As automation continues to grow in grain storage facilities, it can be challenging to implement the right automation plan. Many facilities have operated for years with existing infrastructure and disparate control systems from days past, such as push buttons, switches and lights.
Typically, automation systems grow little by little and become a hybrid of antiquated hardwired controls along with programmable logic controllers and human machine interfaces. Without a solid automation road map, the disjointed automation system focuses only on the task at hand, creating several “islands of automation.”
It seems that conventional thinking supports the islands that are spread throughout the facility, leaving facility operators to “run around the facility” rather than “run the facility.” The primary objective should be to unify the facility automation system and create a facility central command, where the automation system gives the operators insight to the entire facility and visibility to what is happening with each supporting system through a common interface.
What systems often stand as islands? This question alone challenges longstanding paradigms and is the root of identifying a plan and the development of your facility central command system. By examining some specific functions, you may identify a few islands at your own facility. Think about the benefits of having complete facility visibility over the following examples:
1. Hazard Monitoring:
- Visibility into live bearing and rub-block temps and speed sensors through live temperature readings and trend charts
- Automatic interlocking for controlled shutdowns on alarm sensing
- Automatic emailing to selected roster on alarm conditions
- Complete reporting for setpoint modifications and alarm data (when occurred, when cleared, when acknowledged and by whom)
2. Grain Temperatures
- Visibility into live grain temperatures and alarms when they reach alarm levels or rate of rise notifications
- Complete trend charts for temperatures over time
3. Motor Currents
- Live motor current values on the operational screens along with complete trend charts
- High current alarms activated based on specific commodities being run
4. Dust Collection
- Complete control of all dust systems and visibility into differential pressures across dust filters
These are just a few examples of value that can be realized by tying together your islands of automation. The objective is to decrease the cost of operating your facility by maximizing your investment and power of your automation infrastructure. Challenge paradigms of the past and examine what you can do at your facilities.
Jason Grahek is vice president and sales director of Industrial Automation Engineering. After graduating from the University of North Dakota with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1994, he’s spent the last decade focusing on unique approaches to hazard monitoring and process automation. To contact Jason, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 763-450-3840.