We’ve all been there: after a meeting with a vendor, you don’t remember a thing because you didn’t understand the layers of technology. If that ever happens here at Trident, we have failed. Our primary goal is to build a control system our customers understand—a system that is easy to maintain and grow with each business.
Our three founders grew up in the controls industry and have seen your business from the inside out. Our customers trust our boots on the ground approach to keep their plants running. This means we get to know each individual ethanol customer and the quirks with every operating system. Our goal is to integrate the best products on the market, and to customize solutions for each plant.
It all starts at the top and we’d like to share the philosophy that keeps our customers happy.
Owner Jerry Wenzel founded Trident Automation in 2002 after working in a variety of engineering positions. He is a degreed engineer and a recognized expert in distributed control systems, process design, configuration, and startup. Here’s what he has to say about building transparency into our control systems:
Owner Jason Hurst joined Jerry as the second partner in Trident. While working with Moore Products, he integrated DCS products into more than 40 companies and has a thorough understanding of working with our customers. Listen to what he says about creating a culture of customer service:
Owner Don Jolly is retired, but his impact on Trident is still active. He joined Jerry and Jason as a partner after a career as a process controls and instrumentation engineer. Under his leadership, Trident team members developed a high level of expertise to solve problems for our customers. Here’s what he says about innovation:
As you consider upgrading or replacing your control system, contact us to learn more about how Trident can solve your control system problems.
No, it’s not a self-help course; it’s what team members at Trident Automation say is great about working for the company. The systems integrator employs 41 engineers, technical staff, and support staff that service customers across the nation. Trident supports multiple industries, and customers depend on them to keep plants and production running smoothly.
Dave McCabe, Controls Engineer
“I like the fact that I get to work directly with system operators, engineering teams, and plant managers at our customer locations,” said Dave McCabe, controls engineer at Trident. “Having direct access to the decision-makers and end-users makes it easier to do my job to design systems that meet the plants’ needs.”
McCabe has been working at Trident for six years and bypassed the big company experience in favor of a more entrepreneurial environment. “The experience I receive on the job is fast-tracked here. I’m not in some corporate training department or sitting in a cube. At Trident I’m on the job learning every day.”
That sentiment is echoed by Angy Millan, a project coordinator who has been working at Trident for two years. “I come from big corporate America, I worked for the same company for 17 years,” she said. “I look at growth in in a different way now; it’s not about being on a two-year management track. At Trident it’s about developmental growth and learning as much as you can.” In her role as a project coordinator, Millan says she’s the “air traffic controller” for the engineering teams.
Angy Millan, Project Coordinator
“I love that no day is ever the same,” Millan said. “For me there is always a new challenge or a new customer situation—I feel empowered, appreciated, and work with great people who help you be the best person you can be.”
That sentiment is echoed by Whitney Washington who joined Trident in June of 2017. She served four years in the Marines in the aviation electronics field where she discovered her technical aptitude. Following military service, she enrolled at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College where a friend told her about working at Trident. Even before she graduated as a controls designer, she was employed by Trident.
Whitney Washington, Controls Designer I
She is proud to be a woman working in a male-dominated technical field and encourages more women to follow this career path. “It’s challenging in a way that I haven’t been challenged before.” Washington said. “It’s huge to me that I work for people that respect your ability to learn and have opportunity for advancement without a four-year degree.”
For her, the ability to have direct customer contact and become a member of a true team was important. “I’ve never had a job where they cared about my feelings the way they do here,” she said. “If I raise a concern, I’m encouraged to bring it to the team leaders’ attention.”
Although control engineers and designers have technical degrees, Trident employs team members in support roles of administration, finance, marketing, purchasing, and human resources. Still, employees proudly assert their tech pedigrees. As Angy Millan says, “I think you have to be a little bit of a nerd to work with a bunch of nerds. And that is nothing to be ashamed of!”
Trident is always accepting resumes for our controls engineer and controls designer positions. Please send resumes and cover letters to [email protected]
You’ve heard it before: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of E-Energy Adams, a routine check uncovered a problem that could have crippled production had it gone undiagnosed.
E-Energy Adams is a 50 million gallon dry mill ethanol plant located in southeast Nebraska. The plant has a DCS Support Agreement in place that provides for a block of remote engineering support hours at a discounted rate, quarterly reports, a site visit, and priority access to Trident’s technical team.
