1. Retrofitting Blast Furnace and Stove Control System at Midwest Steel Producer

    August 10, 2015 by Tonya Vrba

    Sequenced changeover of all process control parameters yields successful implementation of system upgrade with minimal downtime


    Lisle, Illinois – Synergy Systems, Inc., a consulting engineering firm and Recognized System Integrator for Rockwell Automation, today announced the completion of a successful upgrade on the main blast furnace and stove control system at a major Midwest steel producer. Unique to this 18-month project was the absence of production downtime experienced by the client, during the transition from legacy control system elements to a Rockwell Automation ControlLogix and Wonderware-based HMI platform. Synergy Systems termed its protocol on this project the System Transition Execution Plan (STEP). During the implementation of STEP, the client experienced no interruption in overall blast furnace or stove control system operations, as it transitioned from an older DCS (distributed control system) to the new system, which was entirely designed and installed by Synergy Systems engineers, working onsite at the steel mill with client personnel.
    At the heart of the concept, according to Synergy Systems VP Marc L. Hunter, “We developed our strategy around a core principle that targeted zero downtime during the changeover. Essentially, we created a building block operation, in which each control input/output on the old system was upgraded with parallel monitoring of performance values and system readouts. Only when each new component was functioning properly and the signals were inline with the existing monitored values did we execute the changeover of the control strategies, which was then integrated loop-by-loop into the new process LAN.”  Utilizing this strategy, Synergy Systems enabled the client to maintain full production at the mill, throughout the entire project.  Client engineering confirmed their complete satisfaction with the performance on this major project.
    The STEP upgrades included all the following procedures: replacement of legacy PLC hardware with AB ControlLogix, replacement of DCS/PLC interface, movement of I/O from DCS to ControlLogix, deployment of Wonderware HMI, movement of control from DCS to ControlLogix, Wonderware historian integration and finally Level 2 interface via Wonderware HMI. Essentially, the control scheme for each system element was installed in parallel to the legacy control, then connected to the new ControlLogix processor and monitored on a channel of the client’s overall process control LAN for comparison to the older output.

    Stove Control System – OLD Stove Control System – NEW
    Gas Injection Control System – OLD Gas Injection Control System – NEW
    Air Head Control System – OLD Air Head Control System – NEW
    As these screens demonstrate, the legacy and new control screens were designed for a similar look and feel, which allowed the process control engineers at this major steel producer to implement the changeover more smoothly and with minimal learning curve.


    Using this STEP approach, minimal process impact occurred and there was a significant savings realized for the client, both in operational expense and total project cost.  As Hunter explains, “This project, because it happened in steps, so to speak, could be costed as a maintenance, not a capital, expense. The major capital expenditure diminished, owing to our strategy of loop-by-loop cutover and a gradual evolution of the graphical user interface, plus a progressive integration with the plant historian software. Collateral benefits to the client included a gradual weaning away from the legacy system, which allowed our team to thoroughly familiarize our client’s operational and maintenance personnel with the new hardware and software, as the changeover progressed.”
    The determination to upgrade this system had resulted from numerous factors, according to the client. The I/O had become obsolete and the legacy system was UNIX-based, so many of the client’s current engineering staff onsite were not familiar with it. However, because a need existed to retain overall control strategies and functional client knowledge of system operations, Synergy Systems devised this STEP protocol to make the transition more gradual and self-teaching.
    According to the client’s plant production & technologies manager on the project, “The blast furnace and stove control systems needed to be upgraded from a legacy DCS (Distributed Control System) to a Rockwell Automation PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) platform, with Schneider Electric Software Wonderware human machine interface and historian, along with statistical reporting mechanisms. Synergy Systems was challenged with cost-effective project deliverables requiring a proven transition plan, zero production outages, minimal risk implementation with no impact to production or product quality, improved technology with future expansion capabilities, improved process controls, enhanced operator interface, significant improvements to system reliability and stringent budgetary guidelines. This project required verification and movement of nearly 2000 I/O points, installation of new workstations, network communication upgrades, development of over 60 HMI screens with built-in diagnostics and alarms, extensive PLC programming, system functional documentation development and drawing approval, historian upgrades and onsite training. Finally, total project implementation and completion were required within a two-year period.”
    He continued, “Synergy delivered beyond our expectations on every challenge presented. The innovative approach, level of engineering delivered and tools selected ensured a successful transition without impact to our production or product quality. Synergy’s professional manner plus their willingness to listen and offer solutions always made it easy for our Operations and Automation team personnel to work with them. The upgraded control systems have been in operation for nearly a year now, with high levels of reliability and efficient operations realized.  Synergy proved to be an extremely cost-effective yet resourceful company, with a focus on the future of our mill control requirements. Our plant now has the technology to further enhance the automation strategies and drive flexibility and productivity that were not available with the legacy automation platform.”

