Putting the focus on sustainable process engineering

Emerson Automation Solutions
By Kylie Wilson-Field
Thursday, 10 July, 2008

As one of the world’s leading suppliers of products, services and solutions to the process industries, Emerson Process Management has begun to take a serious look at the future of the industry in terms of sustainability. In a recent interview with ProcessOnline, the many ways the company is adapting to the global changes that are forcing companies to become more environmentally aware were discussed.

Why is sustainability important within the process engineering sector?

Sustainability is important in any industry, but it is particularly important to the process engineering sector, which serves many heavy industries, such as oil and gas, refining, power, chemical and mining. Due to the nature of many of their processes, these industries are increasingly putting more focus on sustainability and are continually working to reduce their impact on the environment.

What are companies doing to become more sustainable?

The process industry is focusing more and more on sustainability and companies today are actually reporting on sustainability measures and tracking how they’re improving. Many companies now have detailed plans for how they will address sustainability and environmental impact, including:

  • developing stricter environmental performance requirements for measurement of air quality, ecological impact and emissions, including ozone-depleting substances and their impact on biodiversity
  • improving the operational efficiency of production processes by improving quality, throughput and process availability
  • reducing power consumption and improving energy efficiency in day-to-day operations
  • utilising more efficient means of power generation such as cogeneration
  • investing in renewable and alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and biofuels technology

What are the latest developments in wireless technology?

While wireless technology itself is not new, wireless sensor networks (WSNs) are. One of the latest developments is the release of the WirelessHART standard in September 2007, which uses self-organising mesh technology and has significant advantages over other point-to-point based wireless solutions. The WirelessHART standard is based on time synchronised mesh protocol (TSMP) and uses IEEE 802.15.4 radios with channel hopping.

One of the biggest benefits of WirelessHART is that it is tolerant to almost all interference and can coexist with other wireless networks that customers already have in the plant. WirelessHART allows networks that are highly scalable and capable of one-second scanning with low latency. Wireless devices based on this technology, such as Emerson’s Smart Wireless, are inherently more reliable for this reason. They offer the highest reliability of all wireless solutions — over 99% — because when one communication path is disrupted or fails for any reason, the network automatically finds another path to carry the message. These reliability levels have been proved in a wide variety of process plants worldwide, including plants in Australia and New Zealand.

The wireless sensor network, or field network, can also be seamlessly integrated into a wireless plant network utilising industrial wireless networks to extend and manage the flow of information around the plant. Advancements in wireless technology give customers the ability to address problems and issues they never thought were possible to address before.

Do these advances help companies become more efficient?

Wireless advancements can definitely help customers become more efficient. Even though advancements in digital communications have allowed customers to make changes in the performance of their business over the last decade, there are still many untapped opportunities to reach new levels of process and business performance. Examples include:

  • Improved process monitoring, such as optimising performance on heat exchangers, monitoring filter plugging to improve process uptime or improve utility usage.
  • Improve health, safety and environmental compliance by monitoring safety relief valve emissions, and 24/7 monitoring of safety showers so that help can be dispatched immediately in the event of an accident.
  • Better asset monitoring, such as real-time indication of equipment reliability by wirelessly monitoring vibration, wirelessly tracking personnel and physical assets in the plant, and detecting corrosion in equipment and piping monitored by wireless sensors.

There are numerous examples of customers achieving operational efficiency improvements by implementing wireless technology:

  • A steel mill was having difficultly effectively measuring water flow for cooling applications and monitoring pressure for grease system health due to the hot congested environment. By installing wireless flow and pressure devices, they were able to eliminate unscheduled downtime and productivity improved by as much as 10%.
  • A pulp and paper company was suffering from poor quality and inefficiencies in its rotating lime kiln. By adding wireless temperature measurements, they were able to effectively monitor the mid-zone temperature of the kiln, improving throughput by 5%.
  • A power plant is using wireless devices to more effectively make measurements on steam turbines, pumps, economisers, boilers, generators and air heaters. These measurements are not only helping them improve overall power generation efficiency, but also improving reporting, boiler efficiency, turbine efficiency and reducing their total rework and waste.

How can WSNs improve power load management?

Wireless opens up a tremendous opportunity for power load management. Pumps, compressors, fans and other high horsepower equipment are tremendous energy consumers in plants. Today, due to the high infrastructure cost of wiring (up to 90% of the cost of a measurement is the cost to engineer and install the wiring and host connections), the power consumption of this equipment is generally not monitored, or only monitored locally or offline. Wireless breaks this economic paradigm and gives us the opportunity to see, on an equipment-by-equipment basis, the energy-efficiency winners and losers.

Where does Emerson Process see itself in the next five years with regards to sustainable process engineering?

Emerson is approaching sustainable process engineering in three ways:

  1. Continue to partner with our customers to help them improve their sustainability through the use of predictive process intelligence. Embedding predictive sensors in the process provides the insight and early warning to improve quality, improve operational efficiency, reduce power consumption, improve process availability and throughput while reducing scrap and improving environmental compliance. Wireless is the newest opportunity in this area and we expect significant innovation as we work with customers to expand the wireless measurement types available.
  2. We are investing in new energy-responsible technology and solutions. This investment ranges from products like the Ovation SCADA wind energy management software, the Fisher C1 Series ‘energy responsible’ controllers for oil and gas operations and the Rosemount sapphire-tube enclosed thermocouples for gasification; and services and solutions for alternative energy and biofuels to help our customers create new sources of energy economically.
  3. We invest in energy-responsible manufacturing processes and practices in our own business and factories. Emerson Process Management is constantly working toward the most cost-effective and energy-efficient processes for the company’s manufacturing needs, and is actively identifying and implementing practices that help the company eliminate or reduce the use of hazardous materials, minimise waste production and conserve natural resources. Whether Emerson is developing a new system for cleaning parts that minimises toxic emissions or simply re-using packing materials in a concentrated recycling program, the company is constantly searching for new ways of incorporating environmentally responsible practices into its day-to-day business strategy. The company currently is completing a global audit of its manufacturing facilities to further identify energy-saving changes in its operations to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

Emerson Process Management

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