While going through a standard site visit checklist at E-Energy, Dallas Pitzen, controls engineer, discovered one of their IEMs was down. “They were not on a redundant system, so if the other IEM shut down they would have lost all production,” Pitzen said.
Dallas Pitzen, Controls Engineer
The IEMs are the gateway between the control system and operator interface. For E-Energy, losing this connection could have put their ethanol process out of tolerance and the plant operator would not be able to adjust tolerances. “The plant could have gone for months without a problem, but it’s pretty risky to operate without redundancy,” Pitzen said.
Pitzen talked to the plant maintenance manager, Trident sent a part overnight and the plant was up to full redundancy by the next day. Had Pitzen not been on site performing scheduled service, the issue would have gone undetected.
“I always say it’s better to fix your car before you go on a 3,000 mile road trip,” Pitzen said.
Trident has more than 50 DCS Support Agreement customers in place. Ken Wirtz is the plant manager at Commonwealth Agri-Energy near Nashville and has operated under a support agreement for five years. “We need to know if we need to get a hold of someone in the middle of the night, someone will answer,” Wirtz said. “It’s money well spent.”
DCS Support Agreements vary by customer, but all include a discount on labor rates. “This is where our customers really see the benefit,” said Trident CEO Jason Hurst. “The savings applies to all time, even after hours. And, it applies to any new projects initiated during the terms of the support agreement.” He adds that pre-paid hours under a support agreement require less administrative time because they don’t need individual purchase orders each time service is needed.
For more information on Support agreements, contact Megan Sjoberg at [email protected].
Trident will be headlining this year’s Ethanol Plant Managers Meeting hosted by Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy (SIRE), from Jan. 22-25, 2018 at the Ameristar Casino Hotel in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This annual meeting spotlights innovative technologies that help improve operating systems, increase efficiency, and eventually increase profits for ethanol plants.
This year, Trident will provide case studies and real-life examples of how we have helped ethanol plants upgrade or replace operating systems resulting in operations that are easier to use and more efficient. You can find out more about:
Migrating operating systems from legacy DCS environments to the latest platforms in 3 days or less,
Writing sequences to reliably control system processes,
Combustion control technologies that enhance plant safety,
Burner management systems and much more.
Trident has served more ethanol plants than any system integrator in the business surpassing 5,000 individual projects completed for the ethanol industry. Our control solutions are specific to this industry and designed to provide customized products and services for producers. We are proud to have served ethanol producers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, Oregon, Idaho, California, Arizona, Texas, and Tennessee.
In just a little longer than one full day, Trident Automation installed a new operating system for Commonwealth Agri-Energy. The unprecedented speed was due to advanced planning and help from a simulation program.
The firm wanted to increase ethanol production, which meant replacing its APACS system with Siemens PCS 7. The upgrade would allow Commonwealth to take advantage of upgraded HMI and more advanced controls, sequencing and model predictive control systems, along Trident’s value adds such as trend object. But the plant’s management team wanted to minimize downtime and gave Trident the assignment of rapid installation.
Jeff Meneau, Controls Designer II
Jeff Meneau is one of Trident Automation’s PCS 7 certified engineers and was the lead engineer on the project. He credits the speed of installation to pre-planning, innovative wiring solutions, software simulation, and a lot of caffeine.
Trident teams used the Siemens SIMIT simulation software to create a virtual environment of Commonwealth’s process system. Meneau and his team were able to create all the I/O and use a virtual controller to simulate plant operations. The simulation ran a yeast propagation sequence and a fermenter filling sequence as well as talking to dependent sequences in the process—all as if the plant were actually operating. “By running these sequences in a virtual environment, we were able to simulate flow, valve and pump operations, and test the system without ever leaving Trident’s offices,” Meneau said.
When Meneau and his team went to Commonwealth for a kick off meeting, they were able to access the simulation over a secure internet connection and train plant operators on the new system before it was installed. “We set up an operator training station so the new system wouldn’t be such an adjustment once it was installed,” Meneau said.
Commonwealth plant managers said it was just like test-driving a car. “I’m absolutely sure that being able to hit the ground running was a plus,” said Commonwealth Plant Manager Ken Wirtz. “It sped up the learning curve before we had the system live and we could see the functionality of the system without having the plant running,” he said.
Trident teams also did a pre-labeling visit to Commonwealth prior to installation. The purpose of the trip was to label all analog wires that had to be moved to new locations–about 380 pairs of wires that had to be unwired and rewired to their new points as quickly as possible. The discrete points were easier thanks to Trident’s customized cabling system which is a migration cable with proprietary wiring schematics and customized connection points that allows them to use the existing terminations to be connected directly to the PCS 7 I/O cards.