  2. Knowledge is Not as Powerful as Actionable Information

    May 22, 2014 by Tonya Vrba

    This photo, “Information” is copyright (c) 2014 Barney Moss and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license



    The old trope says that knowledge is power and technology has made knowledge more available than ever. In fact, knowledge has become almost too easy to acquire. Books have been written about information overload. What these books really point at isn’t knowledge or information. We live in a time of data overload to the point where it’s difficult to translate it all into actionable information. Luckily for the business world, all this data can work towards a profitable end.





    The process industry benefits from advanced technology that not only collects all data available, but translates it into actionable information. We stressed this last week in our discussion on Key Performance Indicators or KPIs. KPIs are the informational result of data translation. They let everyone from the engineers to plant managers know exactly what they need to without forcing them to sort through masses of irrelevant numbers.


    Power to optimize your process and increase bottom line profits requires more than simple knowledge, these days. Knowledge is data. You can accumulate as much as you want, but it will mean nothing if it’s not actionable. Business with expertly designed control systems and HMI screen receive a huge competitive advantage over the competition. With real time data translated to actionable information, businesses having all they need to achieve their goals.



  3. The Value of Key Performance Indicators in the Process Industry

    May 15, 2014 by Tonya Vrba

    Control Room 3


    The term Key Performance Indicator, or KPI, is all over the internet. A simple Google search will bring up a ton of blogs about KPIs for various industries. While the term is rather general, it’s meant to serve a specific purpose. That is the great triumph and great downfall of KPI. There are many to choose from for every business, but the KPIs chosen must be specific to business needs and goals to work.


    When it comes to integration and automation, KPIs service a vital purpose. They represent the responsibility of technology to examine all data and present it to a plant operator as information. Data is nothing but numbers, ones and zeros representing all the inner workings of a machine. Sifting through all that would take a human far longer than necessary and can delay crucial action. That’s why we have automation. Intelligent technology can be assigned KPIs and programed to deliver specific information interpreted from the mass of data.


    Consider all you can measure on a human body. There are basic numbers, such as weight and calorie intake as well as performance numbers such as how much weight the body can lift, squat, bench or push. This is like the body of a plant or control system. All that data is important to someone, be they a nutritionist, doctor or trainer. Each person has certain KPIs they’re looking for just like each engineer may be assigned a specific section of the plant.


    In optimized systems, KPIs can serve an even greater purpose. Through the interpretation of a few data points, a plant manager can be given the pulse of their system. One glance is all that’s needed for an engineer to diagnose whether their system is healthy or not when using optimized control systems with strategic KPIs.


    What KPIs do you consider most important to your business? 

    Are your control systems optimized to quickly diagnose the pulse of your plant?



  4. The Importance of Employees in Predictive Management

    May 9, 2014 by Tonya Vrba

    transparent shutterstock_169799693

    In a perfect world, no plants would have to experience downtime for repairs and maintenance. While technology may never achieve that level of perfection, advanced technologies have grown better at preventing the need to halt operations for repairs. It all boils down to predictive maintenance and support.


    Predictive maintenance is twofold, involving both site assets and employees. Dollars spent on equipment should focus on optimized measurement. Systems and alarms can be put in place so that all vital elements are continuously monitored. In this way, all information that can possibly be aimed at reducing downtime. Whether or not these assets effectively reduce the need for downtime is all up to the plant engineers.

    We always stress the value and importance of client engineers throughout a project. Everything we put into an optimized control system is tailored toward the needs of client employees. They’re action is key to predictive maintenance and the reduction of down time.


    Good control logic is to prioritize alarms so that the most urgent matters are attended to first. That doesn’t make any alarm less important. They have been programmed into the system for a purpose. Small alarms can alert plant engineers of minor problems which can usually be fixed without any downtime.


