Our expertise is not a function of the time spent
in this industry. It is a function of the results achieved. It is a function of commitment, of dedication, of training and
retraining and it is a function of making mistakes and correcting those mistakes, and sometimes correcting the mistakes of
others. In the thirty years we have been designing and installing process control systems for the cement industry, we have
had the opportunity (and occasionally the misfortune) to investigate and apply many technologies by diverse manufacturers. Not all of those technologies were totally appropriate; some did not live up to expectations
of reliability and serviceability. Others were very successful and became industry standards. We were early proponents and
adapters of Programmable Logic Controllers, Microprocessor based Process Controllers, PCs and Workstations for cement plant
process controls. These are now the standards in virtually all cement plants.
So our expertise is as much a result of our successes as
of our “failures”. How do we define a failure? Our failures are “performance
shortfalls”. They are an inability to reach a desired result in either the specified time or within the specified budget.
Our failures are converted to qualified successes because we always keep our agreements.
We have integrity in our work. We learn and we have applied
our experiences to correct any performance shortfalls. For example, as an early
adapter of certain control technologies, it was not always possible to obtain long term experience unless a product was installed.
HMI technology was and continues to be difficult to evaluate. Our greatest problems have been not with the process controls
per se, but with the Human Machine Interfaces. In one case, we provided a specific
HMI as part of a process control upgrade. We were unable to make it as reliable as necessary and after exhausting all attempts
we did finally make it perform to expectations by completely replacing all hardware and software. This was done at no expense
to the customer, and production was never impacted because all control functions resided in the PLCs and Process Controllers.
The technology ultimately installed has been proven to be very reliable and is now applied in this particular plant on all
pyro-processing units and ancillary process systems. The customer, after a number of years of experience, tells us this could
very well be the most reliable piece of control equipment in the plant.
HOW DID WE
GET OUR EXPERTISE?
We have installed process control systems in many cement
plants. Our experiential background includes fossil fuel and electrical power systems and boilers, petrochemicals, steel as
well as lime and cement. We have worked on and travelled to projects as far afield as Saudi Arabia.
Each process control system was an expression of our
methodologies. Each is the culmination of every project which preceded it. Each incorporates improvements in the application
of technology over its predecessors. Each project was viewed as an opportunity to improve past performance, to achieve our
goal for cement plant process control.
Most projects were planned and systematic process control
upgrades. Some involved the entire plant over a period of years. Some were replacements for failed technologies or process
control “orphans”, where the controls manufacturer was no longer available. Some were other supplier’s systems,
which were undergoing severe installation problems. The most difficult of these projects require the correction of failed
technologies. In those cases, expectations have not been realized, budgets have been expended, timelines exhausted and everyone
In one extreme situation the system had been installed and
only partially programmed. The PLC was at its memory limits with only one half of the programming completed. The engineer
and contractors were on the site but the project was at an impasse. Tempers were
short. Legal broadsides were underway, the plant was hostage to the situation and the operation of four kilns was in jeopardy.
The situation was evaluated by management and we were asked to solve the impasse. Initially one and eventually two SSI engineers
went to the site and it was clear that to complete this project by the deadline would require the cooperation and alignment
of all forces involved in this project. SSI drafted a plan in which the problem was defined as technical challenges to be
overcome and tasks to be completed with no one at fault. Under very tight deadlines we re-engineered and rewrote the entire
PLC program, managed the installation and test of the process controls and met the original startup date. The plant started
without the purchase of any additional hardware, and all controls specifications were met or exceeded. Differences between parties were resolved without legal recourse and in fact the contractors involved actually
realized a significant portion of their completion bonus.