Businesses rely on speed, efficiency, and a high level of agility to meet the demands of their customers and failure to deliver on time can result in grave financial losses. Often the impact of outdated technologies on plant productivity are highly underestimated. Outdated technologies add to longer breakdowns resulting in longer down times, inevitable reaching a point where the technologies used to control the movement of materials are simply no longer fit to deliver the efficiencies required.
Saryx Engineering Group faced these challenges at two client sites located in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal respectively. The need to upgrade control software across the specific outdated systems was further exacerbated by the tricky lockdowns implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to Roland Verwey, Control Automation Manager at Saryx Engineering Group, the challenge in the Western Cape client revolved around the need to install a new tippler and associated conveyors and rail works into the existing plant control system. However, as the new installations use the latest software, it was quickly noted that the existing central control room’s older software was incompatible with this.
“Essentially this meant that Saryx needed to upgrade the control room in order to match it to the software requirements of the new tippler,” notes Verwey.
He adds that regarding the client site in KwaZulu-Natal, a control system upgrade for two machines (one stacker and one reclaimer) were requested, which would see outdated equipment replaced with the latest Siemens S7-1500 PLC hardware including the implementation of new Siemens HMI Panel PCs.
“Here, to minimise machine down time, the hardware was installed and wired on new backplane panels for easy replacement on site. This enabled us to build these at our own premises, in isolation - a very advantageous thing in mid-pandemic - conduct a full software simulation and testing process and then invite the customer to undertake a full quality evaluation via Microsoft Teams,” he explains.
“It was amazing to be able to remotely do quality assurance in this manner, thereby avoiding the challenge of conducting face-to-face meetings during a pandemic. Best of all, by doing as much testing and quality assurance as we could remotely, we reduced time on site, as the implementation was effectively a plug and play one.”
He adds that having been unable to operate for a period during the level five lockdown, the client was eager to begin moving material again as soon as possible, to meet its annual targets.
“Saryx was able to help speed up their return to full capacity, simply because 90% of the testing had been completed at our own premises. Thus, the changeover of backplane panels went off so smoothly that although we indicated that the implementation would take an estimated three weeks, in fact, it took only 12 days.”
“It was a similar scenario in the Western Cape, where the implementation was projected to take five days, but we completed the fitting in just two. In effect, we did this in two processes - initially we upgraded the tipplers to allow them to keep loading ships. Once these were operational, they were put into use while we switched to the ship loader upgrades,” he explains.
Verwey says that without a doubt, the enormous gains in efficiency have been the major benefit for the client. Of course, increased efficiencies also mean that both time and money is saved, because with a faster turnaround time, more loads can be processed.
“In KwaZulu-Natal, the software improvements we implemented mean that they are now able to use their critical machines at full capacity - something that they could not do previously. The ability to function at full capacity is key in enabling the company to make up for the shortfalls that occurred in the early stages of lockdown.
As for our Western Cape client, the central control system is critical to the operation of the entire terminal. That meant that any mistake on our part could lead to a days-long stall, resulting in massive attendant costs. By virtue of undertaking most of the testing before even going on site, we were able to prevent any potentially costly errors from occurring,” he concludes.