Canyon Rock strives for full plant automation

By |  March 12, 2018

Photos courtesy of Canyon Rock

When Canyon Rock had to quickly upgrade and automate its crushing process, universal programming software provided the necessary speed to meet short deadlines.

How do you quickly complete an automation overhaul to double aggregate production so you can meet deadlines for the largest project your company has ever secured?

That’s the question third-generation Canyon Rock Operations Manager Jon Trappe had to answer in 2013 for his family’s northern California aggregate and concrete business.

Over a period of two years, Canyon Rock completed an upgrade to its quarry that included use of a system integrator and universal programming software, giving them capacity to boost daily production from 4,000 tons of aggregate to 10,000 tons.

The nearly 200-acre Canyon Rock quarry at Forestville was purchased by Jon’s grandfather, Adolph Trappe, in 1972. Jon’s father, Wendel Trappe, serves as company president, and two of Jon’s siblings are also involved in company operations.

Increasing production wasn’t the only challenge Jon faced in 2013. He needed to bring Canyon Rock through the transition from traditional aggregate production to an integrated automation operation without shutting down the operation.

“I had just taken over as operations manager when this transition was implemented,” Jon says. “We’re a small operation, so we needed to keep producing product. One advantage to maintaining crushing activities through the process is that as soon as new equipment was set up, it was connected to our network.”

One phase at a time

Photo courtesy of Canyon Rock

As an example, Profinet provides Canyon Rock with data that reveals impending motor failure owing to overload, a key advantage to avoid downtime.

To accomplish the automation upgrade, Jon sought the help of Serra, the automation distributor that had assisted with construction of Canyon Rock’s original plant more than 40 years ago.

To accomplish the challenging project, Serra divided it into three main phases, encompassing five areas: scalping or removing available exposed rock and loading into the system; rock crushing; secondary screening to size aggregate; tertiary screening to further separate finer-sized particles; and washing.

Before implementing phase one, Serra installed a plant-wide Profinet communications network. Profinet is an industry technical standard for data communication over industrial ethernet, designed for collecting data from, and controlling, equipment in industrial systems. Profinet’s particular strength lies in delivering data under tight time constraints (i.e., a minute or less).

“Until we installed Profinet, the plant had no communication network. Profinet put all components of the quarry operation on a common network,” Schulz says. “PLCs could talk to the HMIs, which could talk to the VFDs (variable-frequency drives) and the motor monitoring devices.”

Profinet not only streamlined Canyon Rock’s crushing process, it also reduced the complexity of wiring. Profinet’s “profiles” are designed to be compatible with a wide range of equipment. The technology also made it possible to use a single communication cable, instead of custom wiring for each component. That aspect of Profinet reduced installation time, material cost and labor for the first piece of Canyon Rock’s automation system.

If Canyon Rock needs to modify its automated system in the future, Profinet will simplify the process in the same manner, reducing labor, materials and overall costs.
An added benefit of Profinet is the energy usage data Canyon Rock can gather for some motor circuits. Review of the data will reveal each motor’s energy use, and Canyon Rock can adjust its system to reduce and contain energy costs for individual motors. Additionally, Profinet provides Canyon Rock with data that reveals impending motor failure owing to overload, an important advantage in avoiding downtime.

The upgrade began in February 2013, and Serra immediately monitored daily completion deadlines to avoid putting Canyon Rock at risk of being fined.

“We were behind schedule from the start,” Serra’s Grant Schulz says. “What helped us catch up and complete the automation on time was use of universal programming software, allowing for programming all the automation products with one software package.”

Copy and paste

Photo courtesy of Canyon Rock

The new automation allows Canyon Rock to be more efficient with its labor force.

Serra’s universal programming software library allows for using programming code again and again. Logic for motors in phase one, the scalping area, was written and tested. Once that phase was completed, over a period of 18 weeks, the programming code was “copied and pasted” for motors in the next two phases.

“A more traditional approach would have required writing logic for each motor in the automation system,” Schulz says. “That requires three or four software tools and three or four diagnostic tools. It extends testing and troubleshooting time, too. By reusing code written in phase one, we accomplished the lion’s share of the programming work in the first phase.”

Serra also employed an interface process that allowed it to tie in some of Canyon Rock’s existing hardware, inherited from prior installations. The interface eliminated the need to remove and replace the existing control panel.

The remaining phases required about four weeks from start to finish because code was re-used and troubleshooting programming was reduced. By re-using programming code, training workers to operate the system was also simplified.

The end goal

Photo courtesy of Canyon Rock

A long-term goal Canyon Rock leaders have is full automation in their quarry.

Goals of Canyon Rock’s automation upgrade included installing a greater percentage of conveyors to move materials through the crushing process. That capability required installation of sophisticated controllers, motor starters and VFDs.

Product lines used in Canyon Rock’s automation project included PLCs, 19-in. human-machine interfaces from which the entire plant is monitored and controlled, and two types of motor starters with soft starting and motor management capabilities. Various input/output devices, pilot devices, breakers and terminals were also installed.

Secondary benefits of the upgrade include improved product quality and reduced wear on quarry equipment.

“By automating our finish crushers, we’re able to keep them operating at an optimum level,” Jon says. “The result is improved product quality and a more consistent tph rate.”

Because automation allows operators to dial in the exact crushing speed for each product, the crusher’s impact point is changed with each setting. Instead of consistent impact on the center of the crusher’s panel, wear is spread out over the extremity of the panel, increasing life of the equipment.

In secondary and tertiary screening, the touch of a button allows operators to re-crush any individual product by reversing conveyors, which are operating on VFDs. Inclined screens are also operating on VFDs, allowing the screening direction to change as necessary and providing constant monitoring of motors.

“We maintained the same manpower in the quarry, but we moved some employees into different positions because the automation reduced the number of people required for different phases of crushing,” Jon says.

“Before we upgraded our automation system, we required three employees to run our plant. With the new automation we moved one employee into a mechanic position and have the other working as a loader operator.”

Secondary advantages

Additional benefits of the upgrade are minimized labor costs and enabling diagnostics to detect production failures on any segment of the crushing process. Warning systems include alarms that alert operators of problems. The second level of alert is embedded into the diagnostic information available to Canyon Rock’s programmers, indicating performance issues with specific equipment. Both alert systems aid Canyon Rock operators in troubleshooting and reducing downtime.

In Canyon Rock’s tertiary screening operation, the new automation system allowed the company to shave down peak demand costs by reviewing energy usage data the system provides. By maintaining consistent speed, the company is also better able to manage power use.

“With the upgrade, our plant operators can now remotely start plant operations through the use of a tablet,” Jon says. “We now have a standardized look and feel in the quarry. When we trained operators to use the new system, it proved to be user-friendly, with no need for re-training.”

Canyon Rock’s automation upgrade added to the company’s ability to reduce environmental impact by reducing the number of times material is handled, leading to lower fuel use and electrical power consumption.

Looking to the future

“Our long term goal is full automation in the quarry,” Jon says. “We were recently awarded another large project and further automation would make our quarrying process even more efficient. Our general plan for the quarry is designed to accommodate increased capacity if necessary.

“We are always trying to utilize the latest technology to improve safety, efficiency and sustainability throughout all aspects of our operations,” Jon adds. “We want to see Canyon Rock continue into the future, lasting at least for the fourth generation and beyond.”


Loretta Sorensen is a freelance writer in Yankton, South Dakota. She produces material on a variety of topics, serves as a ghostwriter, and has authored her own books.

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