BlueScope’s bold instrumentation plan is a winner

When one of the world’s top three suppliers of painted steel products drafted plans in 2004 to set up a new inline paint facility, they made a crucial but rather unusual decision. BlueScope Steel set up their first Colorbond paintline facility in 1966 at Port Kembla and, over the years, demand for its roofing, guttering, fences, sheds and warehouses showed phenomenal growth. With demand for Colorbond steel products pushing capacity limits in 2003, the company decided to set up a plant at Erskine Park in Sydney as the city’s western region had become the single biggest consumer of Colorbond products in Australia.

An internal feasibility group to determine capital expenditure was set up in 2004 and comprised engineers each with at least ten years experience at one of BlueScope’s paintline facilities at Acacia Ridge, Port Kembla and Western Port. This group knew first hand, many of the problems that might be encountered during construction and commissioning of a greenfields paint plant and undertook a 12-month feasibility study, focussing on reducing these problems, for submission to the BlueScope Board.

And here, the BlueScope team took the bold and unusual step to review process instrumentation suppliers during the conceptual stage, and they decided to future-proof their new plant by implementing Profibus fieldbus technology throughout the project. "We wanted to do some front-end engineering before submissions. Thus when approval came, there would be a greater degree of certainty around what the Board was approving,”"explains Shannon Ballard, Project Engineer.

BlueScope’s internal feasibility group had taken the decision to implement Profibus on their new paintline. Interoperability, ease of engineering integration, troubleshooting, future scalability were all contributing factors in BlueScope’s selection of the technology.

Although the spend on instrumentation is relatively small compared with the overall project cost, the BlueScope team acknowledged that accurate and reliable process data is absolutely critical if the process plant is to function efficiently. The team had witnessed past projects where instruments were chosen from a variety of vendors, and there was little vendor ownership regarding product selection, installation, commissioning and training. The team knew that incorrectly selected instruments that are improperly installed have a negative flow-on-effect through the whole plant life.

With this in mind, BlueScope short-listed three vendors that they felt could be potential instrumentation partners. Leading European company, Fata Hunter, was appointed mechanical paint line equipment supplier to the project, sourcing their equipment from nine different countries. BlueScope provided them with their preferred instrumentation vendor list, but because Endress+Hauser had the broadest range of products, the highest level of Profibus competence, and worldwide presence, they won MIV (Main Instrument Vendor) status and supplied almost all the measuring devices for the project.

The first Colorbond product was painted on 15 August 2007, approximately 20 months after construction started. The plant comprises a paintline facility producing 120,000 tonnes per annum; a wastewater treatment plant; a regenerative thermal oxidiser a significant rainwater capture and re-use system with total capacity in excess 800,000 litres and cooling towers.

To eliminate any potential environmental risks emerging from the use of solvent-based paints, BlueScope implemented what is believed to be the world’s best practice in air emission control for this type of plant – a Regenerative Thermal Oxidiser (RTO). The plant runs at virtually zero gas emission because the RTO uses the thermal energy in the solvent – which is a fuel – to self combust. This is recycled through a heat exchanger back into the ovens. “So once the system is heated up, we pull back on our gas systems and just use the solvents to fuel the ovens,” explains Ballard.

A range of Endress+Hauser instrumentation linked to Profibus PA was used for the measurement and control processes. The instruments include: magnetic and vortex flow meters and flow switches; temperature switches, sensors, and thermocouples; Cerabar M and Deltabar S pressure and dp transmitters; Micropilot M radar and Levelflex M guided microwave level products; analytical products including pH and conductivity sensors, and all the devices are linked by Profibus PA technology to the plant’s automation system supplied by Rockwell via a Prosoft interface.

Profibus technology has provided BlueScope with the data needed to make better management decisions over the long-term, and provide flexibility for future expansion. The BlueScope team is currently reviewing Endress+Hauser’s Fieldcare and partnering it with W@M – the Web based Asset Management tool. If implemented, this will allow BlueScope to diagnose the health and monitor the performance of their process instruments 24/7, as well as make all the manuals, certificates, spare parts lists available online.

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