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  • Writer's pictureAndres Oetken

Flexible Automation Enables Innovative Solution for Hazardous Areas

Automate-X counts on Beckhoff in implementing a state-of-the-art tank farm for chemical storage in New Zealand

Process industry engineer with programming software
PC-based control technology allows the straightforward integration of third-party software and hardware. Ben Haughey shows how Automate-X was able to integrate SCADA software and various drives into the automation system so easily.

The New Zealand system integrator, Automate-X, has used Beckhoff components to automate the tank farms of a leading global operator. Its aim was to create an efficient interface between ship and shore while also facilitating agile and competitive supply chains. The result is state-of-the-art terminals that provide the tank farm operator’s customers with consistently high quality and safety without compromising on comprehensive environmental protection.

Process engineer at tank farm
To be able to bridge the large distances of tank farms, Automate-X relies on fiber optics with a ring topology. An intrinsically safe tablet can also be used for mobile monitoring of the plant.

The purpose of tank farms is to provide a safe environment for storing chemicals. Various raw materials such as gasoline, crude oil, liquefied natural gas, heavy oil, naphtha and other liquid chemicals are temporarily stored here while they wait to be transported by ship, rail, tank truck or pipeline for further use or processing. Large tank farms are often located near oil production areas, petroleum refineries, chemical industry sites, large ports and major transshipment points.

Chemicals pose a special challenge

The new tank farms for the global operator in New Zealand were designed to store flammable chemicals, so they are classified as plants with high hazard potential. This poses special challenges for both the tank farm operator and the system integrator, as there are stringent requirements regarding automation when storing potentially explosive and environmentally harmful chemicals.

For this reason, the engineers at Automate-X had to consider numerous aspects, standards and special features of explosion protection, as well as functional safety, when planning the automation concept. They were also required to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the electrical and safety-related requirements. In the explosion protection zone, for example, they needed to define the hazardous areas before selecting suitable explosion-proof components. Another factor to consider was that all systems needed to guarantee maximum uptime to prevent a dangerous situation caused by a plant breakdown.

Beckhoff and Automate-X engineers in front of control cabinet
Ben Haughey from Automate-X explains the special features of the plant to Steve Rush from Beckhoff Automation. Due to the handling of explosive and environmentally hazardous substances, high demands are placed on the automation technology.

“We came up with the solution of implementing a dedicated control system based on remote I/O couplers connected throughout the plant by EtherCAT. All safety-critical elements are monitored and controlled via a CX5130 embedded PC from Beckhoff running TwinSAFE. As a final safeguard against overfilling, the storage tanks are equipped with SIL3-certified vibrating fork probes,” reports Marcel van Niekerk from Automate-X. “The gantry area for loading the tankers features infrared flame detectors that can trigger a spray foam system in the event of a fire to prevent a potentially catastrophic event. Additional safety components include emergency stop switches, NAMUR sensors to monitor valve statuses, and a connection to fire alarm systems.”

In addition to the safety control system, Automate-X also installed a separate CX5130 that handles a number of tasks, including regulating the control of pumps and valves.

PC Control offers countless benefits for customers

It didn’t take long Automate-X to decide in favor of Beckhoff – and therefore PC-based control technology – because the open nature of the technology developed by Beckhoff facilitates straightforward integration of third-party software and hardware. This meant the Ignition SCADA software platform could be incorporated into the tank farm project, and the tank farm operator’s existing drives were integrated into the automation system via EtherNet/IP.

Another key advantage for the project is the wide range of Beckhoff terminals, since the modular EtherCAT I/Os allow for the integration of safety, communication, redundancy and explosion protection components in a single system. “On a single I/O platform, we can accommodate digital I/O modules, TwinSAFE, analog Ex inputs, NAMUR inputs, HART and RS232/RS485 – all running on EtherCAT. Not only does the EtherCAT redundancy ensure a very high level of availability, but no other platform offers such flexible configuration options,” explains Ben Haughey from Automate-X.

Intrinsically safe barriers are not required due to the use of ELX series EtherCAT terminals, which feature intrinsically safe interfaces. This simplifies the electrical design significantly and makes it possible to achieve high-resolution, high-precision signal acquisition in hazardous areas, which is already standard in non-hazardous areas. The use of EtherCAT single-mode fiber-optic components enables interference-free communication between the tank farm operator’s extensive plant sections. In addition, the implementation of cable redundancy via a ring topology is also possible via fiber optics to ensure a high level of plant uptime.

Intrinsically safe Beckhoff ELX series EtherCAT I/O
With the intrinsically safe ELX system, the signals can be acquired and processed directly from the hazardous area. By using fiber optic lines with cable redundancy, the extensive plant sections can be reliably automated and from long distances.

Communication between the various controllers and the Ignition SCADA system is implemented using OPC UA. Operators can access the SCADA system using intrinsically safe tablets, allowing them to call up plant data and control the plant from anywhere on site. Communication between TwinCAT and SCADA is seamless via the TwinCAT OPC UA standard.

“We are delighted that we have been able to implement an innovative and, above all, consistent automation concept for the tank farms using Beckhoff components specifically for hazardous areas,” van Niekerk says. “Our customer can benefit from a reliable solution that is sure to stand the test of time.”

Are you interested in implementing intrinsic safety in your process applications? Contact your local Beckhoff sales engineer today.


Andres Oetken of Beckhoff Automation

Andres Oetken, Business Management Process Industry, Beckhoff Automation.

A version of this article previously appeared in Plant Engineering.


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