“Most of our time on site is invested in wiring,” Meneau said, “so we were able to complete this upgrade in 36 hours thanks to the cable solution.”
The final ingredient was a commitment to working around the clock to get the job done. Trident worked two 12-hour shifts to complete installation as quickly as possible. “We started at 9 am on a Tuesday and by noon on Wednesday, the controllers and HMI were up and running, we just needed to actually test moving valves to complete the installation,” Meneau said.
How long would it typically take for a system upgrade such as Commonwealth’s? Trident teams say without the tools and innovations it could possibly take weeks for a system migration such as Commonwealth’s.
According to Wirtz, he typically would expect a degree of push-back from plant operators during and after installing a new control system, but in this case the pre-planning and system simulation prevented that. For more information on using SIMIT simulation software in your next upgrade, please contact Trident Automation by calling 920-759-7477 or email [email protected].
In a quest to better manage production, high alarm rates have a negative outcome: information overload. When all systems are triggering alarms, how does any critical information get through to an operator?
Nathan Nutter, PCS 7 Certified
When Golden Grain Energy upgraded from APACS to Siemens PCS 7, Trident Automation worked with the plant to create the most customized alarm management system possible. “Our process helps the customer to better organize alarm systems,” said Nate Nutter, PCS 7 Certified Engineer, at Trident Automation. “When customers look at a process from a high level, they can start to identify which alarms are the most critical and better define their priorities.”
As part of the upgrade, Nutter and his team did a base level alarm management audit in which they determined the number of analog and discreet alarms in the old system, analyzed the values of alarms, then determined priorities and corresponding colors for a banner bar in the HMI.
“Originally our entire system was alarmed,” said Matt Dutka, production manager at Golden Grain Energy. In that environment, operators could easily be overwhelmed with alarms. By working with Trident, Dutka was able to design a system with customized tolerances for key processes.
Golden Grain Energy created fine-tuned control loops that automatically allow the system to reset. For example, if a boiler level is too low and that causes an alarm, in the time it takes the operator to react the built-in tolerance has already been triggered. “There’s a lot of added value in this step because it allows us immediate reaction. The number one part of this upgrade is Trident has given us flexibility in determining our alarm parameters,” Dutka said.
“Now instead of waiting for an alarm to happen, we can find the sweet spot for the most efficient plant operation,” Nutter said. Trident focused on giving Golden Grain a high degree of flexibility in setting tolerances. Nutter worked with the plant to establish customized tolerances for a variety of production sequences to enable/disable limitations on production ranges.
The result was safe and efficient operating conditions for ethanol production. Customized tolerances assist with preventing production values from straying too far from their desired setpoint. Catching a process variable before it gets into an alarm condition will assist with making a more consistent product as well as lessen the likelihood of a safety trip.
For operators at Golden Grain Energy, it allows them to focus on key tasks. According to Dutka, less than 5% of the plant’s tags are alarm locked (hidden). This allows for operators to quickly determine how critical an alarm is and focus on addressing the most urgent need under normal operating conditions.
The upgrade also includes an alarm logging area that includes time stamps. Plant managers can review a log of alarms and determine if the alarm is the byproduct of another step in the production process. By analyzing the data, plant managers can identify processes that need fine-tuning to bring them into the optimal operating range. The alarm log can also help identify areas that can benefit from preventive maintenance.
Trident was able to teach the nuances of the alarm system to Golden Grain operators. “There’s a lot of information being sent over the operating system,” Nutter said. “When we upgraded in phases and explained the potential of the alarm system, they started to think about how to further enhance the system to maximize efficiency.”
“For us, it feels like Trident is part of our staff,” Dutka said. “It’s like having them in the office even though they’re remote.”
In order to better support customers, Trident Automation is providing a new service—an online E-mall featuring previously used hardware. The Trident E-mall is open as of Oct. 3, 2017 and will provide hundreds of replacement parts for businesses currently running APACS, Foxboro and other control systems.
Siemens recently 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 recently 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, termination boards, 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-mall 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.”
To use the Trident E-mall, visit www.tridentautomation.com and click on “shop” at the top of the home page 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 we actually have the experience to maintain the product instead of just selling parts,” Hurst said.
