Scheme of 4.0 Pilot Plant

Pilot plant bliver digtal

tirsdag 14 jun 22
af Morten Andersen


Steen Larsen
DTU Kemiteknik
45 25 28 04
Forskere, studerende og brugere fra industrien kan nu få en flyvende start, når de starter eksperimenter i instituttets Pilot Plant (artiklen er engelsksproget).

Students, researchers, and industry users can as of 1 January 2022, train virtually before they start experiments at the Pilot Plant at DTU Chemical Engineering. “We always emphasize that our users need to prepare beforehand, as they otherwise risk wasting valuable time until they become acquainted with our units. From now on they can do this preparation in a virtual version of the equipment,” says Steen Larsen, Head of Pilot Plant.

Having downloaded the relevant software, the user will be able to train either remotely or on location. The user enters a virtual representation of the actual Pilot Plant main hall. Six facilities in the hall are accessible for virtual operation, and more will follow. It should be stressed that the virtual operation of the equipment is for training purposes only. It is not yet possible to operate the real equipment from a distance, nor to conduct simulated experiments.

“The value lies in our users getting a feeling for operating the unit before they come here to start the experiment. Where are the various handles for valves, pumps etc.? How are they operated, and in which order? Most users find the virtual operation much more appealing than reading a manual,” explains Steen Larsen.

Makes the Pilot Plant more accessible
In a wider perspective, the virtual product contributes to making the Pilot Plant more accessible, notes Steen Larsen: “The equipment here constitutes a very large asset. Until now it has mainly been used for educational purposes, but we are confident it can be used more in research than today. Also, while we do have industrial users, mainly from SME’s and startup companies, we hope to welcome more.”

 The virtual Pilot Plant is just the tip of a larger iceberg when it comes to digitalization. “The data produced during operation of the units at the Pilot Plant have a value beyond the individual experiment. Maybe in, say, six years’ time another experiment in the same field can benefit from an experiment conducted today. However, this additional value can only be harvested if we are able to arrange data collection and storage in a systematic manner and secure future access to the meta data,” explains Postdoc Jochen Dreyer, responsible for the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) implementation at Pilot Plant.

Balancing systematics versus flexibility
Systematic data collection and storage at an experimental facility is harder than it sounds, Jochen Dreyer elaborates: “While an industrial facility will run the same process continuously, our users will typically run shorter projects or exercises for maybe five-six hours and may even change process conditions along the way. This makes systematic data collection highly challenging. If we set rigid demands for the data collection, we will not be able to capture the creative ideas, but if we let people completely loose, we will end up with a messy database that cannot be used later. So, it’s about finding a compromise between keeping things systematic versus flexible. It has taken a lot of effort to strike the right balance.”

Steen Larsen joins in: “When researchers come here, they can work on their research and do not need to think about data collection. Still, considering the rapid development within automation and digitalization, I would not dare to say that we have found the optimal solution. I believe everybody’s trying to find their way, and that goes for industry too.”

The Pilot Plant has been able to benefit from other developments at DTU, notes Jochen Dreyer: “We have been able to use server capacity at DTU Research-IT at Risø and tap into their expertise in server administration. This has allowed us to try out different setups and decide on the specification for our own servers.”

Not striving for full automation
An underlying aim behind the virtual Pilot Plant is to introduce the DTU students to automation, Steen Larsen points out: “Currently, all equipment at the Pilot Plant is operated manually, as we wanted our students to get a feeling for operating the valves and pumps during their experiments. Still, we must recognize that automation, web-based user interfaces, control systems and Big Data are an increasing part of the industrial reality. While we are not striving for full automation, we need to let our students experience state-of-the-art automation.”

Not surprisingly, users have welcomed the virtual Pilot Plant, according to Steen Larsen: “Especially the younger users would never come here with pen and paper, but rather work on their digital devices. Getting acquainted with the equipment through a virtual Pilot Plant is just very natural for them”

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