Robust and reliable data communications support in Czech mining enterprise.


In times of increasing digitisation of industrial processes, the importance of robust and reliable data communications is becoming more evident. The communication network is often critical to operations and failure to get data from A to B can have serious impact on production. Data networks supporting monitoring and control systems within mining applications require a special kind of robustness. Not only do the operating conditions include fluctuating temperatures, dust and dirt, but there is also constant vibration, which is extremely tough on network devices and cables.

The Vršany Lom brown coal surface quarry is using Westermo Lynx Switches and Wolverine Ethernet extenders to make up its entire data communications network.

The sheer size of an open-pit mine makes it difficult to maintain a data network and the need to constantly move mining equipment puts a considerable stress on the network cables.

Monitoring from the control room.

At Vršany Lom, one of the largest mines in the Czech Republic, all of these challenges have been overcome with the implementation of robust industrial networking technology from Westermo. Vršany Lom is a brown coal surface quarry located in the North Bohemian coal basin near the town of Most. The site is mined by Vršanská uhelná a.s., which is a part of the Sev.en group, a major European mining company responsible for the largest coal reserves in the Czech Republic.

Over the course of an eight-year period, Marek Hudský, chief technical engineer at Vršanská uhelná a.s., has strived to create the perfect monitoring and control system and supporting data communications network.

“The communications network is my responsibility and something I have designed, built and improved over many years,” explains Marek. “The continuous improvements have made a massive impact to overall production. The average time to transport the coal from the mine to the collection site has been reduced from 25 minutes to less than four minutes. On an annual basis this adds up to an extra month’s worth of production.

Control of the bucket wheel excavator is performed by the operator, but the communications network enables operation to be monitored from the central control room.

“This significant improvement has been achieved by reducing network downtime, which previously was very common and required many hours of maintenance. Today, interruptions to production due to network issues are rare.”

The Vršany Lom open-pit quarry covers an enormous area and mining takes place at several locations simultaneously. The coal is extracted using large bucket wheel excavators and loaded onto kilometer long conveyor belts that transport it to the collection site. Some sections of the conveyors are permanently positioned, whilst others are moved as the digging location changes.

Conveyor belts stretching out over many kilometers transport coal to a central collection point. The data communication cables are installed along the conveyors, connecting monitoring and control equipment for the excavators and conveyors to the control room.

The entire network is now running entirely on Westermo WeOS-powered devices, consisting of 60 Westermo Lynx switches and 40 Wolverine Ethernet extenders. The data communication equipment and cabling are installed along the conveyor belts. This connects several hundred sensors that provide critical operational data to the central SCADA system, which helps to ensure safe and effective mining. Fibre optic cables are located inside the permanent conveyors, with the Lynx switches installed in substations at set points along the conveyor belts. The fibre network is configured in a ring topology with Westermo’s FRNT super-fast ring reconfiguration protocol providing network reconfiguration times of less than 20 ms.

“The fibre network works flawlessly. The switches and cables have been in operation for quite a while now and have required very little maintenance,” explains Marek. “The real challenge is the data communication closer to the actual mining. This is where operating conditions are really tough due to continuous vibration and electromagnetic interference from the machines. Also, because the equipment needs to be constantly moved this exposes the cabling to constant wear and tear.

“We have been familiar with Westermo technology since the days of short haul modems. We knew they produced high quality products and when first introduced to the Wolverine Ethernet Extender we were immediately interested. At that point we were using a custom-made communication device, which was not really suitable for a tough mining environment. It caused regular network downtime, maintenance and production standstills, which was a completely unsustainable situation.”

“The first thing that appealed to me about the Wolverine was that was able to provide reliable data communication over regular twisted pair copper cables,” said Marek. “We use copper cables because they can withstand a lot more abuse than fibre before failing, however, when the digging location changes cabling is often bent, cut and sliced, which can reduce the quality of signal. . Despite this we are still able to achieve reliable data communication thanks to the Wolverine device which enables reliable communication even if the copper cabling is not in pristine condition. Secondly, the device had the robust characteristics that are needed to operate reliably in this type of environment. Finally, the Wolverine offered a lot of functionality, such as super-fast ring reconfiguration, LLDP and SNMP that enabled both a very technically advanced and very robust network solution.

“It has been quite a long process of continued improvement to get to where we are right now with the network in terms of functionality and reliability. Last year, I replaced the remaining legacy devices. We are now running the network entirely using Westermo WeOS-powered products and I am very pleased with the overall performance.

