Any asphalt plant operator knows their burners have a crucial role to play in the success of their asphalt production process. They regulate the amount of heat applied to the aggregates that go into the final mix. That heat needs to be just the right temperature to be workable, as opposed to so hot it damages the aggregate.
For a long time, burner controls were separate from the plant control system, which could have negative impacts on the quality of the mix during busy production times, according to Len Newton, who does field service work with Reliable Asphalt Products and is the U.S. eastern seaboard project manager for MINDS. With the burner controls on a separate screen, plant operators would have to consciously remember to check them, and pull their focus from the main plant manager software to take care of them.
That was why Newton, a former asphalt plant manager, championed the idea of incorporating burner controls in MINDS’ total plant control softwares. “It was a natural evolution of the total plant control system to have the burner integrated into it. It assists the operator in getting everything done,” he says. “The plant operator doesn’t have to divert his attention to make changes to the burner when the plant is in production. He can focus on what’s going on with the plant.”
Bumps on the road to integrated software
While MINDS had previously integrated burner controls into asphalt plant manager software in some one-off cases for clients in the early 2000s, Newton says, making it available to a mass-market wasn’t as simple as it would seem. In the United States, asphalt plant burners must conform to two sets of rules and regulations that govern how they are built and used. Incorporating burner controls into the plant software could have implications for the way the burners are used.
“I took care of the hardware element to ensure compliance with the regulations and developed a way for MINDS to tell the burners what to do without interfering with how they work, so we were always in compliance,” Newton says. “And from there, MINDS integrated the burner controls into the plant control system.”
Newton says that because of the asphalt plant burner regulations, very few plant software companies had ever tried making burner controls part of overall plant control systems. When MINDS began doing it in 2012, it made the company a market leader. And after the company had brought it to market and worked with a few clients to implement it, plant operators started seeing the value.
“Now it’s rare to buy MINDS software without burner controls included,” Newton says.
The benefits of integrated burner controls
Plant operators can see several benefits from their burner controls being integrated into the same software as the rest of their asphalt plant controls. With all the controls on hand, operators don’t need to divide their attention between multiple screens. As a result, they can be more sensitive to when the heat of their burners needs adjustment — which can positively affect asphalt quality control for their final mix.
Newton notes that having such easy access to burner controls has another positive side effect: better energy management. “Being able to control the heat improves operational effectiveness and reduces the amount of money operators would spend on wasted heat,” he says.
As well, he adds, the burner control systems are just like any other element of MINDS’ systems. “It’s a growing product because MINDS listens to users and meets their needs in real-time,” he says. Because the controls are embedded into the broader plant manager software, it allows MINDS to offer remote support on any issues. “It’s one support system for the entire plant, which minimizes downtime because MINDS can remotely detect any problems with the devices. They know what they need to fix and how.”