When properly programmed, I&C systems can be the brains of your operation. With the advent and affordability of new technology, this discipline is changing. These changes offer the potential for significant benefits, including increased efficiency and cost reductions.
There are numerous ways that I&C systems can now be customized to accommodate project specifications: size, mounting, environment, materials, accessories, ratings and more. No matter a project’s unique requirements, I&C systems can be designed, modified and tweaked to match them and deliver superior performance. This level of customization, paired with evolving technologies, allows for turnkey, precise solutions that enhance efficiency—lowering the potential for costly errors, improving production or operations and creating long-term cost-savings for owners and operators.
Making Real-Time Improvements
Most recently, I&C software and hardware have become more reliable, flexible and user-friendly, improving the connectivity between process equipment and instrumentation. These advancements help provide facility operators with the right information at the right time. In real time, operators are given control over multiple elements of their production process, such as personnel, machines and support services.
In Fullerton, California, for example, Alcoa Fastening Systems was able to take advantage of I&C system enhancements. Dealing with dated systems, the company upgraded its wastewater treatment plant to give operators complete control and monitoring capabilities from within the control room, alarm notification via telephone dial out, and historical data necessary for identifying the source of process problems quickly. Making these improvements solved operational issues caused by burnt out lights, loose wires, lack of information in emergency situations, and no historical data collection. Alcoa’s operators are now empowered to act proactively when issues arise.
Taking Control of Costs
Tech-based enhancements have led to a variety of cost-related benefits for I&C-managed facilities:
- Improved operational efficiency that reduces the potential for costly error
- Increased automation, meaning less manpower for operations
- Potential increased product output through automation
- Quicker reaction time to address faults and alarms
- Virtualization, reducing hardware requirements while improving reliability and flexibility
- Assurance of superior performance of controls and the end-product
Teamwork is a cornerstone to creating well-functioning I&C systems that realize savings such as those listed above. Synergy between engineers, technicians and programmers—particularly on design-build projects—from concept design through 100 percent completion and startup is key to achieving high-quality results. Project teams should work as an integrated unit as early as possible. Understanding the costs and benefits associated with all alternatives will help the team produce the right I&C design, fit for purpose and thoughtfully tailored to meet specifications. Through continuous interfacing and collaboration, I&C engineers are also able to react quickly to design and scope changes as they arise and adjust systems accordingly, improving ease of operability and reducing wasted resource hours.
Chris Aviña, Instrumentation and Controls Manager, DBIA, has more than 20 years of electrical and I&C experience. He has served as the I&C project manager, control panel designer and estimator for various I&C system projects for water and wastewater treatment facilities and industrial projects. His work experience includes projects in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Denver, Florida, Guam, Nevada, South Carolina, and Washington state.