26 Feb

The Keys to Safety System Maintenance in the Process Industry

The Keys to Safety System Maintenance in the Process Industry

Safety continues to be a huge issue within the process industry. We’ve written about cyber security in the past as something that grew from the protection of personal information to the protection of business control. Maintenance of overall safety extends beyond computer systems to the preservation of employee and mechanical health. Maintenance of the systems that protect the safety of plant employees is critical to continuous success.

Safety system maintenance is always a priority, but it’s rarely considered critical. If everyone is happy and systems are running fine, then what is there to maintain? Spending funds to assess a system only to find out it’s perfectly fine can seem like a waste, but it’s in fact necessary. The flip side of the coin is that maintenance is put off until something in the safety system breaks, something that could have disastrous consequences.

A process system is like the human body in this case. There are certain things we know can go wrong, like prostate cancer or ovarian cancer, without causing any immediate symptoms. This is why we have routine checkups even when our bodies appear to be healthy. It’s better to spend money to know everything is running smoothly than to cut the life of the system short by ignoring routine maintenance.

Routine checkups in the process industry involve verification that all systems and alarms are working as they should. Small issues can be found before they lead to disaster. Here, we cover the four main areas you should look into on a regular basis to ensure your plant is always as safe as possible.


This involves making sure everything is running smoothly, notifying employees of the proper alerts and avoiding nuisance trips. Verifying system communications and redundancy is an absolute must. Gone unchecked, you might unintentionally have a malfunctioning module for which the redundant module has taken over. While the system may not be in critical status, the absence of redundancy puts the whole plant in far more risk. The same can be said for system communications and alarms. If the proper alarms aren’t being sent and attended to, fixable problems may persist and create more damage than they would have otherwise.


Part of cyber security maintenance, backups are a necessary aspect of running a business. Safety maintenance, however, requires more than the existence of backups. Typically, businesses will have a system of automatic backup in place. It is this system which must be assessed to verify safety and security. Automatic and redundant backups only work if the system is void of corruption. Making sure the system is alive ensures you never have be in a situation where you need to use a backed up copy of data only to find the data is corrupted and useless.

Plant Environment Impacts

Many process systems have a number of environmental factors, such as excessive dust or temperature differences, from which their employees and machinery may need protection. It is imperative that the systems regulating these environmental factors be checked so that any issues can be resolved before there is excessive damage.


Safety is paramount for any industry to be efficient and reliable. All systems are fail able, but they can also be made better. New improvements are released every day that further perfect existing safety systems for the process industry. A sure way to ensure you remain on top of the latest safety needs is to consult experts in process system safety.

19 Feb

Deciding When to Automate

Energy Usage In the January 2014 issue of Control Engineering Magazine, Mark T. Hoske makes ten predictions for the new year, one of which is more processes will be streamlined and add automation. Hoske expands on this idea by pointing out that return on investment is the highest when automation is applied to lean processes.

Un-optimized processes can unknowingly generate a lot of waste. Automating anything in such a system will likely have little benefit, if any. You can’t know if automation is the rights step to take if you don’t know whether or not you’re creating waste. The last thing any business needs is an automated system that uses too much fuel or materials.

The reason why Mark Hoske singles out lean processes is because they have already been optimized to such an extent that nothing is frivolous or wasted. Every asset in the system is performing its ideal job and producing ideal information. In such a system, it is easy to identify the areas which would benefit most from automation.

When you find the right engineering consultant, you don’t have to worry about the potential waste your current system is producing. The best in the business know the first step requires a look at the whole picture. There is no point in automating just for the sake of automation. The right partner will make sure you understand if what you want can accomplish your goals and if there are any methods that can accomplish them more efficiently.


06 Feb

What Defines a Flexible Control System?



Traditional manufacturing typically involves discrete automation. Systems are built for one specific purpose. Their sole purpose in life is to pound, mold or shape products in the process system. This form of manufacturing lends itself to program logic control (PLC) systems. These industries create circuit boards and hammer out parts. For the entire lifecycle of the system, each asset will have a select few specific functions.



The opposite of this traditional manufacturing is processing, which often handles melted metals and gas and oil refining. These actions, which are usually continuous in nature, tend to be controlled by distributed control systems (DCS). The needs of these systems are greatly different from traditional manufacturing as they need to be able to measure and calculate multiple aspects of the ingredients in order to perform their step in the creation of a product.


Today, you are likely to find both of these manufacturing methods within a single plant. The food and beverage industry is a perfect example. One part of the plant is focused on mixing ingredients and making the food. The other part is focused on sealing lids and placing stickers on jars. How do you go about finding the right control system to fit that plant’s needs?


The first step is to look at the entirety of needs, including future needs. Ask yourself how long you expect this system to last and what, if any, changes will need to be made during that time. You may find yourself with a need for this system to handle both traditional and process manufacturing techniques. This is where programmable automation controllers (PAC) come in. Acting as a middle ground between the two types of manufacturing, these systems have multifunction, multidomain and multitasking capabilities.


Many other questions surrounding the expectations of your new system need to be discussed with your automation consultant. Does the system need to have the flexibility to talk to different systems created by different companies? Do you need the ability to add on additional components or extra features in the future? Will the system be expected to generate actionable information for both management and plant employees?


Answering all these questions requires extensive expertise in not only flexible control systems, but in understanding client needs. With a platform agnostic view and 35 years of experience, Synergy excels at installing premium control systems that meet client needs and goals. We can help you decide which system, be it PLC, DCS or PAC, will best accomplish your business goals. Our engineers are always on call and would be more than happy to discuss your plans for an optimized process system.