Open platform system saves ethanol plant millions

Posted on by Trident

Golden Grain Energy in Mason City, Iowa, was looking for a way to reduce maintenance costs for their operating systems. Golden grain produces 125M gallons /year of distiller’s grains and non-food grade corn oil.

The plant was running an Advanced Process Control (APC) “black box” which had worked well until modifications were needed. Although system controls reside in PCs rather than the DCS, the system is effective with non-linear and adaptive process. However, it requires extensive process knowledge and process modeling and can be expensive: each modification required a call to the manufacturer. Finally plant engineers finally made a call to Trident to design a more transparent system.

Trident Automation operates under an open platform system—all DCS design and integration is done with 100% transparency. We document our work (as opposed to hiding code) so customers can update and customize their system as needed. “At Trident, we don’t want our customers to be tied into our service simply because we have the key to unlock their DCS,” said Jason Hurst, Trident founder. “We want our customers to use our services because they value our expertise.”

Trident engineers were challenged to open up the existing APC system and create a model of how the system would function in an advanced regulatory control environment. In this model, simple control strategies reside within the DCS, skilled operators can make adjustments, and there is a relatively low cost to implement.

Teams worked in collaboration with one of Trident’s strategic partners to design a customized model specific to Golden Grain’s process.

“The result was Golden Grain had the same level of control from their old system but now any trained plant personnel can maintain and control the system,” said Nathan Nutter, Trident engineer.

Although the APC “black boxes” are widely used by ethanol plants, migrating DCS to an open platform can impact the bottom line. In Golden Grain’s case, fewer computers were needed to run the process and fewer outside vendors were needed to troubleshoot.

Chemical plant uses first Siemens SPHA install in the nation

Posted on by Trident

MilliporeSigma produces chemicals used in the life sciences and semiconductor industries and tasked Trident Automation with finding a solution to upgrading its control systems. The company previously relied on APACS using Windows 95 running the MycroAdvantage HMI. To implement a more modern DCS, they wanted a solution that was scalable, flexible, intuitive, required minimal downtime for installation, and reduced total cost of ownership.

Nathan Nutter
Controls Designer II

Before moving to the solution phase, Trident engineers first had to learn the MycroAdvantage system—an older platform that none of them had ever worked on before. “We do this all the time,” said Nathan Nutter, Controls Engineer II. “We learn a lot of legacy systems in a short timeline in order to reverse engineer a process for the newer systems.” To do so the team divided responsibilities among different people each focusing on instrumentation, code, and HMI.

The solution was to use ET200SP HA from Profinet, one of the newest IO platforms on the market. The system offered a longer lifecycle for the customer, fast cabling, easy station set up, provided high performance transmission of large volumes of data, and all in a compact size. It also was designed to use under extremely tough industrial conditions.

Yogesh Maheshwari
Engineering Manager

Since this was the first installation, teams had to learn new hardware, new IO configurations, and new networking. “It was important that we were proficient in this system because the ET200SP HA Profinet will be the next wave of IO for years to come,” said Yogesh Maheshwari, Engineering Manager.

Prior to install, the Trident team created a virtual environment so the customer could learn the product. Constant communication with the customer and help from Siemens allowed everyone to standardize the process and create optimum efficiency in design and installation. The install was executed with minimal delays and Trident teams are currently working on upgrading another plant for MilliporeSigma.

Parts are parts? Except in an emergency!

It’s Murphy’s Law: when you least expect it, something will break. In a highly customized production environment, broken or missing parts cost time and money—and could jeopardize a customer relationship.

Increasingly, we are working with customers to identify critical path components and build a spares list on the most needed items.

“Looking at the issue in greater detail, reveals just how costly unplanned downtime can become,” said Jason Hurst, CEO of Trident Automation. “Besides the direct expense of having a machine out of production, owners must look at the associated cost of how that machine being out of service for an extended period of time can affect other areas of production, both upstream and downstream in your process.”

Hurst recommends identifying control system parts and operational components that aren’t readily available and keeping these in stock on a regular basis.


First tier parts are those that are central to your production operation. Without these parts, production stops and there’s a long lead time for replacement. Examples are:

  • DCS and PLC Controllers if configured as simplex (non-redundant)
  • I/O modules–one of each type
  • Field devices (Transmitters, motors, valves) on critical processes
  • Any gateway devices that are not already redundant
  • Electrical panel components with long lead times
  • Any other component that can only be sourced from the manufacturer.
  • A secure backup of site configuration from engineering station (NAS box, USB hard disk, thumb drive…)


Second tier parts are those equally critical to production, but you can source within one working day such as:

  • Servers and client stations
  • UPS batteries
  • DCS and PLC Controllers
  • I/O modules
  • Gateway devices
  • Field devices (Transmitters) on less critical processes


The cost of keeping backups on the shelf far outweighs lost time and labor costs associated with repair and downtime. Consider the cost of downtime, the labor cost involved with repairs, and the costs of stopping and starting production.

