South American steel manufacturer replaces legacy energy management system

By Dave Hellyer

Usiminas is the largest supplier of steel products to South America. With 13 industrial plants strategically located in the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, Espírito Santo, and Pernambuco, Usiminas produces heavy plate, galvanized steel, electro-galvanized steel, cold-rolled strips, and more for the automotive, civil construction, mechanical industry, road and agriculture machinery, furniture, container, tube, oil and gas, and home appliance markets across Brazil and Latin America.

The Usiminas plant located in Ipatinga, Minas Gerais, Brazil, had been managing an energy system application developed with an older human-machine interface software that was no longer supported by the developer. The energy system collects real-time data from all steel-mill, plate-mill, coking, lamination, continuous casting, and other process units, using advanced optimization algorithms created by Usiminas for performance and demand prediction requirements.

Challenge: Replace legacy system

As part of the energy system, the water monitoring application has a general overview screen and manages 25 water systems in a hot standby configuration. The upgraded system had to support hot standby redundancy for nonstop operations without missing data or experiencing downtime caused by a server failure.

Meeting the challenge required replacing the 100,000 tag legacy system, modernizing the user interface and system architecture, adding more operator stations on the network, and adding a hot standby server to help maximize system availability and uptime. To design, build, and implement its new system, Usiminas collaborated with Tatsoft, which provided consulting, project management, application development, and testing and installation services. Usiminas provided the advanced optimization prediction algorithms as well as committed resources to help implement the system.

One of the most demanding aspects of this project was communicating with serial and Ethernet devices from several different manufacturers simultaneously. To reduce the need for upgrading the controllers and devices on the system, Usiminas leveraged a third-party serial-to-Ethernet interface so industrial devices were directly accessible from the network. Legacy devices can be monitored and controlled from any network location or the Internet. Different configurations and features are available for specific applications, such as protocol conversion, real COM drivers, and TCP operation modes. OPC servers were used for several other devices. Usiminas also had to interface with Oracle and Microsoft SQL databases where historical alarms and trend and process data are stored and managed using the connectivity tools within the new system.

The old system required 100,000 tags. It has been replaced with new software that requires less than half that number of tags, due to the built-in properties and application objects. The new system now includes 35 nodes distributed across the entire plant. Operators can monitor the unit operations with remote clients, so they are not tied to a single desktop.

To help ensure the correct operators are logged in during a shift, the software has an automatic logout feature. After eight hours, the software logs out the operator and gives access only to the operator registered in the current shift. Another feature is a startup delay, which prevents the system from generating erroneous alarm conditions as it starts up.

Native features in the new software notify the operator if an active alarm requiring action has not been resolved after a specific amount of time—helping avoid human failure. The system controls external components, including third-party Windows services, and other external processes for greater stability when the primary station unexpectedly shuts down.

The displays show active screen images of pumps, motors, and valves, and the operator can add comments about operations, which other operators can read to know what is happening or for specific process details. A summary of actions that includes those comments is kept.

The security system can manage shifts of operators. The currently logged-in operator can execute only the specific actions for which he or she has clearance. In these cases, the operator can only log into the system if he or she is on the correct shift. There are three shifts configured, with a specific group of operators in each. The system executes an “auto-logoff” at the end of the shift to be ready for the next operator on the next shift.

One final major benefit for Usiminas is that the new software fully leverages the resources available from the computer, including memory, multicore CPUs, and advanced graphics cards. To take full advantage of those resources, the computer used as the server for this system includes Windows 64-bit OS and 10 GB RAM.

Increased reliability, efficiency

Guilherme Publio Teixeira, manager of the energy and utilities systems support group at the Usiminas plant, said, “…software, used in the migration of the integrated recirculation monitoring system at the Ipatinga facility proved to be stable and reliable, increasing the process efficiency and cost optimization.”

About the Author

Dave Hellyer is vice president of sales and marketing at Tatsoft, a member of the Control System Integrators Association.

Reader Feedback

We want to hear from you! Please send us your comments and questions about this topic to