PureCycle Technologies' Born Digital Innovative Plastic Recycling Plant

PureCycle Technologies' Born Digital Innovative Plastic Recycling Plant
PureCycle Technologies' Born Digital Innovative Plastic Recycling Plant

James Haw PE, PMP, CMRP, vice president, Program Management & Digital Strategy at PureCycle Technologies described applying digitalization from the ground up in new plastic recycling facilities at the 27th Annual ARC Industry Forum.

PureCycle Technologies' mission is to transform plastic waste into an infinitely sustainable material ending the culture of single-use plastic and created to truly circular economy. Today’s plastic recycling methods yield low value resins only fit for limited applications such as a park bench, trashcan and deck boards. It can’t be used in all the original use cases to create plastic products. A fundamental concept he continually emphasized is using digitalization providing the tools empowering people to do their job more effectively and concentrate on high value added tasks.James Haw has more than 30 years of automation, instrumentation and electrical engineering experience in many industries, including oil & chemical.

Haw described how PureCycle Technologies is changing the game when it comes to plastic waste, noting you may not know what polypropylene plastic is, but you use it every day, and the waste is mostly goes unrecycled, often ending up in our oceans and environment. The PureCycle is changing this yielding a resin using a patented process designed to transform polypropylene plastic waste (designated as No. 5 plastic) into a continuously renewable resource.

The company’s process takes polypropylene plastic waste and purifies it, washing and scrubbing it at the molecular level creating ultra-pure recycled (UPR) resin. PureCycle resin is a like-virgin material, easily colorable, and is not only 100% recyclable, but also projected to use approximately 79% less energy than virgin resin. It’s also projected to release 35% fewer carbon emissions than new polypropylene manufacturing, further substantiating its sustainability benefits.

Born digital architecture

Haw emphasized since these are new facilities they are “Born Digital like a planned community." All aspects of the production facility and business are fully digitized from the beginning with a common data lake. This includes all systems that contribute to and draw from the data lake whether on premise or cloud hosted including process automation, maintenance, engineering, operations, HSSE (Health, Safety, Security & Environment), building automation and business systems.

Digital design from the ground up provides a great number of features and empowers employees with information to work more efficiently and effectively. Employees use mobile devices, including tablet computers and RealWear hands-free, assisted reality headsets that incorporate front facing high definition camera, audio, and visual information from plant systems. The RealWear lens provides mobility and ability to work with remote experts in addition to providing users with information at their fingertips.

Watch the hands-free, assisted reality headsets video.

Mobile worker use cases

User virtually touch a pipe with the headset and the system displays the real-time data direction of flow, temperature, flow rate, any data that is in the Emerson Delta V system. Additionally, the user can call up any documentation including P&ID diagrams.

Maintenance people wearing a headset can virtually touch any device such as a motor and will be provided visually information including every part the bills replaceable without having to remove the equipment and send it off for repair. The user could also see information about the make and model of every repair part available on-site. “I don’t have maintenance technicians going back and researching, searching on Google, and calling suppliers such as Emerson asking what part do I need?” 

Maintenance processes are fully digitized, empowering maintenance technicians in the field with tablet computers to interact with the systems including access to all information and the ability to create work orders in the plant as they walking around inspecting equipment. When a maintenance technician needs a permit for example to remove a valve they click an icon that informs the operator of everything they need to lockout without having to look up reference information. “This eliminates the possibility of missing something that would put someone in harm’s way," he said. This information is all tied into the digital twin and operators immediately see any work being done, the people working on it and estimated completion time. 

Digital twin

The digital twin ties in every system including Maintenance System (CMMS), engineering system, Operations System, creating one single version of the truth. “Having more than one version of the truth creates confusion in your business, you have to have everyone working from the same version of the truth to make effective decisions," Haw noted.

Health, safety, security and environment digitalization

The plant has integrated digital into Health, Safety, Security, and Environment (HSEE) incorporating a network of video cameras, employee electronic fobs grading system awareness and alerts for unexpected people movements. For example, if a person activates a safety shower, we know who the person is in the exact location and dispatch people out to help. All of the companies Layer of Protection Analysis (LOPA), Process Hazard Analysis (PHA), is done in an exSILentia system.

Engaging employees

James Haw discussed how digitalization is expected throughout the organization from plant people to executives that understand the benefits of superior technology in their personal lives observing, “In the old days all the great technology was at work, and we didn’t have great technology at home," Haw said. “Now we have great technology at home and not so great technology at work.” To attract talent, the user experience must be digital.

Remote Visibility

“Born Digital” allows the company to view and monitor operations anywhere in the world seeing the same information that plant control rooms have from a Central Control room in Orlando, Florida including viewing all on-site video cameras. The company has plans to build other plants in Europe and Asia that can all be monitored from the Central Control room in Orlando, Florida.

Thoughts and observations: Digitalization business strategy

PureCycle building new plants from the ground up has the advantage of a complete digital design, which leverages technology to create highly efficient and competitive production.

Existing plants have a different investment dynamic that many times lead to continuous improvement rather than digital transformation which has a potential for these companies to become unprofitable with declining sales. Not transforming production is betting on the incompetence of competitors. This can be extremely dangerous for the future of a company, leading to loss of business and jobs.

About The Author

Bill Lydon brings more than 10 years of writing and editing expertise to Automation.com, plus more than 25 years of experience designing and applying technology in the automation and controls industry. Lydon started his career as a designer of computer-based machine tool controls; in other positions, he applied programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and process control technology. Working at a large company, Lydon served a two-year stint as part of a five-person task group, that designed a new generation building automation system including controllers, networking, and supervisory & control software. He also designed software for chiller and boiler plant optimization. Bill was product manager for a multimillion-dollar controls and automation product line and later cofounder and president of an industrial control software company.

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