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.


30 Jan

The Four Main Causes of Nuisance Trips and How to Fix Them

The Four Main Causes of Nuisance Trips and How to Fix Them

Those who have worked in an environment plagued by high volumes of nuisance trips know all too well the chaos they cause. These disruptions to normal operating conditions cause unnecessary loss of employee time, asset reliability and business income. No system has to settle for the disturbance of these trips. Below, we’ll explore the most common types of nuisance trips, their causes and how they can be prevented.

#1 Power Faults

Power Faults are typically caused by at least one of three things: unreliable power, inadequate planning or poor quality of power. Poor planning in the design of power distribution can result in overloaded circuits. When the power supply hasn’t been properly conditioned, the quality will suffer and result in a fault.

The Fix
A system suffering nuisance trips from power faults needs to be reexamined and, likely, redesigned. Specific attention needs to be given to the distribution of power surrounding the plant. Depending on the unique issues causing power faults, power feeds may also have to be updated.

#2 Communication Faults

Faults due to poor communication between controllers share similarities with power faults in that one of their causes is inadequate planning. Overloads and hardware faults can result from poor communication between site assets. Today’s technology is meant to interact intelligently with other machinery in the system. It’s no surprise that a system with poor communication would be prone to nuisance trips.

The Fix
The communication design between site assets needs to be reevaluated. Wiring should be optimized to ensure each machine in the system is performing at full potential. Communications should be intelligently designed into your system. It should be a benefit, not a detriment. Optimization of asset communication design and layout can go a long way to eliminating nuisance trips.

#3 Process Alarms

This is another perfect example of an aspect of a system that should act only as a benefit. Process alarms alone do not cause faults. Instead, it’s how they communicate the health of the system and how plant employees react to them that cause problems. Typically, we see one of three things happening in regards to process alarms. The alarms fails to activate when needed. Too many alarms go off at once, preventing plant employees from identifying the main cause. Plant employees ignore the alarm. All of these have the potential to cause unnecessary trips.

The Fix
Alarms are there to alert plant employees of issues in the system so they can address them before they cause problems. If the alarm fails to appear, appears in a confusing fashion or frequently appears when there are no issues, employees are not going to be able to do their job properly.

An alarm management study is necessary to correct these issues. The exact remedy is dependent on the unique issues effecting the plant, but may include installation of alarm filters, time delays, priority ranking and reduction of duplicate alarms. With these fixes in place, employees will no longer need to ignore alarms or worry they aren’t addressing the correct alarm.

#4 Application Program

A lot can go on within the programming of a system, especially when multiple people have worked on it.  Lack of optimization within an application program can cause glitches that result in nuisance trips. Parts of certain programs may remain in the system even after they are no longer being used. Real confusion results when many people have added and removed various programs from the system. Imagine a cake being baked my various cooks. A different cook performs each step without communicating with the others. What you’ll end up with is a poorly made cake that may or may not be edible. Just as the disjointed process prevented the cooks from doing their job, confusion within the program can prevent site assets from acting properly. The unfortunate results is often a nuisance trip.

The Fix
Have the same person or company work with an application program throughout the duration of its life. A single cook making a cake is far less likely to be confused by the actions of others. This fix requires something unique from the automation world, which is why Synergy offers varying levels of support contracts. Included in each one is an annual maintenance and backup visit to ensure all programs are running as they should. More frequent visits are available depending on the level of support a client chooses. When one person or company has sole responsibility over the programming of an asset, optimization is far easier to achieve and nuisance trips less likely to occur.

23 Jan

The Effect of Industrial Automation on Job Growth

The Effect of Industrial Automation on Job Growth

Today’s news on industrial automation often revolves around the speed of growth. Similar to other technologies, automation has grown faster than we could ever have expected. Intelligent systems can measure almost any Key Performance Indicator (KPI) and predict future plant needs. The abilities of today’s industrial technologies are nothing short of astonishing.

The truly great thing about the evolution of industrial automation has nothing to do with its capabilities. Instead, it’s in how it effects job growth in industrialized nations. Martin Buchwitz wrote a column in Automation World crediting automation with the prevention of de-industrialization.

Before the rise of today’s advanced technologies, voices in the industrial world discussed automation as a job killer. We see today that advanced industrial automation has done quite the opposite. The catalyst of low job growth is not in the advancement of machinery, but in the competitive low wages of developing countries.

Industrial automation provides businesses and process industries significant monetary savings. As such, many do not feel a need to move out of industrialized nations. Buchwitz speaks about this effect on Germany, but the same can be said for the United States. Those businesses who may have considered moving production out of our country have the superior alternative of adopting money-saving technologies that allow them to stay right where they are while still competing in the global market place.

The influence of advanced automation in the job market is especially evident to Synergy, as we reach out to people with an interest in automation technologies. We’ve even created a job posting on LinkedIn. Industrial automation will only continue to benefit future businesses and economies. Perhaps it will even play a role in the return of industries which, until now, had to rely on cheap labor to save money.

