results from similar activities in for example shipping industry. By remote monitoring of equipment on ships, routes have been optimized and preventive maintenance has been carried out.
For example, a technician at land could recommend a ship at sea to reduce the load on the rudder propeller, so that it turns at a slower speed, and the ship then avoids an unplanned maintenance stop.
"Regarding our medium voltage drives, we have been able to reduce our on-board visits with 70 %", says Richard Windischhofer, vice president Integrated Operations and Business Development at BU Marine and Ports in ABB Process Automation division.
According to ABB, the work has led to reduced fuel consumption in shipping by up to 5 percent, and now the company believes also the process industry could reduce its energy consumption.
Lena Stridsman emphasizes the fact that the control centers enable ABB to take an overall responsibility in the industries in which we have our customers. It is not only ABB products that the centers can monitor, but also critical equipment from other suppliers.
“This is real digitalization. We can provide key figures to the management room, at the same time as we dig ourselves into when to lubricate the engines, and everything in between, she says.
ABB has already ten control centers in operation, known as Collaborative Operations Centers.
Six of them handle shipping, two handle port operations and two are intended for several different types of industries.
Eight additional centers are planned.