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A Introduction to Advanced Process Control (APC) for Managers

Sandeep Lal

This is a introduction to advanced process control as practiced in chemical process industries. Most of
the information given here is based on the authors experience in implementing and maintaining APC

I. Where does APC fit in Chemical Industries?

Most chemical businesses integrate their corporate tasks of Enterprise Resource Planning with Plant
level functions of actually producing products. Even though the arrow shows information flow in one
direction, it is actually a bidirectional arrow, with information flowing back to the enterprise of actual
production rates that were achieved as well as what the plant can actually produce (given its equipment
limitations, Maintenance activities etc…). The ERP system would also contain other modules like
Procurement and inventory, Financials, HR, Payroll etc…. but we will focus on data flow to the plant as
far as production planning is concerned.

• Supply Chain Management

• Production Planning & scheduling

• Real time Optimizer

Plant Control • Advanced Process Control

• Regulatory Control

• Valves
• Sensors
Process • Analyzers

Figure 1 Hierarchy of information flow

Most of the software inside the Plant boundaries is controlling the actual process. Sometimes the
production planning and scheduling is done at the plant level, but if there are multiple plants and
multiple products being made and sold by the company, this could be at the enterprise level.

So let’s make a business case for APC.

II. APC Success Story

APC makes money by doing the following:

1. Constraint Management
2. Throughput Maximization
3. Reduce Energy Costs
4. Stability

APC can be implemented in quite a few ways. The most basic way, was that used years ago by
implementing advanced regulatory control (ARC) by Feed forward, constraint control, cascade control
etc… Recently Model Predictive Control (MPC) has become very popular for implementation as a APC
solution in chemical process industries. MPC differs from traditional controller in 2 ways

1. MPC uses a dynamic “Model” to calculate the relationships between the Manipulated, feed
forward and controlled variables.
2. It contains a optimization algorithm (usually a LP) that calculates the most efficient method of
moving the process to and keeping at the desired conditions.

III. The players

1. Controlled variables (CV) are those variables that will be in the objective of the controller to
maintain either at a limit or within limits, e.g. Product purity in a distillation column.
2. Manipulated variables (MV) are variables that the APC application will manipulate to achieve
the objectives set by the controlled variables, e.g. Reflux flow in a distillation column.
3. Feed forward variables (FF) are those variables that influence the process performance, but
cannot be manipulated by the controller, e.g. ambient temperature.

IV. Control calculations

As mentioned a MPC controller uses a model of the plant to calculate the plant performance in parallel
to the plant. The controller uses the current plant measurements to

1. Calculate prediction of future plant behavior

2. Computes a optimum operating point for the plant
3. Computes appropriate control action required to drive the plant as close as possible to the
desired value. The controller output is implemented in real time and the procedure is repeated
every sampling interval with actual plant data.


Control Move Plan

Figure 2 - Typical control calculation

V. Reasons for failure

As good as APC may have been portrayed in this document as well as documented evidence of it being
the best thing since sliced bread, there have been instances where APC has not delivered promised
benefits or not even been ON control to be able to control the process. I will try to highlight some of the
reasons that I think could be responsible for this sorry state of affairs.

1. Insufficient trained manpower to maintain the application.

2. Changed economics needing retuning
3. Bad regulatory control loops
4. Changed plant after turnaround, which changed dynamic responses needing remodeling.
5. Sub optimal initial design of the application
6. Operator/operations/management acceptance - Bad communication

Most of these could be rectified by having trained manpower to maintain the applications. Many a
applications were initially deployed with “Consultants” who came and implemented a application and
everyone hoped that they would run themselves. Just like when you car makes some noises, we go to a
“Trained” mechanic who looks at the problem and “fixes” it, APC is also a hi-tech application needing
some TLC (Tender Love and Care).