Digitalized monitoring of pressure filters

Sept. 4, 2019

New system can increase production rates and reduce operating expenses

Numerous chemical manufacturers use pressure filtration for solids/liquid separation. In my more than 25 years of experience in the pressure filtration market, I have witnessed countless pressure filters in operation. I can honestly say that at least 70% of the pressure filters I have witnessed in operation have been operating significantly below desired production rates, were producing less-than-desirable product quality and had extremely high operating expenses.   

The world is constantly growing more global and competitive. In many cases, companies that manufacture large scale pressure filtration systems have significantly reduced the customer support and service engineering staff that aid users of their pressure filtration machines. The result is that a customer will get start-up and commissioning service after the sale, but after that, the user is on his own to maintain and operate the machine. With competition for skilled technicians, the operators that received training for the new machines may have moved on to new companies within two to three years. Thus, the owner of the pressure filter loses the experienced personnel to run it optimally. 

Pressure filters have numerous inputs that have varying conditions that affect machine performance. For example, as the main slurry feed pump wears, it can have drastic reductions to operating performance over time. The feed pump is just one of the many variables. The slurry tank, pressing water tank, air tanks and many  other variables can also affect machine dependability and product quality. Many pressure filters are highly automated and managing programming and operating maintenance can be challenging to operating staff. 

Figure 2. Compressed Air and Pressing Water issues monitored by Flowrox remotely to improve machine efficiency and eliminate cost and machine downtime.

Flowrox has developed a proprietary pressure filter digitalization monitoring system for pressure filter performance and advance warnings of potential or existing component failures that affect machine performance. Flowrox’s digitalization package can be added to Flowrox pressure filters, but also can be added to any type of pressure filtration machine that has digital or analog instrumentation. 

In the following paragraphs, I am going to explain how we helped one user of three pressure filters  improve its process. The customer was a mine in Northern Finland that was using three vertical tower pressure filters. The brand on those filters was Larox and Flowrox’s owners actually owned the Larox brand until it was sold in 2008. Flowrox added one Flowrox Malibu Smart Cube to start monitoring and help provide optimization of the machines. Flowrox connected one LAN cable to the PLC of the filters and began to monitor more than 300 data points on those machines. Flowrox worked with the plant owners to set up key performance indicators (KPI) for those machines. 

When monitoring began, it was assumed that all the machines were highly utilized. But in fact, these filters were severely underutilized. Through digital monitoring, it was noticed that Machine 3 was waiting up to four hours every day for auxiliary equipment. The manager of the filtration plant also spent two to three hours every Monday calculating last week’s production from various systems and Excel pages for the filter plant. Now with smart monitoring, everyone in the plant can see hourly production from the filter plant. Also, if these waiting times and production on Machine 1 and Machine 3 can be improved to the performance of Machine 2, then production could increase by more than 88,000 kilograms per day. With a yield of 25% and zinc at $1.26 per pound, that could mean more than $18 million more saleable product per year.

Figure 3. Flowrox Ceramic Disc Filter with Malibu Smart Solutions monitoring.

Flowrox provides digital twin imagery of the process and plant so that all stakeholders can visualize the process  on their smart phones, tablets or PCs. If there are any alarms, Flowrox Malibu will send an e-mail or text to pertinent personnel to address the issue early before it becomes more costly. Through remote monitoring of this customer’s process, Flowrox noticed that the customer occasionally had issues with both the pressing water system and the compressed air systems. One issue was that both systems had high pressure spikes in air and water. These spikes can damage diaphragms, seals, cloth and, in the worst-cases, plates. If a plate pack is damaged by one of these high-pressure spikes, the total repair may approach $1 million and significant downtime of that machine. Also, if seals, diaphragms or the cloth is damaged, they may bleed off expensive air and experience poor product quality. 

Pressure filtration that is properly run and managed can be a fine-tuned machine. But if not managed well, the filtration plant can become a significant operating cost and bottleneck to the operation. 

Digitalization is one means to ensure valuable plant assets run at peak performance, eliminate unwanted operational costs and eliminate unwanted downtime. Flowrox Smart Solutions can be added to complete process monitoring or any type of OEM machine with digital or analog outputs. Also, additional instrumentation can be added to provide higher levels of monitoring. DCS or SCADA systems perform well and control the process. What is missing from most DCS or SCADA systems is a higher level of diagnostics utilizing machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). Instrumentation costs have reduced, and virtually any asset can be monitored for enhanced performance and cost savings. Flowrox Malibu Smart Solutions will not replace the DCS or SCADA, but rather is an add-on that performs complex analytics to improve results in both the process and operational expenses.  

Todd Loudin is President North American Operations/VP Global Sales at Flowrox, Inc.

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