Additionally, you may be able to leverage the redundancy already built in to your system. For example, if you have three sets of redundant controllers in your plant, you already have “extra” controllers that you could deploy in other areas.

At Trident, we have a large inventory of legacy DCS components ready to integrate into your control system. Plus, if you purchase spare inventory before the end of 2019, there are special pricing packages available from Trident. If you’re interested in learning more about how spare parts can save your process, contact Trident.

Safety switches on for Wisconsin foundry

Posted on by Trident

Neenah Foundry had an older Rockwell system that was not compliant with current safety standards. The foundry wanted an upgrade, but the system was so outdated, the Trident team recommended a new risk assessment. Working collaboratively with Rockwell’s safety engineer, the team carefully identified each hazard, the potential for risk, and the ways to mitigate the hazard. Risks ran broad range from something simple like uneven pavement to cautions taken around a giant melt furnace.

Yogesh Maheshwari

The customer wanted to automate as many safety points as possible. Controllers were designed to operate a door switch, safety guards on machines, switch guards, even automating area scanners to determine if there was a human or vehicle in range. “For example, a door would be guarded with a safety switch, comprising of redundant IO being timed within milliseconds and we needed to design a system that would detect a short or normal operating conditions,” said Yogesh Maheshwari, Engineering Manager.

Trident teams leveraged their expertise from process control to design a system for machine control using Rockwell GuardLogix. “These skill sets are compatible, and we were able to design an operating system that will work for the foundry for years to come,” Maheshwari said.

BEYOND THE FIREWALL: Industrial Hardening- A subset of Cybersecurity

Posted on by Trident

The convenience of real-time production data at your fingertips is a reality of today’s manufacturing. But the flip side of instant access anywhere, is your most valued systems could be open to malware and hackers.

Today, Trident Automation is focusing on service beyond the firewall–systems and add-ons that are designed to protect your plant yet allow secure access. A far cry from past production environments where the DCS was always isolated from the Internet.

“Now, C-level execs and plant staff want the same access to production data at home that they do at the plant. They want to be able to troubleshoot at any time,” said Jason Hurst, CEO of Trident. “It’s a changing field and one that requires increased protection.”

Hurst and his teams describe the systems as a “check valve” for operations and stresses that security systems are appropriate for any sized plant, not just mega manufacturers. Security systems create a firewall between the plant and the DCS to protect information yet allow access. Trident uses a combination of hardware appliances and software solutions called industrial hardening. Some of the features Trident deploys:

  • Two-factor authentication providing a second layer of security.
  • Modified group policies in the MS operating system to restrict traffic and resources.
  • Security appliances are added to restrict access and unwanted traffic.
  • Patch management and firmware updates.
  • Security training and best practices.
  • Asset protection.













Trident’s security systems follow the guidelines set by ISA/IEC 62443 standards that provide criteria for industrial automation and control systems security. Major vendors for DCS systems supply their own security appliances and Trident incorporates their technology with other industry leading firewall companies to offer the best in class solution.

“We’ve been implementing firewall solutions for a while, but we’re going deeper into the architecture to secure the DCS even further,” Hurst said.

To customize a security program for your DCS, contact Trident Automation at [email protected] or 920-759-7477 for a quote.

Trident Automation to attend the Team M3 Maintenance Manager Meeting

Posted on by Trident

The annual Team M3 Maintenance Manager Meeting hosted by Pinal Energy will be held at the Arizona Grand Resort and Spa in Phoenix Arizona from March 13-15. The meeting gives maintenance managers and engineers a chance to share issues facing the ethanol industry and to explore solutions from vendors.


Trident Automation has served over 150 ethanol plants nationwide customizing control systems for each individual plant.


“Our systems are designed on open platforms, so operators, maintenance, and managers are able to securely operate and maintain their plant control system,” said Jason Hurst, CEO of Trident Automation. “But when customers need immediate service, we’re available 24/7 for troubleshooting and maintenance.”


Visit us at booth #1 at the Team M3 Maintenance Manager Meeting.


For more information about Trident Automation, visit or email [email protected].

Trident to attend Ethanol Plant Managers Meeting

Posted on by Trident

The industry’s annual Plant Managers Meeting hosted by Homeland Energy Solutions will be held at the Isle Casino Hotel in Iowa from January 28-31. The meeting gives plant managers and engineers a chance to share issues facing the ethanol industry and to explore solutions from vendors. Key on this year’s agenda is a session in which plant managers dissect specific incidents in individual plants and review outcomes.

Trident representatives will review the latest products and services customized for ethanol producers including:

  • Migrating operating systems from legacy DCS environments to the latest platforms,
  • Designing sequences to reliably control system processes,
  • Combustion control technologies that enhance plant safety,
  • Burner management systems and much more.

Jason Hurst, CEO

“Our customers are looking for solutions that will keep their plants functioning and deliver consistent product quality,” said Jason Hurst, CEO of Trident Automation. “This meeting is a great opportunity for plant leaders to learn about the most innovative solutions to operate ethanol plants efficiently.”

