Are people changing your controller settings and messing things up?

Many industries have turned to automation in recent years as a means of cutting costs and improving productivity.

It’s an effective way to meet the challenges of high labour costs, lower commodity prices and increased production costs.

One of the side effects of the increasing use of automation is that the it has become critical for operations to manage and protect the configuration of their control systems.

Take this recent example.

After completing a process optimisation campaign, one of our clients observed a significant improvement in plant performance. They were very happy with the result: a step change in plant recovery and profitability.

Fast forward a couple of weeks however, and they hit a major problem: all the improvements had disappeared overnight!

What was happening!? Like magic, the plant was almost back to where it was before.

A bit of investigation and root cause became clear.

Someone had returned and changed the settings back to the old settings, essentially eliminating the significant improvements, and causing a sharp decline in recovery and profitability.

Fortunately, we had recorded the new configuration state in our Logic Vault™ tool, and loaded settings back to the optimised configuration. Like magic (again) the step change in plant recovery returned!

While this resulted in a production loss, it was a valuable lesson for our client.

They became aware on how important the controller settings are and how they can have a direct impact (good or bad!) on plant performance. It wasn’t “smoke and mirrors”. It wasn’t some possible future risk that might happen. It was a concrete and direct impact on production. It also wasn’t a cheap lesson.

Consider this scenaio. If Convergio optimises a plant area and the value of that improvement is worth $100,000 per month. If someone then plays with the settings and loses the changes, then this is costing the plant $25,000 per week, or $1.2m per year! If you had a piece of equipment that made you $1m+ per year wouldn’t you make sure it was being looked after!?

The amazing part of all this is that it’s doesn’t have to be that complicated to keep track of your controller settings.

Whether you use an integrated tool like Logic Vault™, or a manual process, the important thing is that you have some way of recording and coordinating changes to your operational system configuration.

There’s another issue, which can also have a huge impact on your production, but it’s often a lot more difficult to identify and analyse. It’s how to find out how well your control loops are performing.

Your automation system can be “online” but how do you know if it’s working at peak performance? If someone has been “playing with the settings”, how can you quickly find out which controllers have been messed with? Fortunately, I can share some ideas on that type of problem too in my next post.