Don’t throw the old asphalt plant out with the bathwater

Why retrofitting older plants with N2P controllers is worth doing: Extend the life of your existing plant and enjoy ease of use and outstanding customer support.

Boral is Australia’s largest construction materials and building products supplier, with operations in every state and territory. Boral supplies concrete, quarry products, asphalt, cement, roof tiles, timber, and masonry for infrastructure, residential construction, and commercial buildings.

Steve Carroll is the manufacturing manager for Boral in southern Australia and has been with the company 20 years. Looking after six plants in Victoria, he’s responsible for everything related to production, customer service, safety, and engineering.

Boral’s “Tier 2” plants are 30 to 50 years old, but Steve says that because technology is always evolving, anything past 10 years old needs control system upgrades anyway. While they do have Tier 1 plants that run on the latest OEM equipment from Europe, when Boral came to N2P, they were looking for standardisation across their older plants. As you can imagine, they cost Boral a significant sum to build, especially with infrastructure costs, so were well worth holding onto.

“You don’t want to be ditching a 15-year-old plant,” says Steve. “They’ll run okay; the hardware and computer hardware just get to the end of life, and that’s where N2P comes in and helps us change out that aging equipment. Nationally, we decided to go with N2P as the standard platform for our Tier 2 plants.”

 

The right equipment in the right spot

Steve’s mandate was to buy an off-the-shelf product that could offer the right support. N2P ticked all the boxes, so Boral now has half a dozen N2P controllers installed. Among these are the AC404 batch controller, the MC404 mix controller, and the LC404 loadout controller, particularly valuable for its built-in safety controls that prevent hot asphalt – a leading cause of injury – from being dropped on personnel or equipment. This smart safety feature also improves Boral’s risk profile, which has implications for their bottom line, from insurance to employee productivity.

“N2P products are simple, consistent, and stable across multiple plant designs. It’s the right equipment in the right spot.”

Steve also appreciates their programming simplicity, which makes N2P products adaptable to older plants. “The OEM systems would be very difficult to adapt to older plants. And because N2P programming is not complex, not much can go wrong with it.”

He explains that the more complex the programming, the greater the threat of electrical interference – “enough to shut your program down.”

And when there are problems, troubleshooting OEM equipment with European suppliers is not only more cumbersome but also far more restrictive. Because of its proprietary nature, “They won’t unlock the software; they won’t let anyone have access to it. Whereas Niki and the guys are quite comfortable with our local electricians having access to the program to help troubleshoot it.”

And because they’re in New Zealand, they’re always available on the phone and happy to provide customer support. When their Geelong site was being commissioned, Peter even flew over to assist in person.

Reliable enough to supply Melbourne’s Westgate Tunnel

Steve has been involved in the installation of two asphalt control systems in Melbourne: one that’s an N2P and one that’s not.

“The other one’s been a disaster. But the beauty of the N2P one is, if we just ring up Niki or Peter, it’s five minutes and the problem’s fixed – whereas the other program I’ve got in place could take three weeks and $10,000 for the same problem.”

While an N2P may not suit a brand-new OEM plant, Steve finds them ideal for the Boral quarry at Deer Park, whose mobile plant has run an E300 since last August, or down in Geelong, where an N2P controller was installed in May 2021.

The Deer Park site supplies Melbourne’s Westgate Tunnel Project, which will require 600,000 tonnes of asphalt – one of Australia’s biggest construction jobs to date. The mobile plant’s programming had been rewired several times over the course of 15 years and was unsupported. The documentation was limited and out of date: “The plant had been across three states in Australia and three different operating businesses, so everyone gets their own idea,” says Steve. Because of its age, the PLCs and electrical gear were unstable as well.

As the “young guy” in the business, Steve recommended a technology update: “When I took custody of the plant two years ago, it still had Windows 96! We could barely use it ourselves. With N2P, we’ve put in all-new electrical control gear, new computers – all that sort of stuff.”

They’re glad they did, too: “There’s days where we’re putting over 3000 tonnes a day on deck, with the mobile plant supplying over 2000 of that. If we were to go down for three months, you could imagine the cost and liability around that.”

 

N2P can do it all – but they don’t pretend to know it all

What Steve likes best about N2P solutions is that they’re simple – “I don’t need a complex solution in those plants. But if I want to put a bit of complexity into how the plant runs, N2P would be able to do that too. I’m pretty confident N2P would be able to do anything we throw at them.”

Over the years, Steve has used dozens of operating systems, many of which were designed in a vacuum, without input from the people on the ground. He believes N2P is able to build such solid systems because they consult with the industry when designing their products, taking on board feedback from batch operators and plant managers across multiple organisations.

Steve describes the N2P team as friendly, collaborative, and “an organisation that has their ears open. They’re listening to work out what the next generation of their system looks like as well.”

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