Foundation for rapidly expanding material handling facilities

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 8, 2006

K. Law and P. Rourke

The Need   In this climate of increasing demand for commodities and booming market conditions, it is becoming necessary to expand and optimize existing production facilities in order to increase capacity and satisfy demand. However, production capacity in these facilities is often adversely impacted during the expansion/optimization process.   A successful and proven strategy to reduce this impact is to bring the additional capacity online in stages, coinciding with routine maintenance or other short shutdowns. It is the compatibility of the automation systems during staged capacity upgrades, as provided and exemplified by the Hatch Product Transport (HPT) System that is key to achieving this successful outcome.   For example, in 2002, BHP Billiton Iron Ore (BHPB IO) was expanding their port handling facilities at Port Hedland, and recognized the need for a control system to facilitate this process and to minimize disruption to their existing production. Hatch installed a HPT system at this facility in April 2004 as part of an expansion to 100 million tonnes annual output capacity. As a result of using the HPT system, the BHPB IO facility was cut-over in significantly less time than originally estimated - the main shutdown for the cut-over was achieved in five hours. Since that time, the HPT system has been used to facilitate more than five stages of expansion at the facility without any significant interruption to existing production or change to the HPT core system software.   Defining the System   The Hatch Product Transport (HPT) system is a highly flexible and configurable route selection and sequencing system for controlling large bulk material handling facilities. The system has a generic control algorithm that can be configured to suit any material handling facility. It can be easily reconfigured to cater to plant expansion or modifications without incurring significant disruption to the existing production, costs in testing, and re-commissioning, thus achieving cost savings throughout a facility’s lifecycle.   The central database, modular architecture, and generic control algorithms that characterize the HPT system allow for changes to be configured and comprehensively tested prior to deployment. This reduces present and future project risks, project duration (hence costs), process shutdown duration, and allows for smoother ramp-up of production. These benefits are difficult to achieve with a conventional system. The figure summarizes these benefits graphically for a typical project life cycle.   HPT Adds Value   The HPT system has a number of innovative and advanced process control functionalities that improve overall productivity of a plant. The material interlocking concept, for example, utilizes the latent plant availability to improve performance and productivity. The integrated plant simulator capability provides a platform for comprehensive system testing, operator training, and for the trialling of operational scenarios. The HPT system also provides several mechanisms for improving production efficiency by reducing the transport route startup time, changeover time, and material delivery time.   In terms of continuous improvement, the readily available operating data is a key element of this, as it facilitates formulation of performance indexes and allows for ongoing optimization. In this regard, the HPT system has been designed to integrate and provide route, equipment, and product data to plant information management systems.   In addition, the HPT system has a central configurable repository of plant data that enables ongoing plant optimization without the need to change any core system control algorithm. And it also provides traceability for any changes for the configured data to maintain integrity of the system.   Work is currently underway to further enhance the system functionalities, for example, the provision of an integrated production tracking system. Hatch also intends to incorporate production scheduling and planning optimization modules to the system in the near future.