    These are the kinds of alarms that reduce downtime. When left alone, small problems can snowball into huge events that require downtime and expensive repairs.  Attention to minor alarms can save a business huge amounts of money. With advanced, optimized control systems, plant employees can come that much closer to perfect predictive management.



  5. The Importance of Expert Project Managers

    May 2, 2014 by Tonya Vrba


    Here at Synergy, we often boast about our ability to handle project management tasks. From the goal setting kickoff to the startup completion of a project, we are there taking full responsibility. This is a significant advantage to our clients. Technical skills are uniquely different from management skills, which is why we make a point provide expert engineers with both.


    Technically minded people are focused on the control systems, HMIs and computer jargon that go into the creation of a product. Their skill set is essential, as their work creates the vital components clients use to run their processes. Making sure those components match client goals is the responsibility of the project manager.


    In addition to technical expertise, a project manager must have the proper skills to evaluate risk and goals, create a schedule and foster communication between all parties. When handled by a system integrator, clients rest assured they are getting quality solutions without having to spend time managing these aspects of a project.


    Having an integrator who takes full responsibility and also makes a point to keep clients in the loop as projects progress is invaluable. It releases client manpower that can then be funneled into more important tasks in addition to ensuring a solution that hits all the desired goals and outcomes.


  6. Address your Vulnerabilities in Cyber Security

    April 24, 2014 by Tonya Vrba


    Control Engineering recently published the results of their 2014 Cyber Security study. Data was collected from individuals directly involved in their organization’s cyber security efforts. The most alarming results involved threat levels and vulnerability assessments. A quarter of respondents claimed their threat was high and nearly the same amount reported they had never performed a vulnerability assessment.


    Cyber security continues to be a hot topic as plant assets become more interconnected. These systems provide huge benefits for optimization and monetary gain. With each new addition or replacement in a plant, safety and security measures should be considered.


    Threat levels can’t always be changed. Certain systems must be connected to the internet and some industries are targets simply by existing. For example, power plants are tied to national security. There is no avoiding the threat level and need for security. The good thing is, effective cyber security is out there.


    Vulnerability assessments are crucial to defining where the largest threats are at.  When people think of cyber security, they usually consider computer viruses and hackers. While these are very real threats, a vulnerability assessment may bring to light other areas of concern, such as internal threats. The perfect example of this is flash drives. While they may be convenient to use and seem harmless, a person can accidentally transfer a virus with these devices.


    Cyber security measures are just as important as plant safety. When systems are at risk, the machines they control may also be at risk. With so much of today’s businesses revolving around cyber data, going without cyber security is no longer an option.

  7. Is There Potential for Google Glasses in Process Industries?

    April 16, 2014 by Tonya Vrba

    This photo, “Glass Magic” is copyright (c) 2014 Erica Joy and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

    For a short time this week, the public was offered the chance to purchase Google Glass. These glasses have the ability to display information, like GPS, emails and weather, right in front of you without blocking vision. The price of $1,500 might seem like a lot for fancy glasses, but they quickly sold out. The world is paying attention, including the worlds of manufacturing, automation and integration.


    Perhaps the idea of having a display in the corner of your eye seems superfluous for everyday life, but Google Glass could provide a great addition to safety within process plants. Plant engineers often work with delicate and hazardous machinery. Safety is a top priority because it would often be far too easy for something to go horribly wrong. There has been a lot of talk about mobile devices, such as tablets and smart phones, being used in manufacturing environments, but they still demand the attention of our hands.


    The technology that could evolve out of Google Glass removes the need for hands, allowing a person to work with both while still reading information transmitted by the glasses. In a temperature sensitive environment, workers could always have the temperature displays before them. While performing time sensitive work, a time display could sit just on the edge of their vision in the glasses.


    Following the tablets and smart phones that came before, it’s only a matter of time before technologies like Google Glass make their way into manufacturing and process plants. While the current model is a bit limited, with the potential to display only one set of information at a time, it’s not that much of a stretch to consider the possibility of safety glasses with displays. Removing the need for engineers to have to leave a task and check a display could even take a step beyond safety and establish a new standard for optimizing personnel within plants and process systems.


  8. Overlooked Benefits of Safety Optimization

    April 10, 2014 by Tonya Vrba



    Safety is an obvious priority within a process system or a boiler plant. The amount of income that could be lost due to destroyed equipment or injured personnel is enough for any plant manager to take safety seriously. Those who have implemented excellent safety systems have found that they are far more than a safety net. From office culture to monetary savings, optimized safety management offers a multitude of benefits.


