The highly automated manufacturing and mining sectors in South Africa are increasing their implementation of management information systems (MISes) and manufacturing execution systems (MESes) resulting in the MIS and MES market growing at a rate of 7% each year, says consulting and engineering services provider Royal HaskoningDHV service line leader and recently appointed president of the Society for Automation, Instrumentation, Measurement and Control Vinesh Maharaj.
Modern computer-based systems pro- vide information for organisations. They use the information to manage their ope- rations and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of decision-making, such as decision support systems, expert systems and MES systems.
MES systems are computerised sys- tems used in manufacturing to provide the right information in real time to enable the manufacturing decision-maker to improve production output or to enable the control of multiple elements of the production process simultaneously.
The highly automated nature of MIS and MES systems enable them to be implemented in several industrial applica- tions in South Africa to manage some of the operational risks, such as damage to equipment, unplanned downtime and less than expected production rates that exist when people are responsible for certain tasks, says Maharaj.
Historical drivers of the implementa- tion of automation systems in South Africa are the general skills shortage in industrial sectors and that younger and more inexperienced people are increasingly responsible for operating plants and machinery.
“This situation compels the country’s manufacturing industries to rely on automated equipment to perform certain tasks, as opposed to the situation in developed countries, where there is a highly skilled work force able to take full responsibility for tasks,” notes Maharaj.
Further, some more recent drivers behind the implementation of automation systems include the cost of labour, environmental protection and safety.
Maharaj says several economists have suggested that South Africa’s unit cost of labour is high, given the country’s productivity.
Environmental challenges and the efforts to protect the environment in South Africa have required companies to install monitoring equipment and the automated systems required to control processes and take corrective action should that be necessary.
Health and safety is also a driving force in automation adoption, as industry in the country has begun to take more responsibility for the dangerous environments in which some people work. Subsequently, automated machinery has replaced people in certain environments to prevent people from being placed in risky situations.
Meanwhile, Maharaj notes, with regard to particular sectors, that besides having a highly automated and benchmarked sugar industry and an adequately auto- mated mining industry, South Africa presents several opportunities for the implementation of automation and MES or MIS systems.
For instance, automation is suitable for controlling the country’s water purification and wastewater treatment sectors, he highlights.
In addition, the water purification and wastewater-treatment process is chemically sensitive and, as a result, a person would be unable to control the process as accurately as a control system would.
Royal HaskoningDHV’s Nereda tech- nology improves the efficiency of waste- water treatment works and reduces its environmental footprint. The technology improves a wastewater treatment works’ processes and reduces its energy use and the total cost of operation, owing to its physical compactness and the use of deci- sion support software.
Automation is also suited to the country’s underground mining industry, where it improves safety and prevents and reduces fatalities, for instance, at the stopes where blasting occurs. The unfortunate consequence of installing a fully automated underground mining operation is a loss of low skilled jobs, says Maharaj.
He adds that automation can also be used to control and regulate South Africa’s energy sector in the implementation and evolution of the country’s smart grid over the next 20 to 30 years.
The smart grid will require the use of computer-based remote control and automation for South Africa’s electricity supply and demand and related infra- structure.
Engineering News reported last year that State-owned power utility Eskom was optimistic that, by deploying smart grids, it would increase the combustion efficiency of its coal fleet; be in a position to monitor and increase the reliability of renewable-energy generation capacity, such as solar and wind; as well as improve the visibility and reliability of equipment.
Meanwhile, all the country’s Strategic Integrated Projects, or Sips, require automation to deliver on government’s objectives, says Maharaj.
The Sips that will be undertaken in South Africa cover social and economic infrastructure, including catalytic projects intended to fast-track development and growth in all nine provinces, with specific emphasis on lagging regions.
Of the 18 Sips, five are geographically focused, three focus on spatial dynamics, three on energy, three on social infra- structure and two on knowledge creation, while one promotes regional integration and a final Sip, added to the list of last year focuses on upgrading water and sanitation.
Maharaj believes that because South Africa is a developing country and is behind the global technological innovation curve, the country adopts the proven and latest technology instead of creating it.
He says in a production environment, the benefit of industrial automation and MIS is the overall equipment efficiency (OEE) measurement that it provides when balancing three important variables. “The overall equipment efficiency is the product of availability, throughput and quality,” he explains, noting that once an OEE of 80% efficiency is achieved, a plant is said to be world class.
Although the initial investment in auto- mating a process is high, because of the software, hardware and engineering costs involved, the total cost of ownership is lower, as labour costs decrease and production efficiency increases. “An automated industrial operation will require fewer highly skilled operators to control the equipment which under- takes the more mundane tasks,” explains Maharaj.
Meanwhile, a challenge that may impact on the adoption of automation in South Africa is the rate of industrial growth in the country. “Industrial growth is lagging, owing to the lack of mineral resource beneficiation and a slow global demand for South African products,” says Maharaj, adding that if industries do not grow, automation will, as a consequence, stagnate, as it is a key ingredient in industrial processes.
Royal HaskoningDHV was contracted in mid-2012 by a large water authority in Gauteng to upgrade the automation and double the capacity of its ageing treat- ment plant, using a modern supervisory control and data acquisition and a pro- grammable logic controller system with an MIS.
The company will also install variable-speed drives at the treatment plant’s pumps to ensure energy efficiency. The automation of the plant will ensure that a proactive approach is taken, using condition monitoring to pre-empt equipment failures for maintenance requirements.
The MIS will also help the process plant optimise its chemical use, says Maharaj.
“Our long-term view for the client is to automate all its operations, including its central MIS, thus enabling it to benchmark its various operations. Through this, we will also be able to standardise the look and feel of the client’s system, which will enable staff to be easily moved between operations,” he adds.