SAFCO Engineering deploys multi-level, integrated fire and gas control system using PlantPAx


Major Middle East refinery benefits from the flexibility, power and simplicity of a single architecture for both plant and office facilities

SAFCO Engineering was founded in 2003 for the design and manufacture of fire and gas safety systems and equipment for the industrial sector. Initially focussing on products, the company is now more focussed on system integration.

Highlighting its systems integration capabilities, it was recently called upon by a leading oil and gas company in the Middle East to develop and deploy an integrated, single-platform fire and gas safety solution for all of the assets in one of its major refineries.

This is what makes this project so interesting – it is one of the first in the world to leverage a single architecture for both the refinery and the office buildings, using the PlantPAx process automation solution from Rockwell Automation alongside the SAFCO Engineering Intelligent Fire Panel.

In this type of installation, the traditional approach is to have separate fire and gas safety systems for the plant and the office buildings. The individual needs of both areas are currently catered for by mature technologies, which are seen in applications around the world, but they often rely on completely different communication protocols and associated networks.

The challenge for SAFCO Engineering was to develop an integrated solution that would run on a single network using a single protocol – removing many of the communication and complexity barriers present in other systems. As well as the network/platform issues it also had to address the different legislation covering the two discrete areas.

In addition to this primary requirement, the project required multiple additional features, many of which are commonplace in the oil and gas industry. The refinery needed redundant hot-backup controllers, which employ communication via a redundant fibre optic network ring. It needed redundant OLE for Process Control Data Access (OPC DA) to interface with the Distributed Control System (DCS) and OLE for Process Control Alarm & Events (OPC AE) to interface with plant’s alarm-managements system, while using the Simple Network Time Protocol (SNTP) to provide time synchronisation between the fire and gas system and the DCS. There was also the need to be able to hot swap single components.

The innovative aspect of the solution developed by SAFCO Engineering was the use of PlantPAx to not only address the plant’s fire and safety requirements, but also to control and communicate with the addressable devices within the office complex for fire protection.

According to Gianbattista Zago, Sales and Business Development Director at SAFCO Engineering: “The solution was divided into three logical levels using sub networks, which when connected all together, created a global network.”

Each level deploys interlinked equipment from within the PlantPAx solution from Rockwell Automation. At the lower level a local fire and gas panel is used for building protection, with an HMI providing the operator interface.

At the medium level another fire and gas panel is deployed for building and process area protection. The medium level also exploits a server for data collection and interfacing with the PlantPAx DCS and the higher level. Finally, the higher level contains the main server, for data collection, disaster recovery and domain control of the network.

The entire network uses EtherNet/IP and ControlNet (with associated switches) to link to both the HMIs and the PlantPAx SCADA solution.

“The solution developed by SAFCO Engineering, with support from Rockwell Automation, is, we believe, unique in the market,” Zago explains. “Operators at the refinery can now leverage the capability, reliability, connectivity and open protocols used by the PACs across the whole infrastructure. Normally there are so many product families, but in this instance we have one product family. PACs normally used for process control are being used for buildings for protection as well. The market has not really pursued this way because PACs are not normally linked to fire alarms.”

The refinery will benefit in multiple ways. In the first instance the operators do not have to use several programs or software to make modifications, as RSLogix 5000 is used for all PACS and addressable devices. Zago elaborates: “In the past, at least two software programs were needed, one for the PACs and one for the fire alarm; some form of software ‘bridge’ was also required to link the two systems. The HMI is also common across all systems, using FactoryTalk View instead of one display for the PAC and one display for the fire alarm panel.”

The biggest advantage is the fact that the solution runs on one common system. From each individual point, wherever the user is, they can gain access into the system using password authority to determine the level of access and control, to check all the components.

The PanelView HMI display is also available over the internet, so users can gain access from remote or off-site locations – answering one of the customer’s primary requirements, which was: “I want to control it from my seat, no matter where I am”.

“We have a very good relationship with Rockwell Automation in Italy,” Zago concludes. “When we started out, we already had an idea that we wanted to develop an integrated approach and we decided to approach Rockwell Automation, who, as it turns out, were very flexible and eager to help and support us. The relationship has since grown and Rockwell Automation gets deeply involved in many of our other projects; and we have the support of a very knowledgeable local engineer, who understands our issues and unusual questions.”


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