A drive for efficiency prompted pipe manufacturer Tenaris to automate operation of its largest factory.
In recent years, the oil and gas industry worldwide has responded to severe market-pricing pressures by finding ways to gain new efficiencies. That impacts companies like Tenaris, a leading global manufacturer and supplier of steel piping and related services needed for exploration and production (E&P) operations.
Tenaris, which produces more than six million tons of steel pipes in globally-dispersed production plants, is benefiting from plans made five years ago. That’s when Tenaris began planning the world’s largest and most automated seamless pipe making plant. It’s located in Bay City, Texas, so it’s close to customers that comprise about 40 percent of its sales.
Last year, Tenaris opened the $1.8 billion plant, which covers 1.2 million square-feet and employs more than 600 people. It sits on 1,500 acres in the heart of Texas oil country, near E&P customers in the high-growth Permian Basin and Eagle Ford shale formations. The plant can produce 600,000 tons of seamless pipes.
According to Pablo Fushimi, Tenaris Project Senior Director, providing for the safety of plant personnel and advanced equipment was one of the plant’s three core design principles. The other two were quality and efficiency. This was a challenge.
“On the one hand, operators must be close to machinery and inventory, whether it’s feedstock, work-in-progress or finished goods, to monitor production quality and processes from end-to-end, while remaining mobile to get to and from their stations and work cells,” he says. “Safety is our top priority in everything we do. It guided the plant’s design and architecture from the very beginning precisely because this is an industrial facility that makes seamless pipe.”
Ensuring quality from start to finish
In designing the plant, engineers made sure that every part of its operations would support the company’s global adherence to the rigorous ISO 9001:2015 quality management system. That’s why Tenaris can produce piping up to 26 meters in length with tolerances of less than 5 millimeters and its products from source feedstock all the way through to customer delivery.
Efficiency was the third design principle. This principle includes asset utilization, production throughput and visibility, plant reliability and energy efficiency.
“To ensure we’re always getting the most out of the plant’s physical assets of machinery, inventory, and skilled personnel, maximizing uptime and availability would be critical,” Fushimi says. “We needed extreme operational reliability, which meant system and network redundancy as well as excellent diagnostics and maintenance capabilities.”
As for energy efficiency, Fushimi notes that the Bay City plant is seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. That required detailed planning in all the plant’s building and production systems from the outset.
Finally, Fushimi wanted to reduce, if not eliminate, the fits and starts that can typically plague the commissioning phase of any new manufacturing facility. These occur when components, machines and systems, especially from different suppliers, are found to not “play well” together because they’re difficult to integrate or don’t interoperate.
To address these challenges and meet the plant’s operating goals, Tenaris needed a fully automated approach. Fushimi and his team carefully considered candidates with a broad and integrated product portfolio, proven expertise, and financial strength.
They also wanted to sole-source as much as possible to simplify and compress procurement cycles and simplify commissioning, support, and service. Most of all, Tenaris wanted a standardized platform that would make it easier for maintenance technicians and operators to diagnose and repair problems, while minimizing their spare parts stock.
After evaluating their options for an automation partner, Tenaris chose Siemens. The Texas plant is the world’s largest automation implementation using the Siemens TIA Portal to program and manage nearly 50,000 IO points across 4,000 network nodes.
The plant’s automation landscape features 124 Siemens SIMATIC S7 Controllers from the Siemens Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) portfolio. Most are the advanced S7-1500F fail-safe models with integrated safety features. The built-in safety capabilities eliminated the cost and time of installing separate safety controllers across the plant.
“The fail-safe SIMATIC S7-1500 Controllers have safety fully integrated, which has enhanced our plant safety, while increasing our operating visibility and management of the SIMATIC control fabric across all our operations.”
To extend the plant’s automation reach across its vast expanse, more than 4,000 ultra-compact, high-performance SIMATIC ET-200 remote IO modules (S, M, and Pro models) were deployed using a third-party’s simple, push-in wiring connectors, which saved up to 20 percent in commissioning time. In addition, more than 150 Siemens SIMATIC HMI Comfort Panels were installed to provide personnel with color touchscreen interfaces to the automation controls.
PROFINET industrial Ethernet – supported by more than 800 Siemens SCALANCE switches, wireless access points, and related devices – handle the plant’s communications requirements. “In all, we’ve connected more than 4,000 PROFINET nodes, making our Bay City mill one of the largest PROFINET implementations in the world,” says Automation Director Nain Rivera. “We’ve deployed them in a ring network architecture for redundancy, using the Media Redundancy Protocol, which enables faster recovery times in case of failures.”
Tenaris also implemented a range of Siemens switchgear, motor control cabinets, and other power distribution components. “The extent to which Siemens has engineered integration and interoperability across its many different automation, drives, and power components is impressive,” says Rivera. “Given the huge numbers we had to install, the interoperability plus sole-sourcing saved us an extraordinary amount of time.”
Fushimi says the Siemens TIA Portal, a common automation software engineering framework, is another source of time savings. “With the TIA Portal, our engineering teams were able to manage and reuse code across many different applications, saving up to 30 percent of the time that would otherwise be needed, if they didn’t have the ease of use of its graphical interface and code libraries,” he says.
“Not only has the TIA Portal saved us probably months over this multiyear project, it will also continue to save us time in maintaining and upgrading the plant’s automation software in years to come,” Fushimi adds. “Even more, we can share code with our many other facilities around the world that use Siemens solutions.”
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