Rockwell Automation automates Furnaces at IFCO

  • August 01, 2011
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Case Study

Headquartered in Rochester, N.Y., IFCO is a 60-year-old company that designs, constructs and upgrades incinerators, heat treat furnaces, kilns, smelters, boilers, multiple hearth furnaces and fluidized bed reactors. The company is best known for its expertise designing, constructing and upgrading multiple-hearth (multiple chamber) furnaces, ranging in size from 15 to 90 feet tall and up to 28 feet in diameter. IFCO has distinguished itself in the marketplace by offering complete solutions. While its competitors specialize in mechanical design and construction only, IFCO offers electrical, mechanical and process engineering capabilities, as well as concept analysis, laboratory testing, field installation, startup and training. This extensive range of capabilities has helped the company earn the distinction of having built or serviced more than 70 percent of the multiple-hearth furnaces in the United States. Challenge Stricter environmental regulations enacted during the 1990s forced all furnace manufacturers to significantly reduce the amount of emissions their systems emit. While many companies were unable to effectively meet these demands, IFCO decided to proactively reinvest in engineering, emission control and automation technology to help make its equipment more energy efficient, easier to operate and maintain, and environmentally friendly. They realized that this strategic approach would contribute to their customers’ sustainability initiatives, reduce regulatory risk, and provide a competitive advantage. Today that forward-thinking investment is paying off. IFCO’s furnaces now generate emissions that are well below EPA guidelines. The company also continues to expand its operations, with continuous sales growth thru 2009. At the same time, technology advances in the company’s multiple-hearth furnaces have enabled the company to expand its footprint into a broader range of applications, including tungsten recovery, magnesium production (from magnesite) and activated carbon production from coal. In this age of sustainable manufacturing and production, one furnace application that is garnering considerable interest is the incineration of bio-solids in wastewater treatment plants. Instead of hauling the waste off-site for disposal in a landfill, treatment plants are using IFCO’s multiple hearth furnaces to convert the cake-like sludge into ash. (The process yields ash on a 200 to 1 basis). The ash is then sold to fertilizer or cement manufacturers. In addition, the treatment plant can use heat from the process to generate steam to produce electric power, turning what was previously a financial liability into an asset. This is one of many examples where sustainability concerns have driven innovation. Solutions Key in the company’s transformation was its decision to make significant investments in its design and manufacturing capabilities, including establishing highly skilled engineering teams with specialized mechanical, electrical and integration expertise. Equally important has been IFCO’s willingness to apply new automation and control technology efforts to streamline its engineering, design and startup processes. At the center of IFCO’s industrial furnaces is the PlantPAx process automation system. The PlantPAx system is based on the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture platform – delivering a unified process, discrete and information solution. Also, the new process control system is built on Allen-Bradley ControlLogix programmable automation controllers (PACs) from Rockwell Automation. Unlike conventional controllers, these PACs use a common control engine and development environment for disciplines from process to safety to motion.  PlantPAx system controllers are configured using Rockwell Software RSLogix 5000 software, which has proven instrumental in helping IFCO reduce engineering time and streamline integration and troubleshooting. The RSLogix software offers a common tag-based structure that uses real names rather than physical addresses. Tag names can be shared between controller programs, HMI and other applications, helping to reduce configuration and integration costs. In addition to standardizing on the PlantPAx process automation system, IFCO also employs a wide range of Allen-Bradley industrial control components. Among these are 800E push buttons, 1492 IEC terminal blocks, 1734 POINT I/O modules, along with an assortment of industrial relays, industrial computers, timers and sensors. Regardless of the application, most of the company’s furnaces feature a similar design. This is where the modular software delivers significant value. By using the software’s built-in instruction set and user-defined add-on instructions (AOIs), IFCO’s designers help save engineering time by creating their own commonly used library of code that can be tested once and used multiple times. The library maintains logic blocks for each device, so the engineer only needs to determine how the device will work for the particular project. The engineer can then select the correct logic block to import into the program. Since the logic blocks integrate seamlessly with each other, the engineer only needs to import the proper function for each device and the software does the rest. “The modular software code has proven to be a huge time saver,” said Mike Hilton, Director of Electrical Instrumentation and Controls, IFCO. “Having faceplates for repeatable processes and functions reduces design time and allows us to get our systems to market significantly faster.” The control platform also supports open networking standards, such as EtherNet/IP, ControlNet and DeviceNet. Since these networks share a common application layer, the networks have a seamless flow of information between them. This allows IFCO engineers to configure the furnace from a single point, as well as access the system’s information remotely to monitor performance and troubleshoot problems. IFCO also is taking advantage of Allen-Bradley CENTERLINE motor control centers (MCCs) with IntelliCENTER Technology and networked I/O to help reduce wiring costs. In the past, engineers ran parallel wiring to each of the local control burner boxes on the furnaces. (A recent project required 32 burner boxes.) The CENTERLINE MCCs and networked I/O has helped the company save more than $68 thousand dollars in wiring costs and reduce unnecessary use of raw materials. “The ability to go from discrete wiring to a network implementation has not only helped achieve significant savings in wiring, but also has helped reduce installation costs,” Hilton said. “In one recent project, we were able to eliminate more than 600,000 feet of wiring while cutting our installation time in half.” Because the CENTERLINE MCCs come equipped with integrated drives, the technician plugs in a cable and they’re ready to go. To add a drive to a project, the engineer simply gives the drive a name and all the interfaces instantly appear. Engineers also save design time using Allen-Bradley CenterONE® software, a Windows-based software application that helps simplify MCC configuration through a user-friendly interface. At the click of a mouse, the software can generate most of the MCC documentation, which was traditionally created manually. This documentation includes structural specifications, individual unit specifications, front elevation layouts and one-line diagrams. Results Since standardizing on Rockwell Automation control technology, IFCO is now able to design and implement its systems much more quickly than before. Previously, a typical furnace project would take about 12 to 18 months to complete. The company is now able to deliver a furnace in about 10 to 11 months, shaving several months off of its delivery times. This further advances its competitive advantage at a time when energy savings and reduction of emissions is a key focus of many customers. “To help meet our installation deadlines, it’s critical that we use as much as we can from previous jobs,” Hilton said. “That’s precisely what the software from Rockwell Automation allows us to do. With the standards library we’ve developed using add-on instructions, we’ve been able to cut our engineering time in half.” Another big advantage of the Rockwell Automation solution is the compatibility and interoperability of all the products, which eases configuration and helps reduce integration and troubleshooting time. As a result, startups are about 30 percent faster, according to Hilton. “With the added flexibility of the PlantPAx system, we’re able to very quickly make design changes on the mechanical and process end,” Hilton said. “Also, the tag-based development environment allows us to do a lot of concurrent engineering design, helping us commission and start up a furnace in a couple of weeks rather than the typical three to six weeks.” While many companies rely on these same control technologies to achieve cost savings and design efficiencies, the impressive results IFCO has achieved is a testament to their willingness to fully maximize their investments. This investment includes not only the automation and control technology, but also encompasses the highly skilled personnel, engineering tools and support resources needed to meet the company’s uncompromising performance, customer satisfaction and efficiency objectives.  

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