Zeppelin Systems has long been accustomed to adapting to the changing conditions on the international plastics industry markets, but it is notable that these days such changes are happening more quickly than ever. To keep costs and timeframes under control despite this rapid movement, plant engineering companies need to change by continuing to drive digitization – not just in terms of planning, but also when it comes to how components are used.
Today’s teams working in the plastic production and manufacturing industry are expected to deliver initial planning results at the point when, 20 years ago, plant engineering teams would still have had four weeks before project launch; on average, the time between an investment decision being made and the start of operations is at just 50% of what it was a few years ago. What we can infer from this is that the entire planning process needs to be faster and more effective. In the area of planning and designing plastic plants in particular, there are a number of factors that can be managed to significantly reduce the time to market.
As a material handling specialist, Zeppelin Systems has been ensuring for years that raw materials are taken from the reactor, further processed and then transported to the extruder and on to the packing plant. If one element of internal logistics fails, or if a single interface does not function correctly, the entire process is disrupted. As such, the focus of a machine and plant engineering company should be on the engineering rather than on individual components such as feeders or dosing units. In light of this understanding, the plant engineering experts at Zeppelin now approach the planning phase with an architect’s mindset. The company’s engineers consult with customers and implement their ideas into a functioning concept. For example, when it comes to the feeding of extruders there is a range of dosing and weighing systems to choose from; one may dose more quickly, while another is more precise, the next offers a higher throughput and the fourth may have software that better fits the dosing systems already in place. Zeppelin makes its customer aware of which solutions best suit their needs, then the plant designer must connect all the respective elements together as effectively as possible. This approach pays dividends for the customer from the outset, in two ways: The customer is able to choose from a wider range of products, and the entire process is optimized.
Tools for efficient planning
While a company that focuses solely on mechanical engineering generally puts machinery at the center of its plans, a plant engineering company takes a more comprehensive viewpoint. With just such a viewpoint in mind, Zeppelin Systems has developed the Value Engineering concept that begins early in the development phase, and means that all the relevant data are available very early on, providing a solid foundation for optimal decision-making. In particular, this allows for detailed discussion and optimization of the plant design in a digital model. The results of this are brought together to create a better designed solution – which may mean optimized pipework, well-thought-through space allocation, or the perfect layout of all plant parts and shorter routes. Currently, model review is often only conducted during contract performance, at a point in the process where the remaining scope for concept optimization is limited. Zeppelin Systems moved away from a sequential planning process long ago, and as such it can now execute any number of planning steps in parallel, which itself already leads to significant time savings. But the fact is, potential opportunities to save costs and time can even be identified in individual process steps, with various tools available to the plant designer to support this. The plant’s technical specifications are created in the context of front-end engineering and design (FEED). This phase is crucial to determining the plant’s efficiency, as some 80% of the total costs for planning and construction, as well as operation, are defined here. It results in a scheme that encompasses all volumes, dimensions, key indicators, and workflows, allowing sufficient scope to further optimize the plant. Here, the concept’s main components are already integrated into an overall layout plan; the planning basis is also established, with the plant going through a kind of optimization phase in its first dry run.
Precise image of as-built status
Even in existing plants, there are also opportunities to tweak the planning process to make it more precise and more efficient. Unlike new builds, usable documentation is often unavailable for existing plants; and even where documentation is available, it may be inaccurate or fail to take account of adjustments made during construction, or other changes implemented during the operation of the plant. What’s more, evaluating these documents is a time-consuming and expensive process – a fact that often leads to an unfortunate failure to look closely at the documents during the planning phase of a conversion project, or a decision to simply re-survey the existing plant which, in the case of complex plants, virtually guarantees that errors will arise. Tools are now available that improve the planning process when dealing with highly complex existing buildings, including laser scanners that create a precise model of the current plant, using a 3D laser scan to record the entire plant, point by point (to create a “point cloud”) and document it in full. This makes it possible to supply planners with a highly detailed, up-to-date 3D image of the plant to an astonishing level of precision, as the margin of accuracy is between 1 and 2 mm. There is also the option to take photos of all or part of the plant. The process is completed with the integration of all the scans to create a “point cloud”, that is then converted into a photo-realistic model with the help of software. Laser scanning is not only quicker than manual measurement, but also maps every detail and records the plant in full, meaning planners can make use of a detailed and up-to-date 3D map of the plant – though it should be noted here that the planner must first convert the point cloud data into a usable information format for planning.
The planner is then able to identify functional units, and extract these units from the overall plan, making it possible to take an informed decision on which components of the old plant should remain and which may be dismantled during modernization. Similarly, if there is a conflict of objectives in planning, or if clashes arise, the priority of structural elements can be analyzed to ascertain the best way to resolve the situation. Using this 3D model of the steel construction, components and pipework, the plant can be quickly and reliably optimized in terms of aspects such as accessibility for maintenance and service, or optimal use of space. In summary, it enables plant conversion to be planned precisely, and carried out with little disruption to production and high safety standards.
Zeppelin has invested significantly in suitably aligning planning system environments; so for example, our planning departments now only work with point clouds, rather than vector-based systems as in conventional CAD systems, as this is the only way of deriving an intelligent model from a raw scan. This model maps an integrated extension with no interface problems, as little interference with the existing plant as possible, and the avoidance of clashes or expensive conversion work during installation.