How Koch is building the plant of the future

How Koch is building the plant of the future

Northampton, MA – News Direct– Koch Industries

People are passionate about many things: politics, gardening, craft cocktails, and puppies. For Howard Elton, joy comes in the form of process control automation. “These are the systems that protect chemical plants and the people around them,” he says. His unbridled passion of him is good for Koch Ag & Energy Solutions. He is the guy who is preparing the plants of the future.

Some say that the plants of tomorrow will be completely autonomous: “dark plants”, they are sometimes called. For Howard, a leader in process control and automation, there is nothing obscure. What matters to him is to find and use technologies that can help Koch Fertilizer, part of Koch Ag & Energy Solutions, reduce the environmental impact and be a better employer at the same time. As Howard explains, there will still be the same pumps and tanks, with the same high pressure and heat. But with technologies like process control automation, people working in those plants can access better data and use it to improve operations. This will improve environmental performance, such as emissions per unit produced, allowing employees to learn new skills.

“Helping our employees transform and use fewer resources – these are critical to any plant of the future,” he says.

Because the plant of the future is important

When people think of automation, they imagine robots and computers replacing people. But it’s really about improving safety and reducing the opportunities for human error, which are hugely important in chemical manufacturing, a field that is “complex and sophisticated,” Howard says, meaning it’s possible for humans to make mistakes. small and understandable. “If we can get the computer to do things the same way over and over again, that’s the benefit of automation.”

The implant of the future is also about empowering people. When machines or computers are malfunctioning, people get stressed out as they try to handle the problem. Automation eliminates most of the manual part, which allows people to develop new skills and abilities and use their experience in a more fulfilling way. This helps them move on to other jobs that will be needed in the future, where they can also provide more value to the business.

One way automation empowers people is to monitor plant machinery alarms. When these alarms go off, it usually doesn’t mean there’s a real problem. Rather, it is a signal that something needs to be checked or adjusted because the machine is not operating within its precise settings. These alarms are important in chemical manufacturing to ensure that the system works as intended, but a human is not required for every single check. Automation handles these alarms while allowing you to quickly address potential process disruptions, so operators can focus on higher-value, more fulfilling work without unnecessary disruption.

How technologies are used

Koch Fertilizer uses many types of automation, but there are three that Howard is most excited about. The first is advanced process control. With this technology, a computer creates a model of the manufacturing process, which includes elements that affect the efficiency of the process. This model helps Koch employees understand how to make production faster and more efficient.

Another automation tool is state-based auditing. Each production process goes through various stages for switching on, reaching its stable operating state and switching off. By automating these steps, operators are freed from manual execution of each task, reducing the opportunities to introduce errors, trigger alarms, or hinder efficiency. “These two tools take the skills of the best operators and process engineers and program them into computers,” says Howard. The result is a safer chemical plant that runs smoother and uses resources more wisely.

Howard’s other favorite automation tool is data related. The tool collects detailed data on manufacturing processes and equipment condition and provides it to the experts at the Koch plant. The information gathered helps those experts make more informed decisions and do their jobs better.

Dove Koch uses automated technologies

Several Koch Industries companies use automation in the same way as Koch Fertilizer, including INVISTA and Georgia-Pacific. “Basically, we all operate chemical manufacturing facilities,” Howard says. Even though companies produce different products, the basic production theories are the same. Ammonia fertilizer plants, for example, use process automation to measure chemical temperatures, pressures and flow rates, all of which need to be controlled. Operators, electrical engineers, reliability engineers and control engineers can use process automation to obtain data faster and more in-depth, to fine-tune the best conditions for manufacturing.

Howard remembers visiting onboard operators at Urea Ammonium Nitrate Plants in Dodge City, Kansas, and Fort Dodge, Iowa. On-board operators are the people who control production equipment from a central location. Howard and his colleagues traveled to these facilities to introduce automation software and find out what onboard operators needed to do their jobs better. At first, operators were skeptical of automation process control models, but once they saw how it helped them, “the operators were delighted,” he says.

Board operators were looking forward to these visits, which gave them a chance to talk to process control engineers to learn how to use automation tools to set up their controls so they don’t have to make any changes manually. After fine-tuning the technological parameters, some have gone from managing alarms on the keypad hundreds of times a day to managing only a handful of alarms a day. They like automation, says Howard, because it “allows them to think about the process on a higher level.” Board practitioners are enjoying their role more now, with more opportunities to do more analysis and strategies to move forward.

A bottom-up approach to technology

Companies that understand the importance of good engineering practices and also apply technologies such as process automation will move ahead of their peers, Howard says. But introducing automation to a plant should be done right. Too many companies start with the automation technology itself, forcing it into the process. This makes it difficult to combine needs with the process.

Howard believes it’s best to start with necessity and then add the right technology, a bottom-up approach. It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated or complete in one go. “Many of the software technologies we implement have a 70% -90% return on investment,” he says.

It is also important that automation initiatives and vision come from leadership. “Leaders are architects of culture. Their support for organizational change is needed, “he says. Some people get nervous when new technologies are introduced, and rejection of organizational change and fears of job losses can occur.” Not everyone likes change, “Howard says. but as board members have seen, change can improve their jobs, and automation doesn’t necessarily lead to job losses because people can learn new skills and change roles within the company.

Howard is grateful to be able to implement his vision for process control automation. “Koch gave me the opportunity to take this role and apply it to a lot of very important things that we weren’t even thinking about before. This is fulfilling for me.

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