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The Magazine
Siemens accompanies the digitalization of the site in Chalampé, amongst others with the changeover to the process control system PCS 7.

Process control system

Simulation instead of risk

When time is short, a new process control system must start working properly right away. At a huge chemical plant in the Alsace region of France, the simulation software ensured smooth and efficient modernization of the complete process control system.

Butachimie is a joint venture between US nylon specialist Invista and Solvay, a Belgian pro­ducer of specialty chemicals that is the world’s largest producer of polyamide 6.6. The company’s headquarters are in the small town of Chalampé in the Haut-Rhin department in France. Located on the Upper Rhine, at the Alsace border, Butachimie operates a plant that primarily makes nylon salts and adipodinitrile (ADN). The imposing plant covers an area of 125 ha and employs some 1,000 people. It is the largest production plant of its kind in Europe. 

ADN is an intermediate used to make various polyamide 6.6 products. Typical end products are technical fibers and fabrics known by brand names such as Perlon, Cordura, and Kevlar, as well as Nylon. Polyamide 6.6 is also processed into pellets and is used to make thermoplastic injection mold­ings. In these applications, polyamide 6.6 is valued as a strong, durable material with high resistance to organic solvents.

Fit to meet the demands of the future

The history of the Butachimie plant in Chalampé extends back to 1955. It has been undergoing extensive modernization work since 2010, when the management decided to make a significant investment in safeguarding the future of the site and upgrade it to the latest state of the art. The comprehensive upgrade also includes modernization of the complete process and production control system, for which Butachimie has set in motion a long-term project that is not scheduled for completion until 2023. In France, the plant is regarded as a model for industrial change and a milestone in realizing the factory of the future. 

One measure undertaken as part of the upgrade was the replacement of the long-standing analog process control system with Simatic PCS 7. The first step in creating an entirely new automation platform was completed in October 2014, when Siemens presented a full virtual model of the future system.

Migration in small steps

The production process in Chalampé is not only characterized by high complexity; it is also a continuous process that is interrupted just once every three years for maintenance. The plant is composed of several interlinked production units.

The migration of each of these units had to be completed in a maximum of three weeks. Then the process had to be fully functional when it restarted, so as not to bring the entire production sequence to a standstill. Units that could not be fully upgraded within the tight time window were provided with a backup combined process control setup in which the old system was tem­porarily run in parallel with the new one. The physical migration of the first unit began in 2011. Twelve units have thus far been successfully upgraded to Simatic PCS 7, of which four are running in combined system mode.

Simulation, testing, implementation

A system change is always a risk, especially since many problems are often only revealed during implementation and commissioning. Simit simulation ­software ends this uncertainty because it enables the ­creation of a complete virtual model of the process plant on which all the functions can be fully run and tested before even a single installation engineer has started work on-site.

The digitalization process is based on seamless interaction between the Simatic PCS 7 process control system and the simulation software Simit, so up­grading to a fully digital system was critical to the project’s success. The new system needs far fewer interfaces between different components, thus dramatically reducing the number of error sources. At Butachimie, there are thoughts about using Comos engineering tool, which is specially designed to support the complete engineering and integrated lifecycle management of a process plant, making it much more efficient.

Simit was the key to the success of Butachimie’s modernization project. Once the smooth running of a production unit had been verified on the computer, the physical installation could be rapidly executed. The commissioning procedures were then completed efficiently, and production could be resumed right away. Butachimie process automation manager Claude Schlagenwarth sums up the benefits: “With the aid of software tools, we already know the outcome of a project before a single plant component has been built.” He adds: "Digitalization is becoming a key factor for industry in meeting challenges such as increasing competitive pressures and continually changing legislative frameworks, markets, and technologies.”

Picture credits: Gianelli