Keeping critical systems running

Published:  02 June, 2016

PWE looks at a single-source HVAC and building-management control system for an oil sands project that is helping to improve maintenance, streamline the supply chain and keep production running.

Oil production from bitumen — the heavy, tar-like substance found in regions around the world — is a booming industry. Technological advancements combined with the ever-increasing global demand for petroleum resources have made this previously cost-prohibitive method of oil production a viable addition to the world’s oil and gas resources. Canada is the largest known region of natural bitumen deposits, also known as “unconventional oil.”

To respond to this growing demand, each company serving the oil sands industry is seeking to quickly and safely establish facilities to begin production — and revenue generation — as soon as possible.

One such company, a multinational oil firm, began work on a major project in the Athabasca Oil Sands region in Canada and required a single provider for the project’s HVAC and building management system to streamline maintenance and spare parts inventory and keep the critical HVAC system running. The project provided a 50% cost savings compared to its existing HVAC control system, streamlined its supply chain and improved troubleshooting and maintenance.

Essential HVAC uptime

The Athabasca Oil Sands region is home to billions of barrels of recoverable bitumen resources. When the multinational oil company began work on a major project in the region, it was critical that all systems function as planned. Any delay in the building or startup of a project of this magnitude could result in a loss of as much as several million dollars per day.

In the race to build and commission production facilities, many oil and gas producers overlook the critical role a heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system plays in a quick and efficient start-up. Industrial HVAC systems used in the open-pit mines built for bitumen extraction are essential components of the overall process, responsible for cooling the cokers, mixers, turbines, chemical heat exchangers and control rooms that drive the entire process. In many cases, if the HVAC system is down for any reason, production downtime will follow.

The company executing the project understood this risk and tasked its engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) company with identifying a single provider for the project’s HVAC and building management system (BMS) solution.

“The oil and gas end user insisted on having a single vendor for the HVAC and BMS controls,” explains Rick Melia, general manager of Scott Springfield Manufacturing (SSM), an OEM Partner in the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork.

“For them, it was about streamlining maintenance and spare parts. They wanted a single supplier for simplified maintenance and a smaller spare part inventory. We understood how critical the HVAC control system was for simplifying and speeding troubleshooting to preserve production uptime, and made sure it was a high priority in the early project stages.”

Solutions from a single supplier

The EPC on the project ultimately selected SSM to provide the HVAC and BMS, based on the company’s HVAC experience. “The first phase of the project called for 183 air-handling units and 43 BMS systems,” explains Melia. “We needed a partner that could provide controls for both systems, as well as supply the knowledge and experience that we lacked in designing and installing BMS systems.”

The SSM team reviewed proposals from multiple controls vendors, but ultimately selected Rockwell Automation to provide control hardware for the HVAC solution, as well as BMS system design, engineering and commissioning services from the Rockwell Automation Global Solutions team.

SSM implemented an HVAC control system based on the Allen-Bradley MicroLogix 1400 controller to accommodate the robust communication and troubleshooting requirements the user required for its system. Allen-Bradley PowerFlex 40 variable-frequency drives allow operators to control, select and automate their preferred fan speed.

To complete the system, the SSM team used Allen-Bradley IEC contactors and overloads, push buttons, terminal blocks, power supplies, safety and control relays, power distribution blocks and high-density I/O cards from PartnerNetwork Encompass Referenced Product Partner Spectrum Controls.

In addition, the control system bill of materials — including Encompass Partner products — is available from SSM’s local Authorised Allen-Bradley Distributor Westburne Electric as a single purchase order, which helped simplify SSM’s procurement process, as long as the EPC maintains a consistent engineering specification.

“Forty percent of the HVAC units we delivered for phase one of the project are located in hazardous locations,” Melia says. “Because the MicroLogix controller is Class I, Division II rated, we were able to avoid purchasing expensive air-purge panels or NEMA 7/9 enclosures, which meant cost savings for us and a simplified, easier-to-maintain solution for the end user.”

Integrated architecture

For the BMS, the Rockwell Automation Global Solutions team designed, programmed, installed and commissioned a control system based on the company’s Integrated Architecture system. A SIL-2 certified, Allen-Bradley ControlLogix programmable automation controller provides the HVAC system intelligence for the SSM-designed air handler and the peripheral unit heaters, exhaust fans and dampers.

The system communicates data from the HVAC system directly to the facility-wide process control system via an EtherNet/IP network for improved system reliability. So that the HVAC, process control, and fire & gas systems could maintain robust communications connections, the Rockwell Automation team installed Allen-Bradley Stratix 8000 managed Ethernet switches. Allen-Bradley PanelView Plus human-machine interfaces offer operators intuitive, easy-to-navigate access to system health and operation data.

“The user understands that a healthy HVAC system is critical to managing oil extraction process uptime,” says Melia.

He adds: “The BMS provides the company with real-time operational data on everything from air flow and temperature, to steam temperature and electrical amp draws, to the central control system. That means control room operators get actionable data immediately, and if something is wrong, they can easily troubleshoot the issue and get the system up and running quickly.”

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