For more information about services from Trident Automation, please contact [email protected]
You can take all the YouTube videos and online tutorials you want, but nothing beats old-fashioned, hands-on experience. That’s why Trident Automation recently attended Rockwell Automation on the Move in Green Bay, Wisconsin and why Stacy Mancl, controls engineer, looked forward to the interactive sessions. “I found the labs were the most useful because they gave me a chance to play with things I’ve never played with before,” she said. The event included a trade show, technical sessions and labs.
In her role at Trident, Stacy is called on to design and implement control solutions for customers. She has a degree in mechanical engineering and has been on the Trident team since 2013, but hands-on experimentation is a direct benefit for her customers. “This time, I focused more on Rockwell’s safety technology,” Stacy said. “We’re developing some new products in this area, so this helps me offer our customers the latest and greatest on the market.” Trident Automation is a Systems Integrator for Rockwell.
Demo labs were set up using the physical equipment and systems to mirror a customer’s environment where Stacy could create a safety hazard and shut it off, then learn how Rockwell provided solutions. She gave what might be the highest praise for a tech/computer/systems geek: “It was COOL stuff.”
Trident founder Jerry Wenzel will be presenting at the T.E.A.M. M3 Conference & Expo, August 1-3 at the Embassy Suites Downtown in Des Moines, Iowa. The Meeting is sponsored by Louis Dreyfus Commodities. The duo will present a talk entitled “How not to go BOOM.” The presentation is about Trident’s Burner Management and Combustion Control products.
Undetected changes or faults in combustion air or gas flow can allow a dangerous fuel rich condition to occur – often causing explosions. Trident’s cross limiting controls with O2 Trim function, continuously monitor and adjust the actual gas and air flows to maintain the desired air/fuel ratio during normal operation. Our burner management system gives you a robust tool to ensure safe operation of burners—with easy-to-understand trip and diagnostic information.
If you’re responsible for plant safety, find out how Trident products can help with better troubleshooting tools, increased visibility, high-impact graphics and a safety rated PLC and safety rated components.
For information on attending the conference, please contact Tom Boeckman, LDC at [email protected].
(note: Due to confidentiality agreements, we cannot reveal the name of the customer in this case study.)
What happens when you depend on your legacy system for critical production and you don’t have the budget to replace it? You call Trident Automation.
One of our customers was in that exact situation. Their operating system reported an outage on a critical boiler system completely shutting down production in that boiler. Plan A was to fix the boiler. Plan B was to re-program and re-engineer the entire boiler, which would have been weeks of work, lost production, and unbudgeted costs. The system in use was a Siemens 353 single loop controller system with LonWorks remote I/O modules—a legacy system that was unsupported by the factory.
Plant engineers knew Trident Founder Don Jolly had experience with a system of the same vintage, so he got the call.
Don Jolly, Founder
“I’m close to that guy who never throws anything away,” Don said.
In one day, he found what he needed in the Trident parts inventory. He scrounged up an old 353 controller with a LonWorks board, Metra Vision software he needed, an adaptor to allow the system to talk to a PC, and his mother-in-law’s old computer. “She was throwing it out so I picked it,” Don said. “I know there are systems that are still running DOS, but when when they break you never know when you’ll need a PC that still runs Windows 98.”
According to Don, the first order on site was to get the controller to integrate with the software so he made a call to Siemens. “It had been 19 years since I worked on this system, so I got on the phone to Siemens and the guy I worked with 19 years ago still worked there,” Don said. “He even had notes from the job!” One small piece of software was needed to make the system function with Metra Vision, and it unlocked the communications channels.
Next up: configure the I/O nodes. Only two of three nodes would work, so Don called an old contact in Canada who was able to convert a needed file and send it via email to unlock the final I/O. After replacing a computer board with extra parts Don had saved for 20+ years, engineers were able to get the boiler back on line. Three days after answering the call, the legacy system was up and running and the plant was back in production.
While complete system upgrades are an ideal, most manufacturers are operating with some sort of a legacy system. “I’d say half the companies out there have some outdated legacy system that has the potential for problems and failures,” Don said. “It’s the responsibility of the control engineer to go through the plant to make sure systems are updated, but in many environments, there are so many systems, it’s a challenge to stay updated on everyone.”
In this case, experience with integrating legacy systems into today’s DCS environments and a healthy respect for “heirloom” technology were the missing links to getting a plant back into production.
For more information on how to integrate legacy systems into updated DCS environments, or to discuss migration solutions, contact Trident Automation at [email protected].