01 February 2003
Driving dashboard technologies
By Ellen Fussell
HMI gives control to power plants.
|KCP&L's coal-fired La Cygne Station has two massive boilers that create steam for the turbine generation process.|
After the plant's new Web-based performance human-machine interface (HMI) monitoring system was up and running, it actually revealed a problem with a piece of equipment—a problem operators hadn't seen before because the data on their screens reflected normal operations. They first noticed one of the feed-water systems had a problem.
"We found a problem with the heater and corrected it. That inefficiency on the unit would probably have eventually damaged equipment and cost a lot of money," said Bill Radford, operations superintendent of the La Cygne plant.
Now those days of uncertainty are gone, replaced with real-time management and control throughout the plant from one central server. Managers and plant operators can monitor and evaluate production and power generation in real time. The result so far: 5% reduction in operating costs.
The technology, based on "dashboard technologies" or Web-based technology in a manufacturing scenario, uses a portal to bring information to the people who really need it on the plant floor. "A portal is defined as a doorway or an entrance, especially one that is large and impressive," according to eResearchTechnology, Inc. "A Web site is analogous to a single storefront—a portal, an entrance to a shopping mall."
The portal consolidates information about what's going on in the plant and provides single-click access to analytical and collaborative tools. "The digital dashboard is a flexible portal framework that integrates a corporation's diverse resources in a single browser-based interface," said eResearchTechnology.
An example of a digital dashboard is the SQL server that provides developers with tools, documentation, and code to create custom portals based on the digital dashboard framework and the Microsoft SQL Server 2000. It delivers tailored information directly to those who need to see it. SQL, structured query language, is the language used to communicate with databases.
"There are several different methods," said Bruce Kelly, technical director for information technology at Sega, Inc., an engineering and systems integration firm based in Stilwell, Kan., that focuses on power plant and energy-related systems and helped KCP&L with its new system. "Microsoft has open database connectivity, a transport medium for sending structured queries to a database using SQL. Wonderware's SQL is based on Microsoft but specifically for industrial specifications," Kelly said.
|The heart of the La Cygne plant is the master control room, from which operators monitor and control any process in the production of electric power.|
So what about the power plant that implemented a new system? KCP&L's two generation plants near Kansas City installed performance monitoring systems that collect data from multiple power production systems and sort it in a real-time repository. Operators and management can now analyze data to measure performance efficiency as production occurs. The staff can tailor specific information displays for people so they have only the information they need to do their jobs.
The new system uses Wonderware auto mation software called FactorySuite, which includes terminal services for InTouch, a thin client version of the InTouch HMI software and the IndustrialSQL server real-time relational database software. "InTouch is our HMI, and IndustrialSQL is our historian," Kelly said.
It also uses SuiteVoyager, Web portal software that allows users to access the data. The combination of thin client and portal technology has actually lowered the cost of enhancing the original system and the life cycle costs associated with maintaining and enhancing it because applications are maintained on a central server.
The server runs the HMI software to connect to data sources in the plant and bring data from those sources into the server to manipulate it, Kelly said. The system can work as a performance monitor or as preventive maintenance to convert data to information. "The main goal is to reduce uncertainty," he said. "At every level, starting at operations and going to executive offices, we're turning data into information.
"Data comes from the field, from the labs, from Excel [results that become more data]," Kelly said. Then they all go into the HMI and are exported in the historian, he said. So far, the HMI and the historian "are all getting fed data from transmitters—from humans entering information that's computing new data."
The last piece of the puzzle is the Web portal. Using the Web portal, a user such as La Cygne's operations superintendent, can go to the Internet, type in the URL of the Web site that's on his server, and click on the performance button. After entering a login and password, he comes to the portal's screen with a list of other things to look at, Kelly said.
"He can go to unit one or the overview for the cyclone heat input. By selecting that link, he'll see a graphic that will show him what's going on in the furnace or boiler for unit one on the heat release for the cyclones." A cyclone is a burner that burns coal in a furnace of a boiler—10 stories tall and burning four railcars full of coal an hour. "Before that he was more than likely uncertain what was going on in the cyclones," Kelly said.
HEAT RATE RESULTS
The goal was to have a more simplified platform for everybody to access information, Radford said. "I use it to access our performance monitor, which gives data on the plant, heat rate on the unit, different variables on the operations trends, and statistics about the unit."
Since the system's installation, La Cygne has reduced the heat rate at unit one by 500 Btus per kilowatt hour—a 5% reduction in the cost of operating the boiler. "We used to run with 11,300 Btus per kilowatt hour. Now we're operating around 10,800 Btus per kilowatt hour," Radford said.
"We look for an idea of how the processes are working, and we know what we've got going on," said Rick Heard, La Cygne's plant mechanical engineer. "Ultimately, we're looking for the ability to generate the most amount of megawatts on the least amount of fuel." While the plant has mainly used the system for performance monitoring, it has also used it as an equipment performance predictor. "If we can see a piece of equipment where performance is falling off, we can schedule work that needs to be done," Heard said.
"It all goes back to having the [software] up front and our performance monitor working in the background. It enables us to watch the process of the steam generation of electricity in real time to see what we need to do to improve performance of the unit," Heard said.
Here's an example: Operators were aware the boiler needed a chemical cleaning but didn't know how badly. During a scheduled outage they did the cleaning, which ended up dropping the heat rate. "And the lower the heat rate, the better off you are—burning less fuel to generate a given amount of electricity," Heard said.
"The best part about the system is being able to compact this in a format that's easy to understand, and we can easily see if we've got a problem," Radford said. "It helps us analyze and predict inefficiencies in the unit and cut costs and even extend the life of equipment."
"It also helps our bottom line. If we continuously watch the equipment in real time, we know where our heat rate is, and we can see something go wrong and make adjustments and correct equipment problems," Heard said. "And the more megawatts we can generate for the least cost, that's how we make money." IT