The next LEAP forward in automation

The current focus of all developing projects is efficiency from start to finish.

Bringing projects in on time, budget, and in the most productive way possible is the aim of all miners, and folding in the latest developments in automation and processing along the way is becoming more and more standard in any project.

However this is difficult due to the rigidity typically faced in implementing automation processes.

Large automation projects traditionally follow a consecutive, inflexible order – step A to Step B, followed by Step C.

By necessity, these project steps are carried out in this one step at a time manner, with each step depending on the completion of the previous one before it can begin.

For the thirty years now, automation projects have been carried out sequentially – from definition to design, manufacture, configuration, testing and installation.

But while this traditional approach has stayed the same, other things have changed, and rapidly so.

"In a world where project costs are going up, it is normal for most large projects to overrun their budgets. No one wants it but it happens. Schedules are being exceeded all the time," Tony Hains, Operations Manager at Honeywell Process Solutions told Australian Mining at the recent Asia Pacific Honeywell Users Group.

In a competitive world, customers are now demanding a way to deal with these cost overruns. 

However new technology has now made it possible meet those demands.

Honeywell has responded by developing a methodology it calls 'Lean Execution of Automation Projects' (LEAP) that is allowing miners to take greater control of their own operations, and the development of their own projects.

"The idea of LEAP is really to make sure that the process control portion of the project is helping the customer to start up faster and safer and in a logical manner," Honeywell Process Solutions director sales – Pacific, Neil Wold.

LEAP represents a paradigm shift for operators as it decouples the software from the hardware and allows them to be produced in parallel rather than in the traditional sequential order.

This means the hardware and software can be produced at the same time, potentially slashing in half the time needed for construction of automation projects.

According to Haynes, for years the company has been changing the way it delivers projects. Honeywell has the tools, the standard build templates and the project management processes. Now they also have the enabling technology to make something like LEAP work.

But this technology itself is built from a number of different innovations from Honeywell.

Universal I/O

In 2012, Honeywell introduced Universal I/O modules which allow operators to quickly and remotely configure channels as analogue or digital I/O using the company's proprietary Universal Channel Technology.

And earlier this year, the company released Universal Cabinets, which incorporate the Universal I/O modules and can be viewed as a standard part.

These cabinets are standardised parts, pre-configured and pre-tested; it provides a full plug and play option for operators.

As Andrew Hird, Honeywell Global Vice President of Sales told Australian Mining "when we get to the end of the project, if you want 100 cabinets – 30 of this combination, 20 of this combination – we can ship them basically out of stock, rather than have to design all this for the customer".

Additionally it provides more space on the floor as "there is a massive reduction in the number of cable connections needed, meaning less cabling needed and in turn cutting the potential for risk".

Virtualisation

Tied in with cloud engineering, virtualisation is a technique whereby operating systems and applications are separated from physical hardware. It means that, rather than using many servers to run many tasks, you can use a single server to run multiple operating systems and applications.

"It helps to cut down on server infrastructure due to the ability to run multiple tasks as once, which is especially important when dealing with locations where space is at a premium."

It means that plant hardware is greatly reduced and process control systems can be made more reliable.

Cloud Engineering

While the Cloud has received some bad press lately Honeywell endeavoured to point out that LEAP uses its own Honeywell Cloud, not the iCloud from which data seems to sometimes fall into the wrong hands.

Cloud Engineering frees up projects geographically, allowing multiple engineers from different locations to work on projects together without having to gather in a central location. 

This is a an enormous support for many mining projects, as the remote nature of a lot of operations can cause huge costs in simply getting the skilled engineers to site to develop the project.

Added to this are a number of built in redundancies which can help to avoid single point of failures that may endanger entire projects.

In addition, it means that customers use the supplier's physical infrastructure during the project engineering process, and develop this process infrastructure via virtualisation.

This means there is no need for them to purchase hardware until the project is near completion. When they do purchase that equipment it is the latest equipment available, not what was the latest when the project began two or three years before.

"Another benefit is that it provides for the option of late changes in the process design," Hird added.

"So by using LEAP operators can reconfigure on the run, allowing them to make changes easily without there being flow on effects to the physical infrastructure.

"This also reduces the potential for error due to this ability to rework any stage of the process at any point."

Potential benefits

By separating physical from functional design, the LEAP methodology breaks the traditional sequential order of projects. It allows parallel workflows, applies standardised designs, and enables engineering to be done from anywhere in the world. 

It can save money. According to a hypothetical study by Honeywell, it can cut automation CAPEX costs by up to 30 per cent and increase schedule flexibility by up to 25 per cent.

According to Honeywell, the important thing is that LEAP can help projects start on time. The potential costs of late start up are hard to calculate but very significant.

Hayne explained that automation budgets on major budgets now account for just one to three per cent of the total budget.

"So cost itself is not the major risk. Starting your plant up six months late, losing six months of production is an enormous risk. That's what all of our customers are trying to eliminate," he said.

"Operators can now shift what were previously back-end tasks to the front end, as we can execute this via cloud engineering, which has resulted in a completely different design and installation process and timeline, shifting the goalposts."

Hains added that where LEAP adds value is in the ability to "keep the project off the critical path and have the 

While LEAP came about as a result of customer demand, it isn't for everyone. As Hird explained, there are lot of conservative companies out there who like to tread cautiously. However, Honeywell has been using all the elements of LEAP for some time already. The only difference is that they now offer it as a package.

If they wish, customers can stick to the traditional method or pick the elements of LEAP that suit them.

 

Australian Mining attended the Honeywell Users Group (HUG) as a guest of Honeywell.

 

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.