Trident Automation has served over 150 ethanol plants nationwide customizing control systems for each individual plant.

“Our systems are designed on open platforms, so operators, maintenance, and managers are able to securely operate and maintain their plant control system,” Hurst said. “But when customers need immediate service, we’re available 24/7 for troubleshooting and maintenance.”

Minimizing variability and maximizing production

Posted on by Trident

What if you could fine-tune your control system to minimize variability and maximize production? There are hundreds of process loops in an ethanol plant that can be a significant source of variability. Taking the time to identify variability and determining if control loops are a contributor is often complex and time consuming.

Until now.

Trident Automation is offering a software module that works in conjunction with our Trident Workbench called LoopPAC©, Control Loop Performance Monitoring. LoopPAC© is a software program that quickly and accurately identifies control loops that are operating at less than optimal performance.

“Plant operations is often adjusting for variability, but it is typically hard to track down root cause in a system as complex as a biofuels refinery.” Jerry Wenzel, Chief Knowledge Officer for Trident said. “Control loops can be a significant contributor to that variability.  LoopPAC© is the tool to shine a light on that variability and help you resolve it.”

There are typically a lot of issues that LoopPAC© finds when you first run it.  The package helps you prioritize what it reports, and the first run results often are eye opening.  There is often “low hanging fruit”, opportunities for significant improvement without a huge effort or cost.  Long-term, because control loop performance often degrades over time due to things like control valve wear, LoopPAC© is able to significantly contribute to your preventative maintenance efforts.

LoopPAC© uses your plant’s existing data and automatically configures its database by identifying loops in your control system configuration. The package analyzes PV/SP deviation, valve travel and numerous other key indications of control loop health.  When one of those factors degrades LoopPAC© flags the loop as needing attention and reports it according to the priority level you place on that loop.

The benefits of LoopPAC© are:

  • Records and aggregates deviation between PV & set point, so you can control the ranges of your plant’s optimal operation.
  • Records the cumulative change in controller output. Excessive output changes are an indication of poor control loop performance and a major case of control valve failure. This allows operators to better monitor the wear and tear on plant hardware..
  • Tracks the time loops spend in manual. If operators are consistently putting a loop in manual, that is an indication the loop needs attention.
  • Organizes and reports loop problems in an easy to understand prioritized format. .

Control loops are a significant source of variability and keeping your plant at peak performance means increased profitability. LoopPAC© is the valuable tool needed to manage the production details that may be affecting your bottom line.

LoopPAC© is available as a module to Trident Workbench© Suite of products.

Contact Trident Automation for more information or a demonstration at [email protected].

Trident’s innovative e-store for previously used DCS hardware

Posted on by Trident

In order to better support customers, Trident Automation is providing a service—an online e-store featuring previously used hardware. The Trident e-store has been open as of Oct. 3, 2017 and provides hundreds of replacement parts for businesses currently running APACS, Foxboro and other control systems.

Siemens announced it will discontinue support for the APACS system in 2020; as an independent integrator and Siemens solution partner, Trident will continue to offer replacement parts and system service. Foxboro announced the FCP270 Field Control Processor will no longer be sold and the manufacturer will no longer support this product.

As one of the largest independent integrators in the nation, Trident has been upgrading customer systems, re-purchasing the old APACS systems and Foxboro products, and keeping them in inventory. “We’ve been working with the APACS system since before we were founded in 2002 and have replaced or upgraded more than 30 systems,” said Jason Hurst, CEO of Trident Automation. As a result, Trident has a healthy inventory of IEMs, ACMs, cables, IO cards, controllers, cables, termination boards, chassis, and more.

The APACS system is widely used in paper industry, ethanol industry, wastewater treatment plants and many more industries. The Foxboro FCP270 Field Control Processor is used chemical, petroleum, power generation and other industries that use continuous process automation.

Trident leaders created the e-store due to the large number of industries still using the product. “This will give customers a little more time to make a decision about system upgrading,” Hurst said. “If you’re trying to go an extra couple years using an APACS system, we’re here to help.”

Trident currently has many items listed for sale and current promotions for the remainder of the year. To use the Trident e-store, visit  to search the product database and place online orders via credit card. Parts will be shipped within two business days.

According to Hurst, Trident will continue to service the APACS product and Foxboro products indefinitely. “We actually have the experience to maintain the product instead of just selling parts,” Hurst said. For more information from Trident Automation, please visit

Why upgrade?

Jason Hurst, Founder

The distributed control system (DCS) is the brain of any manufacturing plant, providing the intricate knowledge and responsiveness needed to keep production running smoothly. For many plants, the decision to upgrade a DCS is often made well beyond the life of the system, when operations are starting to fail or falling behind current technology.

So how do plant managers know when it’s time to upgrade?

Check out the article, DCS Upgrade Detailed, written by our very own Jason Hurst. This article is featured in Ethanol Producer’s October 2018 issue.

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