With rising operational costs and fewer domain experts due to the retiring workforce, manufacturers with thermal processing units need to increase productivity, eliminate safety risks and reduce operating expenses. The retirement of engineers, operators and technicians familiar with thermal systems — and the reality of training a new millennial workforce — is creating a shortage of proven know-how for the industry. There are fewer equipment specialists, and those that remain are being given more responsibilities than ever before.
Systems must deliver value by running in the smartest, most efficient and most sustainable manner possible. For any industrial organization, today’s competitive business environment often requires doing more with less, which means making equipment last longer and run more efficiently.
The reliable and safe operation of a chamber furnace is no simple task. The conditions inside the furnace can present difficult challenges: high temperatures and hostile atmospheres or frequent temperature cycling that causes the system to exceed setpoint limits, to name a few.
In addition, in most chamber-based systems, critical information is trapped at the equipment level. But what if plant operators could see what is happening in the process before it gets to the equipment? What if they could get real-time alerts when key parameters are outside normal limits? And, what if operators could track historical data over time to more easily identify when and why something happened?
Remote-monitoring technology for chamber-based thermal processes provides value by improving uptime, safety and efficiency while maximizing production through incident avoidance and performance insights. Real-time alerts and the ability to use historical trend information allow technicians to be proactive instead of reactive.
The Need for Effective Monitoring
When it comes to monitoring thermal processes, on some days, plant personnel runs the equipment, and on other days, it runs them. The current competitive environment — with so many constraints placed on plant resources and expertise — requires that operations teams be freed from local equipment monitoring.
Just as remotely monitoring a home thermostat can give the user valuable insight into basic information such as setpoints and current temperature, being able to check the current temperatures, setpoints and deviations for a thermal chamber provides the most basic yet most useful information on demand.
Indeed, having the ability to receive immediate notification of unusual and unexpected conditions in thermal processing equipment can help avoid or greatly reduce unexpected downtime. For this reason, automation suppliers are meeting thermal industry operating demands by developing cloud-based remote-monitoring platforms. These platforms are designed for:
- Organizations with limited or no tracking or remote-access capability already in place. Such organizations cannot optimize their thermal process systems.
- Global organizations with facilities spread across multiple regions that want to more tightly align their different operating locations.
Software-driven, cloud-based, remote-monitoring solutions allow users to gain instant insights into critical thermal process and equipment data. They can use the data to help optimize operations, predict failures and eliminate unexpected downtime. The cloud-based controls can connect everyone from management to maintenance with real-time and trending data and provide alerts when key operating parameters are outside normal limits.
Consisting of wireless cellular connectivity, a mobile application and an enterprise-view dashboard, remote-monitoring platforms securely connect thermal processing equipment to the cloud. This puts process data that was previously only held at the equipment level in the hands of employees at all levels of the organization. Moreover, the data can be accessed at any time and from anywhere via a mobile or desktop device.
The remote-monitoring solution extracts data from thermal equipment and processes and displays it on a series of cascading performance dashboards that visually display key metrics. Built-in algorithms can be used to understand both the health and economics of the assets. Such tools allow comparison and benchmarking of data to see which pieces of equipment, sites or regions are performing well (or poorly) and facilitates taking actions to boost performance levels accordingly.
With a remote-monitoring solution, plant operators can track chamber-based thermal processes without being on site. In addition, they can receive notifications when process variables exceed limits. Historical data can be used to track changes over time to identify when and why something happened and develop appropriate solutions. Thermal process data thus becomes actionable information.
Developments in remote-monitoring platforms also help ensure a high level of cyber protection. Cybersecurity best practices and techniques help mitigate threats and ensure that communication channels are strictly controlled.
The retirement of engineers, operators and technicians familiar with thermal systems — and the reality of training a more transitory millennial workforce — is creating a shortage of institutional know-how for many industrial plants. There are fewer equipment specialists, and those that remain are being given more responsibilities.
Putting Remote Monitoring to Work
For thermal processing operators that need to maximize productivity in a sustainable way, it is important to think ahead before investing in new technology. While purpose-built solutions can address current needs and conditions, an integrated, cloud-based platform for combustion control and performance monitoring may be better positioned for the long term.
Connecting the thermal process system to the cloud helps to securely deliver diagnostics and analytic capabilities. Plant operators are able to remotely view system-wide data such as temperature for each piece of process equipment. In addition, the information can be shared up the management chain to enable better operating decisions and improve responsiveness, efficiency and reliability.
The implementation of advanced remote-monitoring technology allows industrial personnel to take immediate action to prevent costly process disruptions. This starts with proactively troubleshooting the problems that lead to unplanned downtime and lost profits. Thermal processing operators are able to diagnose issues remotely and arrive at the equipment with the proper tools and knowledge for a faster fix. This helps ensure the thermal process stays online and optimized.
Advanced remote monitoring also allows plant operators to access real-time, actionable data that helps the process run smarter. For instance, with some systems, it is possible to examine information such as process temperature, setpoints, outputs and historical trends while determining which alarms have been configured within the system. Instead of waiting for faults and failures that can lead to shutdowns, plant operators can get ahead of trouble and maximize uptime.
In conclusion, modern remote-monitoring solutions for combustion control are changing the way corporations:
- Run their thermal processing equipment.
- Manage production assets.
- Perform troubleshooting and maintenance.
Without the need to be right next to the equipment to check on it, technicians with access to cloud-based remote-monitoring tools can troubleshoot the problems that lead to process disruptions, unplanned shutdowns and lost profits whenever they arise. They can see current alerts and review the status of connected equipment, including a detailed view of all system parameters, from a smartphone or tablet. Templates within the mobile app allow them to drill down to see additional data.
Remote-monitoring technology for chamber-based thermal processes provides value by improving uptime, safety and efficiency while maximizing production through incident avoidance and performance insights. Plant personnel can take action faster due to real-time alerts and the ability to use historical trend information to be proactive instead of reactive. Furthermore, they can reduce cycle service time with remote troubleshooting and prioritize important asset maintenance activities. Remote monitoring also can free personnel from local equipment monitoring. It provides a clear overview of process parameters from mobile devices and helps technicians keep track of equipment health and performance. By utilizing a connected approach, the exact status of thermal systems can be viewed whenever and wherever needed, which subsequently reduces the requirement for onsite visits and limits maintenance work to necessary service only. PH