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Siemens Industry Automation has helped Syngenta complete a four-year control system replacement programme at its Huddersfield Manufacturing Centre (HMC) without disruption to its production targets.

Syngenta is an agribusiness specialising in crop protection and seeds.

At the HMC, its active-ingredients manufacturing operation is reliant on a number of complex process control systems to run the production on the site.

The issue facing the Huddersfield process control management was the realisation that four of the six main plant control systems were reaching a stage of obsolescence.

They were dealing with increasing incidents when spares were in short supply; plant failure rates were on the rise and the impending withdrawal of technical support for certain plant control systems to help the site operate was a looming concern.

This combination of factors led the site management to draw up plans for a long-term replacement programme for the existing HMC process control systems, which would alleviate the legacy and future support issues.

The team turned to Siemens Industry Automation as a solutions partner that could offer both project implementation expertise and the PCS7 process control system that could support the site’s manufacturing needs for future decades.

As a manufacturer, the critical point underpinning any planned migration to a new control system is the necessity to do so without disrupting existing production schedules.

Mick Pearson, Syngenta’s process control systems manager at Huddersfield, said: ‘[The replacement programme] was deemed essential for the site’s continued operation but, nonetheless, it still presented a real planning challenge for everyone, particularly with the requirement that production had to continue without disruption following any changes.

‘These are multi-stage batch chemical processes, some with continuous operation, and we could not afford for the new control system changes to interfere with our production operations,’ he added.

At the planning stage, the Syngenta team worked alongside Siemens to draw up the strategy, which would support the phased approach to replacing the identified four systems over a defined time period.

Ian Heathcock from Siemens Industry Automation said: ‘Along with the Syngenta management team, we had to ensure that at all stages we could minimise resistance to the planned changes and facilitate learnings so that we had complete buy-in to the plan from the people who ultimately would operate the new control systems – the plant operators themselves.

‘We also had to ensure that the new technology specified was an evolution when compared to the old system, so a balance was achieved between utilising modern process control systems such as our PCS7 and ensuring the operators could see the benefits a new control system would bring in terms of operational efficiencies,’ he added.

Timing was critical to the success of the phased replacement programme, with switchover to the new control systems only able to take place during the annual shutdown period.

These dates were not flexible and the result of missing a deadline for changeover was that the project would be delayed for another 12 months, putting back the entire project and placing HMC’s manufacturing processes at risk.

The phased approach commenced with the smallest-sized control system of the four targeted for change.

This saw the replacement of a 20-year-old plant control computer at the site’s Fusilade plant.

Liaising closely, the teams took a number of weeks to define the processes required by the new plant control, such as validating the necessary actions and sequences used in the production cycle.

Investment was also made in writing the software for the new system and the collaborative approach involved testing schedules with Syngenta’s onsite control team travelling to Siemens’ Manchester base to trial the new system.

Such hands-on training was integral to the longer-term strategy of operator buy-in and gave the Syngenta team the knowledge on a first-hand basis, which would be required to support the new control system when it went live.

The first control system was implemented on time during shutdown and without any production downtime on site.

Phase two involved the replacement of a 15-year-old plant computer on the site’s Reglone process plant.

Subsequent phases, which have seen the final two legacy process control systems replaced, followed the planning, testing and implementation template created at the first stage.

Software changes implemented in house are now routine and frequent, allowing the production process to react to the changing needs of the business.

The ability to carry out software changes and to introduce input/output online is contributing to reducing any unnecessary downtime.

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