15 Jan

Updates to EEMUA 191 Alarm Systems Guidelines

This photo, “209/365/329 Red Alert!” is copyright (c) 2014 Alan Levine and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

The Engineering Equipment and Materials Users’ Association, or EEMUA, has revised their alarm systems guidelines. According to a Control Engineering article on the subject, the association has added an additional 80 pages to the original publication and has expanded upon the industries addressed to include those associated with gas and water.

Of particular importance for the revision was what they call Human-Computer Interface (HCI) management. Even the world’s greatest technology can be brought down by human error, making human interactions with alarm systems crucial to any industry.

A healthy alarm system and a method of management is essential for business asset reliability. Synergy has the expertise to create systems with predictive alarm capabilities. This specific information is useful to the human element of a plant. The staff, notified before any real problem arises, then has the opportunity to be proactive. Such alarm systems can dramatically reduce down time and prevent damages.

The updated EEMUUA guidelines also goes into alarm suppression; that is, when should and shouldn’t an alarm be ignored? With predicative technology, it’s important to recognize which alarms should be addressed right away and which can wait.  Safety is always key, which is why Synergy makes a point to provide training to our clients on any new system we install.

08 Jan

PRESS RELEASE: Synergy Systems Inc. Earns CSIA Certification


For Immediate Release

The Control System Integrators Association (CSIA)

Synergy Systems Inc., Chicago-based provider of plant automation services, has earned CSIA Certified status in the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) “Best Practices and Benchmarks” certification program.

Synergy earned the certification following a successful audit – administered by an independent consulting firm – that assessed its performance against client-centric criteria in a wide range of business, project management and system development areas:

  • General Management
  • Human Resources Management
  • Financial Management
  • Marketing, Business Development and Sales Management
  • Project Management
  • System Development Lifecycle
  • Supporting Activities
  • Quality Assurance Management
  • Service and Support

“CSIA Certification is the gold-seal mark of a professionally managed control system integration business,” says Robert Lowe, CSIA executive director. “Certification reassures clients that Synergy Systems is an established professional services firm that wants to develop and successful, long-term partnership with clients.”

Mark Urda, president of Synergy Systems Inc. adds, “CSIA is the premier benchmarking organization in the control system integration industry. Recognition as CSIA Certified is a testament to our commitment to CSIA’s value proposition of ensuring that industries everywhere have access to low-risk, safe and successful applications of automation technology.”

About CISA
The Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) is a global non-profit professional association that seeks to advance the industry of control system integration for the success of members and their clients. For more information, visit www.controlsys.org.

19 Dec

New Opportunities with Smart Technology

“Successful companies have leveraged the knowledge and experience of leading automation companies in implementing smart plant projects to consistently deliver quantifiable business results measurable in real-time, predict asset performance, avoid surprises, and reduce risks to life, plant, and environment.”

This photo, “Control Systems Security” is copyright (c) 2014 Idaho National Laboratory and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic

So says a recent article published at Flow Control Magazine. Companies around the globe are harnessing the new opportunities provided by smart technology. As these advances become cheaper and cheaper to implement and their benefits ever more evident, it’s often a no-brainer for a business to update their site assets.

Serious issues can plague a plant that operates on outdated machines. With a limited ability to measure critical data and make predictions, businesses either plan downtime, sometimes when it’s not needed, or have unexpected issues that require downtime.

Downtime, the dirtiest D-word in the automation world, can be dramatically reduced with a system that collects historical data, measures critical aspects of the architecture and predicts any future issues. When known ahead of time, some problems can be handled with now downtime at all. In this way, the plant staff acts in a predicative and proactive role, addressing problems before they cause any harm.

If you are wondering just how affordable all this technology is, consider the fact that many of Synergy’s solutions have an ROI of a year or less. It is said that an iPhone has more advanced technology than what we used to land on the moon. Process control systems have enjoyed the same rapid advancement. What used to cost an outrageous amount of money, is now simple and can achieve more with a significantly lower initial investment


11 Dec

Common Mistakes With Process Control Upgrades

This article was originally posted on Manufacturing Business Technology.


Significant improvements can be demonstrated in updating automation in either independent machine controls or an entire facility. More and more manufacturers are upgrading control systems primarily to fight the battle of equipment obsolescence, rather than taking the opportunity to invest in upgrades, in order to gain more productive years out of major capital assets.

There has been a noticeable trend in projects that are successful in achieving just hardware replacement, and those projects that leave the manufacturing process with more intelligence, flexibility, and improvements in production goals.

The most common mistake made in automation projects is one we all make in our personal lives or in business decisions — we spend too much time dealing with the issues that are counter-productive to our goals and strategic objectives. The Boston Matrix model (BCG Matrix) demonstrates how we categorize everything we do — including the projects we fund — into one of four groups. We typically spend time and money in capital improvement projects, specifically automation enhancements that are:

  1. Important and urgent (cash cows)
  2. Important but not urgent  (rising stars)
  3. Not important and urgent (question marks)
  4. Not important and not urgent (dogs)

It goes without saying that we shouldn’t be spending much of our limited resources on the things that are neither important nor urgent, but it may be counter intuitive to say that only 20 percent of our resources should be spent with issues that are important with critical timing constants as that is reactive only, and 80 percent of our resources on areas of importance without critical time constraints as these are the areas that drive strategic plans. All too often automation systems are upgraded only when the need to replace them forces the issue into immediate replacement, or because the decision to replace with project scope of “functional equivalent replacement” was made in haste. If an organization is spending 80 percent of resources on item 1 above (cash cows), which is the world most of us live in today, we are significantly limiting our ability to grow the organization in terms of productivity and quality. We all should be spending the vast majority of efforts in “rising star” aspects of the production environment.

