How to Enhance Control System Efficiency and Reliability While Controlling Costs

Many power generation facilities struggle with control system maintenance, efficiency, reliability, and obsolescence issues, especially older facilities. Often, the challenge is to find a viable solution to enhance control system efficiency and reliability while controlling costs. The key to success is a process of listening, analyzing, developing an optimization plan, and implementing it.

This is a methodology EN Automation developed and has relied upon, a proven approach that has served our clients well. It has helped to improve the operation of their existing control systems while avoiding the expense and downtime associated with wholesale control system upgrades and replacements.

When issues arise, it’s not uncommon for them to not only be expensive, but it can be hard to find providers willing to take on smaller projects, such as incremental upgrades and maintenance tasks. As a result, operators often have no choice but to live with the issues and the challenges they present. We know how frustrating that can be and offer operators an alternative.

We begin by actively listening to our clients to understand their unique challenges and needs. This helps to ensure that we avoid making assumptions and have all the facts in hand before moving to the next step, analysis.

Analysis, Solution, and Implementation

Our team of experts have extensive experience with traditional power generation facilities, including coal, natural gas, and hydroelectric plants that typically utilize DCS and PLC-based control systems for operations.

Even more, our experience extends to nearly every software and hardware platform used. No matter which systems our clients have, or which combinations they use—and there are a lot of different types of systems, from different vendors, put in over the course of several years—we can take care of them. We understand all of these different systems, we can make them work together, make them talk, and we can make them function.

Once our team of experts has an in-depth understanding of our client’s needs, we perform a detailed analysis of the control systems and facility and then develop a solution tailored to each clients’ specific needs and fully test it in-house before it is deployed at the client site. Once that has been done, our automation team, who sees the project through from beginning to end, implements the solution.

Implementation is a critical step, and we work closely with the client to ensure that facility operations are not disrupted. The team installs the software or equipment solution at the power plant, makes any necessary minor adjustments, trains operating personnel, and fully tests it one more time—a site acceptance test. The final step is to commission it, making sure it functions as designed.

Just like Michael Jordan, everyone has a sweet spot, and this is ours. EN Automation offers a full range of consulting, design, and software development services that help our customers meet challenges head-on with efficient and reliable control systems in a way that controls costs.

Real-World Cost Savings

One example of this is the University of Cincinnati, Central Utilities Plant. As an EN Automation client, they are now saving millions in demand charges each year from the local electric provider.

The plant operates a 21-megawatt steam turbine that provides power to the university campus and affiliated hospital. The turbine was experiencing “phantom trips,” meaning it had frequent nuisance shutdowns that were a not due to a real problem. At times there was no indication given by the system of the reason for the shutdown.

As a result, EN Automation was asked to perform a thorough review of the turbine’s trip logic. Once the study was conducted, it revealed that the false trips were caused by intermittent or faulty signals from temperature, pressure and vibration sensing devices. The trip logic was revised to make the system less prone to trips due to intermittent signals by utilizing short time delays.

In some cases, the logic was revised to require that two independent sensors needed to indicate a problem before a trip was initiated. Finally, the logic was revised so that a sensor failure would not cause a trip, but instead generate an alarm message to notify the operator that the sensor had failed and needed to be replaced. These changes resulted in a much more robust and reliable system.

With this optimization set up, the steam turbine has been in operation for months with the same protection level, and no phantom trips have occurred. Not only was the university happy with the cost savings, but they also noted, “implementation of the recommended logic revisions was completed one day ahead of schedule before the summer peak season when steam turbine reliability is crucial.”

For additional information, contact Garett Williams at (314)496-3852 or email at gwilliams@enengineering.com.

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