    The financial benefits of safety management come from the prevention of future malfunctions. While there are certainly aspects of safety that can have an immediate monetary benefit, the prevention aspect carries far more value. When a huge plant has a major malfunction, newscasters love to go on about the millions and sometimes billions of dollars in damage. Avoiding such catastrophes is a huge monetary benefit.


    Optimization of alarm management is another great benefit. Part of developing a safety system is understanding what types of issues automation can handle on its own and those that need the guidance of an operator. If a bunch of alarms swarm on a screen all at once, that can create a lot of headaches, even more so if many of the alarms are nuisances. Safety is then compromised if operators can’t quickly decipher which alarm to pay attention to if they get used to ignoring nuisances. Prioritization and optimization of how alarms are handled within in a process system increases safety and frees up operator time for more important tasks.


    This brings us to another often overlooked benefit of safety: stress relief and plant culture. Frequent nuisance alarms can create a stressful workplace, especially if there are many alarms appearing at the same time.  Even worse, such alarms can contribute to a culture that slacks off when it comes to safety. This is why the human element cannot be ignored when it comes to safety management. An optimized safety system can go far to optimize the workplace as a whole. Make sure to incorporate training into any new safety system so operators understand how the new system benefits the workplace and how to read the alarms.


    The preservation of life and property is a huge motivating factor in optimizing process safety systems. This is part of the reason why we stress it as one of our core values. It’s important to also remember the monetary, organizational and cultural benefits optimized safety maintenance can have. Upgrades to safety systems can serve to improve more than just safety, a fact that only adds to the overall value of these systems.

  9. Synergy Vice President Now on Two NFPA 85 Committees

    April 2, 2014 by Tonya Vrba




    Synergy Vice-President, Marc L. Hunter has again been nominated to an NFPA 85 Committee, this time for the atmospheric fluidized bed boiler (FBB) committee. As a member of both FBB and the single burner boiler (SBB) committee for NFPA 85, Hunter plays a critical role in deciding the safety regulations for chapters five and seven of the NFPA 85 code.


    “I’m excited to be a part of such a prestigious community,” said Hunter.


    NFPA 85 is a broad code, relating to many aspects of boiler and burner safety. For this reason, there are eight sub committees, each responsible for a section of the code. Chapters five and seven go into basics – such as application, purpose and equipment requirements – as well as details on how processes for FBBs and SBBs should function.


    These rigorous safety standards are impetrative for the safe running of boiler and burner systems. Starting up a boiler and running it properly is like controlling a small explosion. Precise steps must be taken to ensure the safety of all personnel and assets involved.


    Working for clients involved in high risk businesses, Synergy prioritizes safety above all other values. Marc L. Hunter’s nomination to not one, but two NFPA 85 sub committees allows us to expertly bring this value to all who adhere to the NFPA 85 code.


  10. What We Can Learn From the 100 Largest Losses

    March 26, 2014 by Tonya Vrba

    Blast Furnace


    Recently, Marsh released its report on the 100 Largest Losses in the hydrocarbon extraction, transport and processing industry from 1974 to 2013. Using the Nelson-Farrar Petroleum Pant Cost Index, the report includes inflated values to show how much these 100 incidents would cost in 2013.


    Of the top 20 events, eight have taken place in the United States. Most of those losses are associated with vapor cloud explosions at petrochemical plants. While the study covers 40 years of plant operations, these events are hardly in our past. A petrochemical explosion on June 13th, 2013 was one of the eight events.


    While different sectors were involved in the report, all problems can be narrowed down to a few key areas that exist in all plants: Hardware, Management Systems and Emergency Controls. These are the systems that keep everything running smoothly and their failure can be catastrophic.


    One of the easiest ways to ensure your safety systems are always running is to have a maintenance plan in place for routine checkups. The more regular the maintenance, the more you reduce the risk of a catastrophic event. In addition, new and emerging threats should be considered when upgrading hardware and emergency controls. This is why cyber security has been such a huge topic of late. Explosions and natural disasters may be at the heart of these 100 losses, but negligence towards emerging threats leaves the door open to something new creating even more damage.


    If you want more information on protecting yourself from all safety threats, contact your local engineering consultants at Synergy Systems Inc.


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