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Top 10 Technologies: Automation Products — Automated Responses

Fri, 08/14/2009 - 8:56am

Industry projections state that the automation marketplace could top $95 billion by the end of next year, a large portion of which can be attributed to investments that processors may need to make in order to stay competitive as the industry expands its global operating parameters. The benefits of increasing plant automation are established and compelling as a whole, but several new enhancements push the category into Chem.Info’s Top 10.

Although an expansive topic, new automation technology seems to resonate most intuitively in plants along two critical fronts. One deals with sharing information to make quicker adjustments, which can ensure production inefficiencies, such as material fulfillment obstacles, are avoided. Then, taking this knowledge, process engineers can adjust and monitor production to ensure the most efficient results.

Central to these needs is not only sharing information between engineers, but also coordinating functions between equipment charged with specific functions. This has translated into more widely spread integration of embedded wireless networks that help automate production flow. Additionally, remote-monitoring capabilities help provide an easier and more cost-effective quality assurance approach. The implementation of faster, more dynamic and multi-functional wireless technologies have proven to generate significant time savings, as well as cost and safety improvements.

It’s Still A Process “A key issue in control engineering is the application of highly complex systems with the coupling of large, complicated heterogeneous systems,” offers Greg Patterson, vice president of sales at Hapman. So along with greater communication, new automation equipment can yield the ability to streamline core functions, such as blending.

An example is Hapman’s new SolidQuid™ unit. “Standard methods of adding and blending a solid with a liquid can produce a floating and clumping effect,” explains Patterson. “This takes time to overcome in a blender, so SolidQuid™ units reduce these effects and the subsequent time involved in blending because the solid is incorporated into the liquid before it gets to the blending tank.”

Because it exemplifies many of the core benefits that automation investments can produce, the SolidQuid offers perspective on enhanced automation technology in that it represents more than just a quicker approach to blending. “Efficiencies come from the elimination of manually adding solids or some of the additional related blending equipment,” says Patterson. New units like this one also allow processors to use larger quantities of material, which helps reduce material-handling resources and production downtimes.

“Quality control can also be enhanced because the amount of solids going into the liquid is automatically controlled through a precision feeder,” continues Patterson. On the Hapman unit, this feeder is located below the bulk bag to help meter flow, as well as extract only as much or as little of the powder or solid as needed. “Providing flexibility and efficiency is a high priority with process equipment. More and more companies need the ability to handle multiple materials in one system,” Patterson concludes.

So while pieces of capital equipment can carry a significant price tag, the return on investment can be realized in more precise material usage, better allocation of labor resources, improved quality controls and expanded application.

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