Condition Monitoring Condition-based Maintenance Reliability

DCS Advances Process Capabilities

EP Editorial Staff | April 1, 2022

Upgrading a DCS provided greater reliability, process control, and automation for an industrial resin manufacturer.

Upgrading an aging distributed-control system provided growth and long-term stability for a coating resins manufacturer.

When a producer of industrial coating resins and additives sought to upgrade its aging distributed-control system (DCS), minimizing production disruption was critical. A DCS system is a hub of a processor’s operations, monitoring key variables such as flow, applied temperatures, pressure, level, and material conveying/handling. 

The challenge was that replacing the manufacturer’s decades old DCS had to be accomplished quickly, while accurately maintaining the specifications of its final resin products. Failure to do so would equate with lost revenue due to downtime or rejected product. Moreover, much of the documentation on the process was unavailable, and the tolerances were tight enough that there was a risk of product being produced out of specification. 

As a DCS ages, there can be increased risks to a process manufacturer. An old or obsolete system may no longer be supported by the original supplier, spare parts no longer readily available, and system performance issues may begin to appear. When replacement is no longer avoidable, changing over without affecting production can seem daunting.

The Challenge

Although the plant’s existing DCS was functional, replacement parts and service were not readily available. If the automation system equipment were to fail, there was a possibility the plant would not be able to operate for an extended time. 

“For a plant of any scale running at, or near, capacity, taking down processing lines for any amount of time can be extremely expensive in terms of lost production and business impact. This plant was running continually day and night, all year long so any production downtime means the company is losing money,” said Chris Gepfert, who was involved with the upgrade project as regional sales manager at Owings Mills, MD-based NovaTech Automation (, a provider of distributed control systems and solutions. 

Proactively upgrading the DCS would provide much greater reliability, process control, and automation, as well as additional capabilities. However, the required system migration, data transfer, and integration with legacy equipment would need to be handled expertly to minimize any downtime and avoid potential quality issues. “The biggest challenge was replacing the existing DCS with a modern system that would produce industrial coating resins and additives to the same specifications with equal or higher quality and minimal disruption,” said Gepfert.

NovaTech had to program the new DCS based on how the prior system was programmed. Some re-engineering and redesign of the new system was necessary, given that process documentation was often unavailable. At the same time, the new system would include various upgrades to improve automation and control. 

Following the recipe from batch to batch is critical to produce material to specification.

The Solution

The coating manufacturer’s solution for the plant involved using a flexible, reliable, modern DCS that could be quickly integrated with existing production. To control their reactor processes, the plant now uses the D/3 DCS from NovaTech. In addition, NovaTech provided new applications programming, HMI graphics, S88 batch-management software, and an updated real-time data historian application, along with migrating the I/O from an older version to a new, modern I/O platform. The also provided startup and ongoing onsite support.

According to Gepfert, the key was implementing the full set of processes in a robust, reliable, flexible system. It also needed to be highly automated so the plant can effectively run on its own with minimal operator interaction.

The NovaTech D/3 operator interface displays real-time process information and allows the operator to control the process, enter information, and interact with sequence programs. The operator can modify recipe parameters, recipe procedures, production schedule, batch start rules, equipment utilization, or scale batch amount at any point during recipe development and execution. Recipe values are automatically entered into the system. The operator selects all the equipment to be used before starting the procedure.

The transition to the new DCS was quick and successful. The plant’s technicians can change and program the new DCS using Windows-based servers. “After upgrading to the D/3 DCS, the plant has expanded its overall throughput by up to 50% and production efficiency has increased by 20% to 30%,” reported Gepfert. “So, the plant can process product much faster today.”

“The previous system’s tolerances were broader and less accurate. The new DCS provides significantly tighter tolerances and better-quality control. This helps to ensure that all product specifications are consistently met and essentially prevents the waste of producing off-spec product,” said Gepfert.

Another consideration was the need to integrate the plant’s new DCS system with the existing enterprise systems. Plant management sought improved data capture and conversion of that data into useful knowledge presented in desktop key performance indicator (KPI) dashboards that can be used at the manufacturing execution level and/or the enterprise ERP level, according to Gepfert. 

“The new DCS system provides extensive data, analytics, and historical records with overview screens, KPIs, and trends displayed with graphics. With data never previously available, plant operators can not only manage but also optimize production,” concluded Gepfert. EP

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