Many organizations put initiatives in place to optimize manufacturing operations in order to gain efficiency or reduce costs. One popular area has been in efficiency gains that reduce energy due to the environmental focus of our cultural initiatives. More importantly for those of us in manufacturing, upgrades in this area can qualify for rebates provided by efficiency programs from utility companies to offset capital expenditures.

Rather than upgrading automation systems with “like in kind” replacement strategy funded by maintenance or capital appropriations, a case can be made to fund automation upgrades through a number of other benefits that can yield dividends to an organization, such as:

  • Examining automation strategies to take advantage of current technology building greater intelligence within automatic controls
  • Implementing new modern technologies to include improvements in record keeping and preventative maintenance programs
  • Taking advantage of automation objectives in both internal and external organization promotions

Historically, capital expenditures have always had one key metric for the invest-or-save decision — return on investment calculation. Years ago, automation projects could yield under a one year ROI, primarily due to the level, or lack thereof, in automation deployed. Returns were computed based upon increased production. Today, this method can prove to be difficult to gain funding of capital expenditures on production increases, quality improvements, or scrap rates alone due to the accounting constraints on expected return on investment. We can argue that today’s modern automation hardware/software, when properly maintained, can sustain for a significantly longer period of time than the return on cost target that our financial professionals set forth.

We have been involved with updating automation systems that were first installed in the 1980s and earlier. Some organizations have seen the benefits of implementing proper automation for more than 30 years. A new automation strategy will yield benefits continually for years to come long after the investment has paid for itself — especially in today’s energy conservation climate — and organizations will see energy dollars saved on overhead cost for years to come. Energy savings projects are driving automation improvements down to the smallest potential project.

Unfortunately, we have seen this error occur all too often. Manufacturing organizations have made the choice to use a consulting engineering firm or system integrator to spearhead the effort for upgrading their automation system.

Selection of the right consulting engineering/project management firm is more important than choosing what hardware to use or what software to deploy. We wouldn’t recommend that someone in our family be seen by the least expensive doctor if it meant sacrificing quality and we wouldn’t visit a doctor who doesn’t have extensive experience in a required specialty. Find the right partner by using the same criteria as you would when choosing a doctor.

Select a partner that puts your needs first, focusing on your problems. This partner should be someone that your organization feels comfortable with, discussing needs and concerns unfiltered. Your partner should be able to find the root causes of issues, provide the necessary technical knowledge, and have a spirit that enables your organization as a “client” and not a “customer.”

As you evaluate your potential automation provider partner, investigate their published experience and inquire with their existing clientele. Ask for resumes of key personnel that will be working on your project and ensure that you are comfortable with entrusting the safety and reliability of your organization.

It’s obvious that you want to do business with a firm that is going to stand behind their work in addition to conducting their business in an ethical manner. Look for an organization that offers warranty not for just hardware and software (supplied by vendors), but also offers warranty for intellectual property that is the running automation created by your partner. A hallmark for finding a partner that demonstrates this is someone willing to provide 24/7 emergency response to issues and extended maintenance support contracts. Top tier organizations exhibit these characteristics and demonstrate this by participating in groups focused in their area of expertise, or a professional organization such as the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA).

Synergy Systems, Inc. of Lisle, Ill., is a control system integration company specializing in automation design with a focus on throughput increases, cost reduction, and process optimization for  the steel production, power generation, chemical and food processing industries. For more, visit www.synsysinc.com.

Synergy Systems is a member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA), a global non-profit professional association that seeks to advance the industry of control system integration for the success of members and their clients. For more information, visit www.controlsys.org.

04 Dec

Workforce and Asset Management

The work force is aging. As baby boomers get ever closer to retirement, the average age of employees increases. This is a trend seen in many industrialized countries and poses its own challenges. In the business world, this changing demographic can have a significant effect on asset management.

Asset management involves how to optimize operational performance and profitability of a business. Life cycle cost and return on investment play a huge role in the optimization of a plant, but equally important is the value employees bring to the business. The longer they work with assets, the more they understand the variables that affect them. With the right automation, these skills can be maintained in the workforce even as employees retire.

Sophisticated control systems have the ability to measure and record more information about a plant than ever before. When installed by industry experts, these systems also learn the finer points of each asset. In this way, the skills and knowledge of current employees can be passed down and built upon by new hires.

Synergy understands the great benefits employees provide. We have grown in our expertise of asset management and are committed to optimization of operational performance and client profitability. This is why we make a point to train client employees, the greatest asset to every business, on all new asset management systems we install.