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Cutting losses by improving the performance of base layer controls

MARCH 2004 Michael Brown This article was recently published in a leading magazine serving the pulp and paper industry - however, I think many of the regular readers of my articles will find it interesting. Few people are aware that the majority of regulatory (base layer) controls are not operating properly ... in virtually every plant ... worldwide. Based on experience, gained by myself and my colleagues, in hundreds of plants in seven countries, typical figures are: * 85% of loops are completely inefficient in automatic. * Approximately 50-60% of the loops have major problems within them. * Less than 5% of loops operate reasonably. The reasons behind these facts are complex and manifold, but the main reason is that regulatory control is based on mathematical theory that is almost impossible to apply in real life. On entering the field, most control practitioners immediately find they cannot use the theory they were taught, and they then start trying to 'fly by the seat of their pants'. In general they have very little understanding of what they are doing. Courses that teach the true practicalities of process control have only recently been available. These impart a really true understanding of the subject, and even people who have spent years in the field have found these courses an eye-opening experience.

Why is it important to get controls working properly? The purpose of the controls is to strive to maintain the processes throughout every stage of production at values set by process and production specialists in accordance with a carefully designed manufacturing strategy, or alternatively, they are set by advanced control systems like those typically found on paper machine basis-weight and moisture control systems. The financial implications to the profitability of the production processes can be huge if the processes do not stay at those set points with minimal variance. Typically, a study in a large USA pulp and paper company recently showed that the estimated annual loss of profit in a 300 control loop plant would be typically US $350 000, based on only 35% of the loops not working well. If 85% of the loops are not working properly - which is what we find in nearly every plant we go into - this figure becomes enormous. Unfortunately due to the lack of training on practical control, and with a general acceptance of existing control performance that goes back over many decades, even experienced control engineers and technicians are not aware of just how badly the controls are performing, and what a huge proportion of the profits are being lost. Many people find it extremely hard to believe their plant controls are not performing properly, and question our findings. They reason that if the controls are so bad, how is it that they are making products? The answer to this is that in reality most plants manage to operate and produce product entirely due to operator intervention. When a plant is running under steady state conditions (which most plants do for most of the time), then operators tend to put the controls into automatic, and everything looks good with processes on set point. It must be realized however, that under steady state conditions very few changes occur in the process. However if a load change does occur, or if the operator wishes to move the set point, then what happens in nearly every plant is that the operator switches the loop to manual to deal with the changes, and only puts it back into automatic after the process reaches stability again. The reason for this on most loops is that the controls are performing so badly that they cannot deal with the changes adequately in automatic.

5. and so were left to run continuously in manual.To illustrate the point. One loop was in a continuous cycle. 2. . and largely unworkable process and control strategies. 3. 20% of the loops needed control strategy changes to enable good control to be obtained. That is only six loops were operating reasonably well! 2. 6. There were two systems in the machine. In cases where fast responses are required on set point changes (eg. it can have major impacts on the control. The most staggering finding was that a special factor was set as default in the DCS so that all loops were set to respond to set point changes extremely slowly without bumping the process. 7. Roughly half the loops had unacceptable valve problems. There were oversized filters on all flow loops (both on the transmitter and on the AI cards). (The reason the word 'optimized' has been put in inverted commas will become clear when you read the findings below). 6. as any attempt at tuning can only be tested by observing the process reaction to set point changes. grade changes). For example: a. Seven loops had such serious problems that no optimization could be performed on them at all. 1 35 of the most important loops on a recently reconditioned paper machine were audited. Findings were: 1. Even tuning performed using their automatic tuning package (which did not appear to be very good) requires checking by making set point changes. No one was aware of this. Filtering masks things that are happening in the process and can also lead to other problems. 2 This large plant has quite a few paper machines. we take a look at the performance of controls in two pulp and paper plants that the author has worked on during the past two years: Plant No. each consisting of several loops which had poor. Three loops were cycling continuously when in automatic. selected on a more or less 'ad-hoc' basis by process experts. Although this can be desirable in certain instances. 17 loops had valve problems (some really major. These had been previously 'optimized' by an overseas consultant from the vendor of the DCS control system. 4. 4. Findings: 1. The audit work was done on 95 loops on various machines and processes. 5. Major reworks will be necessary before optimization would be worthwhile. The existing control on 89 of the loops was unacceptable. the operators have to make the changes in manual as the controls cannot respond quickly enough. Only three loops of the 35 had reasonable tuning. 3. Plant No. Even more amazing is the fact that normal tuning is not possible. b. like completely unstable positioners). 18% of the loops had problems on the measurement side. One loop could only get to 30% of the process range with the valve fully open and could never get to set point. including heavy over-filtering.

