Why you should upgrade your aging asphalt plant

Automation can extend the life of your plant – and pay for itself. With N2P digital control systems, you can improve plant efficiency, mix consistency, and health and safety.

If your asphalt plant is more than 10-15 years old, it’s inevitable that parts will wear out and performance will start to decline. Some of the control algorithms may become outdated and getting replacement parts could be tricky, particularly as some suppliers are reluctant to support older products. Mechanical updates done without upgrading the control system can also impact plant performance over time, resulting in inconsistent mix that may have to be remade or, worse yet, stripped off the road.

 

And if the plant is manually controlled, diagnosing issues is often extremely difficult, time-consuming, and imprecise – basically a matter of guesswork. Ad hoc fixes on top of fixes over the years may mean a lack of documentation and/or technical support to resolve the problem. You could spend a lot of time and money trying to resolve these issues by trial and error – or simply carry on and take the chance that the hardware fails completely.

 

Modernisation makes more sense

You could mothball your aging plant and build a new plant, but you’d need to ensure sufficient production to pay for that upgrade. If you’re only doing 30,000 tonnes of asphalt a year, you’ll have a tough time justifying a capex of $5 million. Simply installing updated controls, on the other hand, can vastly improve the functionality, reliability, and lifespan of your asphalt plant without breaking the bank. With digital controls installed, if something goes wrong, you’ll be able to identify the problem straight away.

 

“As long as the mechanical side is still functional, there’s no reason why you can’t just upgrade your electronics every 10 or 15 years,” says process engineer Niki Johnstone at N2P Controls. “If they want to put new feeders in, for example, we can supply controls that will interface with any type of feeder. They can basically upgrade their plant with extra mechanical hardware and incorporate it into our existing control systems experience.”

 

Automated plant systems mean improved quality control, less wastage, and better customer service. In the event of a customer query, you’ll always have a digital record of exactly what went out the door, when, its temperature, and other batch characteristics. If in doubt, you can test your mix at the touch of a button. Modernised systems are also much easier to use and less reliant on operator input, which reduces the risk of human error.

Not everyone knows this, but specialised training for plant operators is actually very limited, so many of them don’t know as much about troubleshooting as they should. This is obviously problematic and can lead to inconsistent mix, reputational damage, and financial loss. Without proper optimisation, a medium sized asphalt plant can waste in excess of $3,000a day on materials alone. How? 

The importance of delays in minimising wastage

Start and end delays control when each material is released into the drum to compensate for differences in density, for example, 40mm stone versus something light and fine like sand. Without these delays in place, you’ll have unusable dust at the beginning and end of each run – about 2 tonnes every time you start a machine – which typically gets dumped. If a tonne of asphalt is sold for $300, you’re looking at $600 in waste – per start-up. If you restart your machine 5 times a day – relatively common for a drum plant– that’s $3K. With automated delays that ensure materials arrive at the right time to mix correctly, you can keep your mix in spec and cut that waste significantly.

Manual asphalt operations rely on operator experience and guesswork to adjust plant speed and delays, and if that person moves on from the company, you could find yourself in trouble! Even if they don’t, going by intuition is hardly fool-proof. By retrofitting your plant with N2P controls, you can improve plant reliability, usability, and productivity. And because our control systems are non-proprietary, they integrate with any system on the market. Depending on your appetite for improvement, you can bring our CATIE software online and turn your plant into a live, connected asset with data logging and reporting capabilities – which also comes in handy for health and safety compliance. CATIE records all analogue values, system events, and alarms and makes them instantly accessible to any authorised user.

 

Accurate real-time data for effective real-world decisions

CATIE stands for “Cloud Access Total Information Exchange.” Because it’s always running in the background, collecting and storing data, CATIE enables operational oversight and real-time reporting, useful for regional managers looking to gain insights across plants. Even better, plant managers can see how their equipment is actually performing rather than how the manufacturer expects it to perform on average – which, for reasons of liability and profitability, always errs on the conservative side.

For example, you can 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.

With a maintenance schedule based on need rather than assumed lifespan, you can fix only what needs fixing, get more use out of your existing hardware, save money on unnecessary upgrades, and divert manpower to value-added tasks.

 

The benefits of modernisation

With N2P controls in place, your legacy plant still has years of life left! Your operators will have the tools to reliably identify problems and resolve them with much greater certainty, ease, and speed. You’ll be able to automate power usage for increased efficiency, and with digital connectivity and reporting, you’ll be able to replace equipment only when it actually wears out. 

With updated systems, you’ll also improve your health and safety profile and be more compliant with modern safety standards. Our LC404 loadout controls prevent dangerous hot asphalt from being dropped at the wrong time while our TC404 tank controls automate bitumen storage and delivery, allowing operators to activate valves from the control room and avoid toxic fumes and trip hazards. 

With N2P Controls, you’ll get:

  • Consistent mix every time – you’ll be known for quality and reliability
  • Reduced downtime and associated costs, thanks to easy troubleshooting
  • Reduced operator input and risk of human error, improved operator productivity
  • Improved plant management through monitoring of performance metrics
  • Standardised controls across sites – N2P controls are compatible with any system
  • Aftersales service and customer support

We’re literally a phone call away and we actually like helping. Problem solving is what we live for – we even get excited about difficult problems!

To learn more about how we can bring your aging asphalt plant into the 21st century, contact the team at N2P.

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