As a startup enterprise developing a totally new class of high-technology materials and moving them into production as quickly as possible, Nanophase Technologies explored every avenue for reducing engineering and construction costs while expediting our first manufacturing lines. Minimizing costs was obviously very important in a company dedicated to demonstrating the ability to be profitable in the emerging world of specialized nanomaterials, but doing things right was equally important.
As the engineer who designed and oversaw construction of our first nanomaterials production process, I was open to promising new ideas, but unwilling to cut corners on quality or safety. In that regard, it was imperative to meet all the requirements of a Class1 Div 2 hazardous environment for the production of nanocrystalline zinc oxide, which is used for a variety of pharmaceutical and cosmetic applications, including sunscreen. In fact, Nanophase Technologies Inc. is the largest manufacturer of nanoparticles for sunscreen in the world.
In the past, Class 1 Div 2 Wiring Standards called for installing piping and pulling of wires through the pipes to eliminate any exposed wiring. Installing hard wall piping from a control center out to each individual field instrument was time-consuming and expensive, even in a relatively small process, and once the conduit was in place, a device could not be relocated without first tearing out the pipe and moving it.
I was looking for an alternative connection method - and found it in the form of quick disconnect cordsets developed to conform to the requirements of Class 1 Div 2 and manufactured by TURCK Inc. These are twisted pairs of wires designed for control connectivity encased in flexible plastic with molded terminations at each end.
A variety of cable configurations is available in different lengths and colors and capable of carrying from 24 to 110 volts from power source to field device. Because of the way the cables are terminated, it is impossible to plug one into an incompatible power source.
By using cordsets rather than piping, the amount to time required for control system installation can be reduced significantly. Only a few minutes are needed to install a cordset, screwing the ends into pre-assembled receptacles on the field device and remote I/O block in a field junction box. Workers would need more than an hour to install piping, pull the wires, and connect that same field device to the control center.
Working with Simone Engineering/FCX, a control system integrator based in Germantown, WI, we engineered a solution for Nanophase with pipe running from the programmable logic controller (PLC) out to junction boxes near the process equipment. From there, flexible cables were strung as far as 10 meters to connect each of 150 field devices generating both analog and digital inputs. The connections are secure and not likely to come apart with motion or vibration caused by the process equipment.
The overriding reason for selecting the Turck armored cable cordsets was to reduce cycle time and accelerate the project schedule, and the results fully justified their use in this challenging environment. The time required to install the control system on our new HP-1 coating process was actually cut in half, enabling Nanophase to get into production three weeks sooner than would have been possible with a traditional wire-in-pipe solution. Secondly, using cordsets was less expensive. The new system cut six man-weeks off the job of installing field instrumentation - an estimated saving of about $25,000. Since the cost of the materials was about the same with either system, the money saved was a direct benefit.
Another benefit of using cordsets is their application flexibility, offering quick disconnect of an existing hookup, if desired. Process alterations are much easier when field equipment, including the instruments, can be relocated without having to repipe the entire installation. Instrument replacement is just as easy. Because it is so easy to move things around just by disconnecting the cables, we use them extensively in our pilot plant operation where components are constantly being repositioned.
Since the HP-1 coating line went into operation in October, 2001, no problems have occurred with control system connectivity or operation of the process.
Nanotechnology is an emerging science in which a material's characteristics can be tailored to specific requirements by changing the size and shape of nanoparticles comprising the material. Thus, Nanophase zinc oxide materials are available as dry powders and as stable dispersions in a variety of solvents, both aqueous and organic. These new materials can be surface treated using a patented process and engineered to meet specific customer requirements for such diverse applications as transparent coatings to protect against abrasion as well as ultraviolet and infrared radiation. A variety of unique performance characteristics can be created by tailoring the nanoparticles.
As a leader in solving product problems through proprietary and patented nanocrystalline technology, Nanophase products feature high particle and surface chemical purity and are manufactured to ISO-9001, USP, and cGMP standards.
The biggest benefit stemming from the use of Turck cordsets was the reduced cycle time and accelerated production schedule for a product with a waiting market. I see no downside to their use in any environment for which they are certified. In fact, we plan to use them on future Class 1 Div 2 installations.