“We have always looked for that next improvement that will further strengthen the resilience of the monitoring and control system. By selecting Westermo products and utilising the WeOS operating system to its full capacity, Vršanská uhelná will now see many years of robust and trouble-free data communications.”

@Westermo #PAuto

Switches in critical control networks in petrochem plant!



Unipetrol is a major refinery and petrochemical company in the Czech Republic. One of the company’s biggest assets is the industrial premises Chempark Záluží which is the largest chemical production facility in the country. The facility is currently the seat of several dozens of important chemical and service companies and is a daily workplace for 6,500 employees from 180 companies.

The part of the plant where Ethylene is produced is particularly important since it is widely used as a component in many other products produced at the plant. A stoppage in the Ethylene production would have enormous economic implications because it would affect the overall production. A complete new network backbone for power control and distribution as well as an upgraded network backbone for the emergency shutdown system has been built with Westermo switches to support the applications in the Ethylene unit.

The communication infrastructure and the systems has been built and implemented by Inelsev, a Czech company that provides services for industrial automation and energetic systems. The decision to use Westermo devices was based on a strong working relationship between Inelsev and Westermo’s Czech distributor.

Pavel Ješina with one of the Westermo RedFox switches.

Pavel Ješina with one of the Westermo RedFox switches.

“This is a plant where reliability is absolutely crucial. The systems are designed to be extremely robust in order to guarantee continuous operation and to protect the plant and the people who work here. In the previous network solution, we used another switch brand that we had to replace. The main reason for that was the network ring recovery time. Whenever the network had to recover, it took so long that connected equipment (OPC servers) would not start up and connect properly. WeOS powered Westermo products, including the ring network protocol FRNT with 20 ms recovery time, was a perfect fit. Extremely fast, robust and easy to use,” said Pavel Ješina, R&D manager at Inelsev, who has designed and implemented both networks.

The two networks were built in 2011. The emergency shutdown system was an upgrade project where old switches from another brand were replaced with Westermo Lynx switches in a dual ring network topology. The purpose of this network is to shut down the plant in an emergency situation. The power control and distribution network was built as a completely new system and connects 30 substations throughout the plant with a central control room. The network consists of 270 communication devices, over 500 process screens and panels, 13,000 I/O connections and more than 300,000 alarms. The network consists mainly of Lynx L210-F2G and a variety of RedFox industrial switches.

The many combinations of ports and the possibility to mix copper and fibre media was another big driver for selecting Westermo products. “Inside a building we can use regular copper Ethernet cables, but the cables connecting the different buildings must be fibre due to safety legislations,” explained Pavel. “The many models and port combinations in the RedFox Industrial range allowed us to select the ideal product at every location and to prepare for expanding the network in the future.”

Another positive outcome from using Westermo devices is that configuration and maintenance is extremely simple. All managed Westermo devices are powered by the same operating system, WeOS. This means that you will get an identical experience whether you configure a Lynx, RedFox or any other managed Westermo device, regardless of model. It also means that any new functionality added to any new WeOS version will be backwards compatible and available in any previously installed WeOS device. The operating system is designed to be as robust as the hardware. It is made to be simple to use and configure and thoroughly tested in the Westermo software test lab. “I have worked with many different brands of switches and routers, and compared to many others, configuring a Westermo switch is like kindergarten,” said Pavel.

To make configuration and maintenance even simpler, the company also provides WeConfig, a “Made Easy” network configuration management tool designed to simplify both the initial configuration and network commissioning which can be performed much quicker than before and over the lifetime of a network hundreds of man hours can be saved. “I use WeConfig for upgrading the Westermo devices when a new firmware upgrade is made available. The tool makes upgrades simple and hassle free and I can access all units from one central point and automated updates are performed swiftly and securely. I am excited to start experimenting more with WeConfig when we expand our network.

“We have created a straightforward, robust and reliable network solution. This is exactly what is needed here and the Westermo units have been working flawlessly since they were installed. The products are easy to use and I would not hesitate to select Westermo products for another application where the same type of requirements are needed,” he concluded.

 @westermo_global #CzechR #PAuto

Pockets in East Europe for automation vendors

Katarzyna Owczarczyk is a Research Analyst with the Frost & Sullivan European Industrial Automation and Process Control Practice. She focuses on monitoring and analysing emerging trends, technologies and market behaviour in the Industrial Automation and Process Control industry in Europe.

