Founded in 1954, Thermon is an industry leader in the specialized field of heat tracing technology. Thermon provides products such as flexible heating cables, heat tracing compounds and tubing bundles to serve as an external heat source to pipes, vessels and instruments for the purposes of freeze protection, temperature and flow maintenance, environmental monitoring, and surface snow and ice melting.
Thermon’s San Marcos, TX manufacturing plant is highly automated, and the heart of the operation is the Electronic Cross-Linking Facility (ECLF). The machine unwinds cable into an electron beam field that gives it a specific dose of radiation. This changes the molecular properties of the cable. Then it is re-wound onto another cable reel. Cross-linking enhances the thermal, chemical and electrical stability of Thermon’s low-temperature self-regulating heater cables. All end products produced at Thermon’s San Marcos plant must go through ECLF un-coiler and re-coiler stations for the finishing process. With the ECLF being critical to production output, Thermon was concerned about the fact that Siemens was phasing out the Simovert MASTERDRIVES drive family. The environment is particularly harsh and components were failing while replacement parts were becoming scarce after Siemens ended serial production of MASTERDRIVES. Thermon knew they needed a long term plan to ensure system longevity.
Thermon’s team purchases supplies from AWC, a leading automation supplier and distributor of Siemens automation products. AWC and Patti Engineering have formed a great working relationship and have worked together on many projects. When AWC’s representative, Mike Walshe, learned of the issues Thermon needed to address, he recommended contacting Patti Engineering. Understanding the complexity of this project and how downtime of the ECLF affects production output, Patti Engineering’s Austin, TX team recommended an engineering study to determine what hardware, software, and programming would be required to replace/upgrade existing legacy drives and automation equipment used on their ECLF un-coiler and re-coiler stations. Collaborating with Siemens Motion Control Group, Patti Engineering completed the study and recommended a solution to upgrade the ECLF.
Thermon contracted Patti Engineering to complete the recommended work to upgrade the ECLF. Engineering preparation was of key importance to laying the ground work for completing this multifaceted project. “After meeting with Patti Engineering and discussing our needs, we decided to choose Patti for the upgrades. Together a plan was drawn up along with a stringent timeline to enable us to continue producing product without missing ship dates,” explained Thermon’s Senior Process Engineer Harry Hutchinson.
Our solution was to upgrade the old Simovert servo and vector drives with new Siemens drive technology, specifically the Sinamics S120 drives. All 5 motors needed to be coordinated to work together. Controlling the speed of the unwind and rewind cable reels required precision programming of a sophisticated dancer-control and PID (proportional, integral, derivative) loop control to establish the optimal drive speed. Siemens Starter commissioning software along with Siemens TIA Portal was used to help accomplish this.
The old hardware components, remote IO, and PLC were migrated from S7 classic to TIA Portal V13. WinCC Comfort Advanced was used for the HMI software. A Siemens Comfort Panel HMI was installed to replace the old and no longer supported OP277 panel. A high performance Siemens Field PG laptop which is perfect for harsh industrial applications because of its rugged industrial design, powerful processors and high-speed RAM was used to commission everything. Several peripheral power and control cables were replaced as well.
The resulting benefits of the project exceeded Thermon’s expectations. The system is now more stable than it was in the past allowing a higher production speed. They were able to increase production to a record high level in the first month of running – approximately doubling output – which allowed Thermon to catchup on the backlog of product waiting for the finishing process of the ECLF while the upgrade was taking place. In addition to improving production speed, the ECLF is much more reliable with less downtime because of the newer components.
For ongoing support, Patti Engineering setup remote access on Thermon’s Siemens PG to give remote access to the system. Any future issues or support can be done quickly and remotely by our engineering team.
With the ECLF equipment being critical to Thermon’s manufacturing output, Hutchinson explained how working with Patti Engineering met the project’s tight timeline goals. “Upon initiation of the project we received regular updates of materials arriving on campus along with progress of the project. Once Patti‘s engineers arrived on campus for the final integration, we received daily updates as to the status and progress of the project. With completion of the project I will say that Patti Engineering met both the scope and the timeline of the project. This allowed us to continue to get our product out the door and to our customers in a timely manner.”