Trends in asphalt plant automation: System control

Complete control over your plant is what automation was built for.  Asphalt Contractor reports on the latest trends.

In 2002, the first asphalt automation system with highly configurable software was introduced to the industry. PC/PLC based systems provide complete control and monitoring of an entire facility on any type of plant. Motor control, flows, temperatures, sensors and all other components of the plant are monitored, controlled, trended and alarmed to individual needs.

This gives plant operators the ability to constantly monitor all their values – watch the numbers move – and tell if there is a problem before there is wasted mix. Automation lets you watch targets, actuals and movement. If you see where the equipment is trying to adjust, it can help you pinpoint the problem and diagnose it. Automation helps you stay on top of the quality of your mix and minimize waste.

“Systems control centers like these are designed specifically for the asphalt industry with an emphasis on rugged construction, operator comfort and logical integration of the plant controls” says Kenneth Cardy, president of Libra Systems. “These systems run and monitor all plant functions from a standard PC, including blending operations, plant motors, motor currents, mix and plant temperatures, material inventory, silo levels, energy usage and alarm status.”

“A conscious decision to use industrial grade computers for the central user-interface is a step in meeting the overall objective of automation,” says Lien Gangte, controls engineer at Astec Inc. “In addition to meeting rigorous technical specifications, the advantages of using these machines lie in their production stability and long-term availability. In a world of constantly changing computers and its operating systems it is extremely important to offer systems that can be controlled more effectively to avoid any surprises.”

Producers also have the ability to mold these systems to their unique business processes. This includes the ability to add fields, layout printing on delivery tickets, add or modify reports, add special logic, create their own pricing schemes, etc.

“These systems are designed to primarily provide a solid platform that supports the most robust, flexible and dependable automation architecture,” Gangte says. “The modular design allows the upgrade or integration of components (burner, silos, motor control, blending, tank farm, double barrel green, etc.) in stages or all at once. This means that we only move when the customer is ready; there are no forced choices. Consistent emphasis on backward compatibility in the design process means that all of the new developments can be retrofitted with older modules even as new ones are added.”

Whereas custom software of years past had the effect of locking producers out of new versions, the configurable and modular design of today’s software allows users to receive new releases and features, while maintaining the configuration settings that make the software unique for their specific business requirements.


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