Posted at Sunday, 25 March, 2018

When Cutting 2,500 Wires Improved Efficiency

Paul Skade
By Victor Harris
Business Unit Manager, Electronics

Read full bio

Bulk materials handling operations at the Fiddlers Ferry power coal plant have traditionally been carried out from a control desk linked to a mimic panel: a physical display with a pictorial representation of the coal plant, with indicators showing whether the status of the plant is running, stopped, isolated or fault.


The PLCs of coal-carrying conveyors, blenders and other equipment. But the system is now more reliable and more efficient, and almost all the wiring has been eliminated – thanks to virtualisation.

SSE plc and Hargreaves – the coal plant’s operators – approached ERIKS to find a way to replace the obsolete mimic, and rationalise and improve the efficiency of their control system. An upgrade was needed for a number of reasons. The sheer quantity of wiring in the existing system made it very difficult to track faults. If changes were required they involved installing controls, monitors or gauges, which meant physically adapting the control desk. And incorporating new or additional functionality meant adding yet more wiring, which added yet more complexity.

The solution proposed by the ERIKS’ team – led by Electronics Business Unit Manager Victor Harris BSc MIET CMSE® – was to install a virtual system capitalising on cutting-edge Industry 4.0 thinking.

Simply Efficient

Taking advantage of the latest developments in interoperability, real-time data collection and virtualisation, the new desk provides all the functions and features of the old one, but virtually rather than physically.

So all controls, gauges, meters and alarms on the new desk are virtual, displayed on giant monitors.

This means that if functions need to be changed or added, it’s a simple matter to open up the design of the SCADA system and make whatever modifications are required. There’s no new wiring to install, and no physical changes need to be made to the desk.

A rail track interface, with animated trains, was also added, together with an interface for the large area pylon lighting

Although the control system is completely new, it’s a virtual copy of the old physical system – which meant that the operators needed almost no additional training before they could use it. However, the virtualisation has helped to increase operator efficiency, not least because the redesign created an opportunity for ergonomics specialists to consider the design of the physical desk, the positioning of the monitors, the operator seating and so on.

Seamless Switchover

The Ethernet connectivity of the new system enabled it to be set up and run in parallel, with no disruption to operations.

This meant the old system could be kept on standby for a month in case of any hitches, and when the complete switchover took place there was no downtime involved.

State-of-the-art Gamatronic double conversion uninterruptible power supplies were also added for all the new systems, to filter the mains and provide a reliable backup power supply

Once the change had been successfully made, the old system was decommissioned and 2,500 redundant wires were painstakingly removed (one at a time!).

Now if additional functions need adding or upgrades are required in the future, it can be done in minimal time with no noticeable disruption to operations – and not a single new wire required.

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