We asked process engineer Niki Johnstone to explain how insights provided by CATIE can be used to track performance, investigate issues, and drive process improvements that increase productivity and profitability.
How does it work?
Every N2P Asphalt Control module in the 404 family – MC404, AC404/AC303, LC404, and TC404 – is installed with CATIE. This smart software stores hundreds of thousands of data points gathered by your plant’s sensors and continuously uploads them to the cloud. Specifically, CATIE records all analogue values, system events, and alarms, making them immediately visible to anyone who has access. Without CATIE activated, the 404 module records this same data and stores it on a local drive for up to three months. With CATIE activated, a copy of your data remains accessible in perpetuity, allowing you to analyse changes over a longer period and share data remotely.
Plant managers and regional managers, who compare plants throughout their region, will find CATIE particularly useful for gaining insights. Because it’s always running in the background, collecting and storing data, CATIE is there even when plant managers can’t be, which is pretty often. Between regional meetings and onsite visits with clients and suppliers, the typical manager of a mid-sized plant is offsite about 40 percent of the time. Even at a smaller plant where the manager spends more time onsite, jobs such as looking after the trucks will eat up a large portion of their day. Why waste time on tasks that may not even be necessary?
Fix only what actually needs fixing
Most plant operators base their maintenance schedule on manufacturer recommendations. Similar to car maintenance, they may run their equipment until they hit, say, six months or 1,000 hours of use, whichever comes first.
As with scheduled oil changes, the goal here is preventative; running equipment till it fails, perhaps in the middle of a big production run, is obviously risky. With data drawn from CATIE, plant managers can see how their equipment is actually performing – rather than how the manufacturer expects it to perform on average.
Using CATIE, you could measure parameters like ball bearing vibration levels, motor temperature, RPM, and current draw over a period of months to determine whether the equipment needs maintenance or replacement at 1,000 hours – or whether it could go longer. If everything is still looking stable, you may reach 1,500 hours before any intervention is required – an extra 50 percent lifespan! This sort of gain wouldn’t be possible to know, or safe to undertake, without CATIE. Naturally, the manufacturer’s recommendation is going to be conservative, given that their goal is to sell more units and avoid accident liability.
With a maintenance schedule based on need rather than assumed lifespan, you can get more use out of your existing hardware, save money on unnecessary upgrades, and divert manpower to value-added tasks.
Example: Replacing a slat chain can cost up to $70,000 and should be done every two years, according to the manufacturer. If you know you can safely draw it out another six months, that’s $20,000 more your plant has as cash flow.
Quantify process improvements, boost plant efficiency
With CATIE, you can make process changes and see through your real-time data just how effective, or not, those changes were. By monitoring performance and recording changes, which CATIE can plot on a graph or format as an event table, you can analyse the results to make informed decisions about how to best run your plant. You may find that you’re able to make the same amount of mix using less fuel, for example.
Why can’t an operator record this information manually, you ask? The operator is already busy running the plant and performing other tasks. Writing down changing temperatures, production rates, and fuel usage rates every few minutes isn’t part of their job, and nor should it be. They simply won’t have the time and are likely to introduce errors, making the data less reliable and therefore less valuable.
Here are just some of the things CATIE can track for you, with 100 percent accuracy:
- Mix temperature
- Outlet temperature
- Production rate
- Fan speed
- Baghouse inlet temperature
- Damper position
- Drum pressure
- Burner position
- Moisture levels
Example One: Say your baghouse inlet temperature was 185℃ then you dropped it to 182℃. CATIE would allow you to see what effect this has on your fuel efficiency and mix production rate. A decrease like this could potentially reduce fuel consumption by 2 to 5 percent, which, for a medium-sized plant, could be a savings of $5,000 a week.
Can’t I do this manually, you ask? Sure, you could run your plant at a lower temperature and have the operator read the fuel metre after each run – until you found that a different mix needed a higher temperature. If you’re making different mixes throughout the day, it quickly becomes cumbersome and difficult to gauge how much fuel has gone through while you’re running. Even worse, the metre could be read incorrectly, yielding inaccurate results.
And if you didn’t log the data at all, either manually or automatically, it would obviously be gone, so you’d have no ability to make comparisons. How can you quantify savings with no data? You can’t.
With CATIE, you can track performance hour by hour and mix by mix. You can view the information anytime to analyse previous runs: for example, a week ago compared to today. Damper position and fan speed are other variables you could experiment with, using CATIE to find the sweet spot for optimal efficiency.
Example Two: You find that the day shift is running at 182℃ and the night shift at 185℃, yet both shifts report the same fuel usage. To investigate why, you might pull up fan speed and observe that the day-shift operator is running at a lower fan speed. You can then see what happens when you reduce night-shift fan speed, comparing shifts and mixes to find the ideal intersection of variables. This is not possible with operator recording, which would likely yield too few data points to be of use. CATIE, on the other hand, is recording them all, all of the time.
Promote quality, consistency, and safety
CATIE allows for greater operational oversight: You can reliably see what was done – and what wasn’t – and tell operators exactly what you want them to do once you’ve found the recipe for success. You can explore what combination of factors might be even more effective, then implement that change after verifying its efficacy using data supplied by CATIE. And you can be assured of consistency.
In many cases, operators aren’t referring to the manual but going solely on verbal instructions, which can be imprecise. Or they’re using a cheat sheet posted somewhere, which may not contain detailed enough instructions, particularly in the event where something goes wrong.
Close-up shot of a CATIE report
Example: A slat jammed after bitumen was put into a drum. The drum caught fire while the operator was away, and he couldn’t recall making any changes. The data revealed that a feeder had run out of material and 30 percent had been lost. This caused the stone to overheat, which ignited the bitumen. Because CATIE was installed, it was easy to identify the cause. CATIE can also monitor bitumen tank levels, alerting the plant manager if a tank drops below a certain level and saving significant downtime due to cooled bitumen. He can log in, see the fault, and potentially remedy it from home!
Consistent processes and recipes also help ensure quality and futureproof change. Plant managers can use information from CATIE to run their plant at peak efficiency across any mix recipe and pass that along to any operator. If and when personnel are unavailable or leave the job, you can still go back and see what happened to understand what went wrong, in the event that you experience quality control issues.
With the more robust reporting that CATIE allows, you can identify the root cause of an incident and improve your environmental and safety standards in the process. With systems like CATIE in place, you have the evidence to report accurately on any incidents and show compliance with emission standards and other environmental criteria.
Looking for efficiency gains and safety improvements for your asphalt plant? Contact Niki Johnstone to find out how CATIE can help your plant today.