The economic recession restrained growth in the western European industry market, which was already reaching maturity. The subsequent transition of the manufacturing base to low-cost eastern European countries has opened new prospects for market sustainability. This, in turn, is expected to continue offering growth opportunities for the automation and control solutions (ACSs) market.

Revenues from process industries in the ACSs market reached $597.9 million in 2008 and are forecast to exceed $846.0 million by 2015. A number of factors can be attributed to Eastern Europe’s overall attractiveness including EU membership, a broad industrial and production base, relatively low labour costs and historical and cultural connectivity with the western market and economy.

EU Accession Drives Investments in New Member States

Eastern Europe offers opportunity to automation vendors

The EU Accession has been one of the main factors behind positive market opportunities in Eastern Europe. Many end users in Eastern Europe, through the European Standards, are being forced to improve their infrastructure levels to be equivalent to that of western Europe. Eastern Europe has a broad industrial and production base. Many heavy and light industry plants exist, which, once modernised, will constitute good bases for various industrial developments. Additionally, all the factories built under Communism have been privatised. However, they need to be modernised and upgraded.

Currently, many end-user companies have to oblige with regulations set by organisations such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Huge investments are also needed in the power and water and wastewater treatment sectors to meet European standards. For instance, to implement the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive in the 12 new member states, approximately, €35.00 billion will have to be invested by 2017.

In 2008, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary accounted for 66% of the Eastern European ACSs market partly because they were able to transform and restructure their economies faster upon joining the EU. They have also been bolstered by the influx of foreign investment, focused on plant retrofits, thereby stimulating the ACSs market growth.

Power – The Fastest-growing Market Even during the Global Recession
Power, chemicals and oil and gas accounted for the largest share in the Eastern European ACSs market in 2008. This is attributed to the extensive use of Distributed Control System (DCS) in these industries in their manufacturing processes. A majority of the new small- or medium-sized facilities, in many chemical and most of the power and oil and gas facilities, are likely to prefer typical DCSs, rather than hybrid or a system based on several Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), because of their reliability.

Power is also the fastest-growing market for ACSs, the revenues of which are expected to almost double by 2015. Eastern Europe faces rising prices, strict environmental targets and an impending capacity crisis in power generation due to the decommissioning of aging power plants and increasing demand. Power will sustain stability due to the continuous high demand for energy as well as the high amount of European funds available for renewable energy and government investments in transmission and distribution to improve the overall network efficiency and decrease transmission losses.

Other sectors
The chemicals and oil and gas industries are very important in the ACSs market due to existing regulations concerning environmental pollution. However, the chemicals industry in particular is expected to be severely affected until 2010 by the economic recession. Food and beverage and pulp and paper are comparatively smaller markets that are already well developed, but still need further investments to improve plant performance and meet continuously changing standards. PLCs are more commonly used in the food and beverage and pulp and paper industries as Eastern Europe has a large number of small food manufacturers and paper mills for which more-expensive DCSs are not required. The smallest sectors are pharmaceuticals and water and wastewater. However, the latter offers significant growth potential due to the necessity for regulatory compliance with EU Directives and the availability of EU funds, which drive PLC market growth. This is because of the affordable price that makes the PLC as one of the most used automation components in the water and wastewater sector.

The Eastern European ACSs market is expected to grow steadily from 2010, driven by growing demand, especially from the power sector. Among Eastern European economies, Slovakia, Romania and Poland have the most favourable growth prospects, while countries like Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary that have had large external imbalances caused by the economic recession, are expected to witness low or flat growth.

From a product standpoint, Manufacturing Execution system (MES) and Industrial Asset Management (IAM) are expected to witness high growth, as they, despite being relatively new in the Eastern European market, experienced high growth despite the economic recession. This growth is mostly driven by the need for production optimisation and compliance with quality and regulatory demands.

To stimulate demand in Eastern Europe, automation vendors should provide automation systems that are compatible with existing plant installations. This would instil confidence among the end users and urge them to invest in automation. Moreover, the establishment of a strong and reliable network with local distributors and system integrators is crucial in order to increase access to customers.

Katarzyna Owczarczyk is a Research Analyst with the Frost & Sullivan European Industrial Automation and Process Control Practice. She focuses on monitoring and analysing emerging trends, technologies and market behaviour in the Industrial Automation and Process Control industry in Europe.