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Cotton processing gets 24 x 7 control

Favourable weather conditions in the areas of northern New South Wales and the south of Queensland produce a cotton crop that has long fibres and is considered to be amongst the world’s best. 

Auscott Limited is one of the big names in the business, with over 50 years experience in Australian agriculture. Looking to expand their operations into the Hay region, Auscott Limited approached Schneider Electric at the end of 2013 to discuss the energy distribution and automation requirements for a new cotton gin to be built in the area. 
With just 12 months to design and build the processing facility, Auscott was seeking one supplier which could provide the complete suite of energy management and automation products and solutions. 

Long term solution required
Cotton is a seasonal crop which is generally harvested around autumn. Once the buds are picked, growers want their crop processed as quickly as possible to ensure the quality is maintained and costs can be recouped. To meet this peak demand, the cotton gins generally run for 24 hours, seven days a week, for around 4-5 months of the year. With this in mind, the processing equipment at the new Hay cotton gin had to be robust to withstand this period of heavy workload. 

Looking for advice and expertise to help them implement and manage the project, Auscott Limited engaged Schneider Electric to work with them on the new build. A key requirement was longevity of the solution, with consideration for energy efficiencies. 
“We wanted to invest in platforms and technologies which would remain effective and relevant into the long term,” Jamie Condon, Corporate Electrical Manager, Engineering Services, Auscott Limited said. “It was important to us that the technology, and the company behind it, would be around for many years to come.” 

Auscott Limited and Schneider Electric worked together on the design phase of the project, developing the unique specifications for the facility. During this design phase, Schneider Electric representatives from across the business worked with Auscott Limited to come up with the solution. Communication was centralised and there was a focus on solving engineering issues unique to Auscott’s requirement. Estimates and technologies were brought together into a seamless program. 
“Certainly we had a few ideas from our side about what would be ideal for the new set up, but we were looking to Schneider Electric to provide us with expert advice on the technology,” Condon said. “Bringing everyone together meant we had a combined experience and knowledge that was very strong. I think this is what gave us such excellent results.”

Although energy efficiency wasn’t the number one priority for the solution, Condon said it was still a major factor when considering the proposal.
“Energy usage is by far our biggest cost, and with electricity prices increasing every year, we needed to have a system in place which would ensure we were not spending more on energy than we absolutely had to,” Condon said. 

Another consideration of the project was the restricted energy available at the site. Only 6MW was available to the gin, with a 7km power line installed to connect the plant back to the power grid. Schneider Electric experts played a pivotal role in calculating the power load of the gin, ensuring it would not require more power than was available. The result is a solution which uses a load of around 5.5MW.

Energy & drives monitoring 
Working with the information produced during the design process, Schneider Electric put forward a solution that incorporated power distribution equipment, automation, CCTV and lighting. Energy monitoring equipment was also required, as was the Schneider Electric Weather Watch solution, which allowed Auscott to alter their manufacturing behaviour when adverse weather conditions were detected. 
The nature of the project meant that there were a large number of ongoing design changes along the way, which, if more than one supplier had been involved in the build, would have presented challenges in terms of coordination, management and implementation of changes. Working solely with Schneider Electric on the project, these challenges were quickly overcome.

With the power restrictions at the site, one of the most important parts of the project was ensuring the available electricity was being used as effectively as possible. Schneider Electric Power Factor Correction equipment, which works to correct supply inefficiencies while also reducing peak demand on the electricity network, was installed at the site. 
“As we are limited in the amount of power that is available to us at this remote site, the PFC equipment ensures we are making the best use of every available amp. It also means that if we need to expand the plant for any reason, we know we have a little extra power available to us as a result of running the equipment. The system has reduced our power usage by at least a quarter, saving us around 1200 amps, or roughly $10,000 per month,” Condon said. 

There are 50 Variable Speed Drives at the site, which are used to regulate and control the feed of cotton around the plant. Drives are also installed on the Gin Stands that are used to process the cotton. The drives are monitored using Invensys Historian and Citect SCADA software. The data is then used by Jamie to make small adjustments to the equipment so the gin can operate as efficiently as possible. 
“The system provides us with a lot of information which we can use for ongoing monitoring and measurement,” Condon said. “It also captures data which gives us additional safety features to ensure that our workers are kept protected along with our machinery.” 
“Information is key to improving any process, and I have found it very valuable to know what energy we are using with each machine. This level of data means that we can see what events are trending and how we can alter our behaviour to find efficiencies.”

The new system also includes a remote overload reset, so that energy use can be properly managed and removes the risk from employees having to physically expose themselves to electrical hazards. 
“When we are operating at peak times, we are often running close to the red line in terms of running at full capacity and full load. The remote reset means that any tripping caused by the overworking of the machines can be reset from a safe distance.” 

Monitoring at the site is used for two main purposes. One is the ongoing shift reports, which are used by those working on the site to see that they are keeping up with production rates, and the other use is for central office employees who benchmark the data against other gins. This information is also used to feed information back to stakeholders, including to growers who use the facility.

Keeping an eye on the weather
Schneider Electric Weather Sentry is installed at the site to alert workers of very high winds and possible lightning activity in the area. Strong winds can be particularly hazardous to cotton gins if a fire was to break out and control measures need to be put in place. Lightning can also create issues if direct strikes are encountered. 
“It is not uncommon to have a fire within the processing plant,” Condon said. “We have ways to minimise the risk of this, and if there is a fire, we are able to extinguish it very quickly. In the holding yard however, a strong wind of 50-60km/ hour can ignite a fire from a single ember which could result in millions and millions of dollars in damage.”
“Using Weather Sentry, we are able to monitor and understand what weather is coming. If there are high winds on the horizon from threatening directions, the gin can be shut down so that the risk is mitigated. Weather Sentry has been invaluable in providing a reliable and accurate weather forecasting for our target area.”

Lightning is another big concern for the growers, as again, the risk of fire increases as a result.
“Previously, we were very reactionary in our approach to weather conditions. Now we use Weather Sentry to give us an early warning of what is to come. It is a very powerful, very accurate tool. The sentry sends an alert to us in the form of an email, or via the actual software so we can prepare accordingly.”
Expertise leads to success
Building the gin from the ground up in 12 months was largely possible because of the fact that Schneider Electric was able to supply the entire solution. 
“There was no need for us to manage the coordination of different suppliers, or to ensure that product was arriving on site at the correct time – all this work was coordinated by Schneider Electric,” Jamie said.

“The team that we worked with from Schneider Electric was absolutely excellent,” Condon said. 
“From our first meeting together I knew we were going to be able to successfully execute this project. I was blown away by the efficiency of the process – which is not something that would have happened had we engaged several companies to provide us with different parts for the project. Each individual I worked with from Schneider Electric was able to bring their expertise to the project, and communication between all the team members was fantastic. ”

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