BASF Benefits from Fast Implementation and Reduced Maintenance Costs |

BASF Benefits from Fast Implementation and Reduced Maintenance Costs

March 252012

March 2012

Successfully migrating an automation system in a polymer dispersion loading centre
Many manufacturing professionals know that plant commissioning can be a hectic affair, with everyone nervously searching for errors. This is especially the case if they only have three days to bring a new machine into service. However, BASF’s migration in one of its shipping bays at the company’s Ludwigshafen Verbund site in Germany shows that things don’t have to be like that. The company was able to load up the trucks and see them drive away – half a day earlier than planned. For BASF, the number one success factor was a structured approach to the project and an intensive test phase, during which each function was thoroughly tested and meticulously documented.

It’s a Friday afternoon. Elsewhere, people are thinking about their weekend. But at BASF’s shipping bay activity is at a peak. Several trucks are waiting for their load, a milky liquid called a ‘dispersion’. At first glance every product looks the same, but each dispersion has different sealant qualities. The innovative polymer dispersions produced by BASF are used in applications such as self-adhesive labels, weather-resistant paintwork for the building chemistry, and re-sealable food packaging. The interesting thing about these dispersions is the miniscule polymer particles that are suspended in a watery solution. In the open air the water evaporates, so the polymer particles shift closer together and merge. This makes polymer dispersion ideal for joining materials together, refining them or guarding them against damage.

A polymer dispersion with precisely the right characteristics is the result of close collaboration between raw materials suppliers, manufacturers of paint and construction chemicals, and companies that process these things.

“Each of our products is custom designed,” says Ulrich Frübis, BASF’s Senior Engineering & Maintenance Manager, Dispersions for Adhesives & Constructions, who headed up the migration project. The polymer dispersions embody the chemical firm’s philosophy – after all, one of the four pillars of its business is making customers more successful. “That also means we provide on-going application development together with the customer,” adds Frübis.

This complex approach extends to BASF´s automation solutions too. More than 100 different liquids produced in the neighboring building have to be carefully packed in containers. In the shipping bay, which dates from 1996, interconnecting the multiple tubes and valves can be a challenge. The dispersions need to be transferred through a pipe coupling station and loaded into their final container – which may be a truck, an intermediate bulk container or a tank. The pipe connectors and containers also need to be regularly rinsed out and cleaned. When the loading facility was first set up, staff decided to use decentralized automation, with Allen-Bradley PLC-5 controllers operating via ControlNet. Alongside these controllers, the loading facility was also connected to the production area which worked with control systems from a number of different suppliers. The requirement for the automation technology included – and still includes today – a high level of flexibility and availability as well as easier maintenance.

Migration brought forward
The plant operated without a hitch for twelve years. During that time, it was regularly optimized. Today, the plant has more than 3600 I/O points. BASF’s automation managers considered the existing systems to be proven solutions that should continue to function smoothly in the future. They initiated a detailed observation of the plant’s whole lifecycle. Their key requirement was that the system should continue to function well until 2018.

Tests showed that certain components were nearing the end of their life or would no longer be supported in a few years’ time. The managers agreed that a migration in 2011 was essential – but they didn’t want to wait that long. “Due to the reduced maintenance costs we decided to bring forward the migration,” remembers Frübis. “And these cost advantages made the migration project pay for itself in a short time.” As Rockwell Automation was not one of BASF’s standard suppliers, the company’s specialist automation centre was asked to verify and approve the project. Rockwell Automation’s concept won over everyone concerned. “We were able to keep a large part of our existing remote I/O level,” notes Frübis. “If we’d needed to replace it, which would have been necessary with solutions from a different supplier, the costs would have been several times higher.” The BASF team was also impressed with Rockwell Automation’s PlantPAx system and solution consisting of management, engineering, testing and installation.

Ambitious schedule
The period planned for the implementation of the new system was only eight months. The start-up itself, was subject to an even tighter timeframe at only three days. Rockwell Automation’s team first replaced the PLC5 controllers with three redundant Allen-Bradley ControlLogix programmable automation controllers (PACs). The existing 10Mbit Ethernet network for the PCs was then replaced by a 100Mbit network with two Rockwell Automation Stratix 8000 switches.

Several of the display and operator components were also upgraded with newer devices, although these included the same functionality as the old ones. The previous visualization system was replaced by a FactoryTalk View client-server system along with a redundant server. Frübis emphasizes the need for excellent performance. “After the migration the system is less complex and delivers a higher performance”, he notes. “This was why we decided on a redundant system for things like controllers and visualization servers.”

On a Saturday morning in February, everything was ready. The plant was powered down and the entire loading facility came to a halt. The transfer of products from the production area to the shipping bay was also suspended – but not for long. “The whole system had been pre-assembled, so all we needed to do was connect ControlNet. After two or three hours we were able to restart the plant and begin testing,” explains Frübis. “The old remote I/O modules worked with the new controllers with no problems.” By Monday morning the team was ready to start transferring a test load onto a truck, and by the afternoon – half a day earlier than planned – the loading facility was back to normal and running like clockwork.

Perfect preparation
The two main reasons for the successful changeover were excellent preparation and an intensive testing phase at Rockwell Automation’s application centre in Karlsruhe. Over a period of two weeks, both teams worked together testing every function down to the last detail. The detailed preparation work in the virtual environment paid off when the real deployment started. Only the modbus connection to the production control system needed some extra engineering and brain power. However, with everything else running as planned, this did not represent a major stumbling block during the vital commissioning phase.

The Rockwell Automation team demonstrated their domain and project management expertise in the pharmaceutical industry and structured the BASF project in a similar way. “I was a little skeptical at first, because the loading facility is such a critical point in the production process and because Rockwell Automation isn’t a BASF standard supplier,” admits Frübis, although he was impressed by Rockwell Automation’s methodical approach to project execution, modeled on accepted Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). “This was a major reason for the project going off so smoothly,” he adds. “I first noticed it with the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) which had been meticulously planned from start to finish. The test sheets were documented, signed and neatly filed. Particularly convincing was that Rockwell Automation unlike other providers was able to keep up the high level of quality over many years.” In the highly-regulated pharmaceutical industry, this approach has long been standard practice due to the many international audits involved. With a loading facility for the chemical industry, however, many other suppliers would shy away from the large amount of extra work involved. This may change in the future, as Frübis recognizes: “Structuring the project in this way makes sense for any system supplier, especially in terms of quality assurance. It’s bound to become more widespread, even outside the pharmaceutical industry.”

Rockwell Automation puts its domain expertise in the pharmaceutical and other industries to good use for its new process automation strategy. The Rockwell Automation PlantPAx System represents a leap forward in plant-wide integration delivering a best-in-class process control solution geared to BASF´s specific requirements and helping the company to maximize productivity while reducing costs. The platform comprises flexible, fully integrated and scalable solutions that can be used for small or large machines and a range of application sizes. The solution is based on a technology that allows information to transfer from field devices through the control and supervisory layers all the way to business integration systems.

BASF’s polymer dispersion loading facility has been running efficiently during the four months since commissioning. The company has signed a lifecycle agreement with Rockwell Automation that includes a spare part contract with defined costs as well as TechConnect phone support and service availability around the clock. The agreement helps make sure that the collaboration between the two companies will continue to function smoothly up to 2018. Further upgrades are planned before that date, with work already underway to further optimize system efficiency. “From my perspective, the migration went off very effectively and was a great success,” concludes Frübis. “For a similar application involving Rockwell Automation migration, we would take the same approach as for this project – and hopefully achieve the same level of success.”

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