Steam is injected into the rolls and maintained at a particular pressure. Optimization must also be a joint cooperative effort between the instrumentation and control people. it needs little imagination to 'guesstimate' what enormous benefits both financially (and in terms of quality) could be gained if the controls were improved so that 90 to 95% of the loops were operating really well. The control is now operating about 2000 times faster. no one in the plants is aware of the state of things. which can immediately pick up any performance degradation in any control loop. Normally before an audit is performed. If controls are running so badly. as mentioned earlier. However they must work alongside and receive full cooperation from the plant personnel. Imagine what potential profits the plant has lost over the years with the previous poor control! (Incidentally it is normal for us to find all the moisture controls on a paper machine detuned.Such findings are. Figure 1 is a recording of the control over a period of one hour showing the set point and the pressure signal with the control existing before the audit. It must have full top and middle management backing. The only way that this can be achieved is for plant personnel to accept that optimization must be recognized and instituted as a separate discipline in the plant. the control people generally believe there are very few problems and that the plant is running well. It can be seen that the pressure is seldom at set point and the control variance is very bad. which requires special tuning). This set point is almost continuously ramping up and down. Once optimization of a plant has been completed. Courses of various levels are available for this purpose. and operators. typical of the average plant where control audits are performed for the first time. Again it can only succeed if all these disciplines work together. optimization can be undertaken by knowledgeable outside consultants. for without this any optimization effort is doomed to failure. which is trying to ensure that exactly the right amount of moisture is left in the paper. This is a continuous loop performance monitoring package. It is extremely important that the steam pressure follows the set point as closely as possible. This means that all people must have some understanding of practical control if they are to succeed in this task. as poor paper moisture control does have a negative effect on profitability. a very useful tool is now available on the market. and again as mentioned earlier. and can e-mail or SMS a warning to a responsible person. . The set point comes from the advanced control system. as this particular type of process has very strange dynamics. process people. Alternatively. Figure 1 Figure 2 shows the same control after optimization. The pressure is following set point so closely that virtually no variance can be seen. A few examples taken from the work done in the two paper mills listed above are given: The first example is taken from the moisture control on one of the drier sections on a paper machine.

Figure 3 At the beginning of the test the loop was in automatic. and it can be seen that the process is in a continuous cycle.Figure 2 Figure 3 shows a test on an important steam differential pressure. which is part of the control systems on a drier section. The controller was then put into manual and some step changes were made on the .

Michael Brown Control Engineering. Sometimes it sticks at the new position. where students can have the added benefit of practising on live loops. with many years experience in process control For more information contact Michael Brown. and also to other countries. It is obviously impossible to control with a valve like this.output of the controller. He gives training courses that can be held in clients' plants. Such a device would immediately give warning of such a problem. .especially on an important control like this? It certainly provides a convincing motivation for the need to have a continuous loop performance monitor installed. In conclusion it would appear obvious that plants are continuing to loose significant proportions of potential profits through ignorance and lack of concern (on the part of plant personnel) as to how badly their automatic controls are behaving. and the controller output has to move through 6% before the valve actually moves. His main activities are consulting. It can be seen from the pressure process signal in this test that the valve is Michael Brown is a specialist in control loop optimization. michael. 011 486 0567. His work takes him to plants all over South Africa. The question is how was it possible for nobody to be aware of this problem before this audit was performed . On one occasion it actually cycles twice before settling out. Once it moves it overshoots by over 100%. but at other times it comes swinging wildly back. and teaching practical control loop analysis and optimization.