Like a Glove: Designing Facilities and Equipment to Work Hand-in-Hand

January 17, 2022 - Author: Kevin Koss - Senior Staff Engineer - Facility Mechanical

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Facilities and equipment design

Designing With Control System Integration in Mind

Imagine working in your office and noticing it’s hot. You walk to the thermostat and turn it down a couple of degrees. Then you go back to work. Pushing the button on the thermostat doesn’t lower the temperature. It activates a computer control system. The controls then activate a series of mechanical systems. A chiller, compressor, condenser, expansion valve, evaporator, and blower fan work together to blow cooler air into your office, lowering the temperature and making you more comfortable. You don’t have to interact with any of those systems to make them work. That is control system integration. Facilities and equipment work hand-in-hand to create a result with minimal operator input.

Control System Integration in a Testing Facility

An integrated test stand can be as easy to operate as an integrated air conditioning system. “We want the operator to enter the least amount of data required to get their test underway,” ACS Senior Mechanical Engineer Kevin Koss said. “Running a test shouldn’t have a bunch of steps like, ‘Go start the chilled water system over here, then go over there and make sure those valves are open.’ You should be able to start the test and those things just happen.” When designing with control system integration in mind, ACS engineers need to understand two things: what the customer wants the equipment to do and what the equipment needs to make that job happen. In a testing facility, it’s important to fully understand the article being tested, whether it’s an engine, appliance, or component. If you can clearly explain how you want to test the item and the data you need to collect from the test, the engineer can design the entire system around meeting that goal. Then the designer will analyze what it takes for the system to give you what you want. They will sketch out the space the mechanical systems will need and make sure your facility can accommodate them. The systems may have special requirements to work, like electrical power, steam, or chilled water. In new construction, plans can be drafted with these requirements in mind. In an existing facility, these elements can be added so the finished equipment fits into the space like a hand in a glove.

What Are the Benefits of Control System Integration?

It’s nice to have a system that’s easy to use, but the real advantage of integrated control systems is bottom-line efficiency. The benefits of an integrated systems design are felt through every level of product test and development groups. A technician can run a test with minimal downtime and little to no assistance from other groups. The fewer manual steps an operator must take, the more time they have for other tasks. Machines can run with less downtime, completing tests more quickly. Faster individual tests can mean entire testing cycles are completed sooner, reducing time to market. “The world is changing fast,” Koss said. “Everybody is trying to get there. Getting products developed and to market quickly is a competitive advantage.” An integrated systems design can also save space. When an engineer knows what data needs to be collected, they can design a system that gathers that data as efficiently as possible. Let’s say nine test cells, each designed to run one particular test, can be condensed into a single test cell capable of running all nine tests using central facility systems. The testing center’s footprint can shrink to a fraction of what it was. Making optimal use of space has real business value. Control systems integration can be a component of a new facility design or an existing facility remodel. ACS has earned its reputation as a leader in systems integration because of its unique approach to construction planning. It’s been described with words like “turnkey,” “design-build,” and “systems integrator.” All these labels point to the same thing. From concept to commissioning, ACS can handle an entire project. The single-source advantage is confidence that what was conceptualized at the beginning of the project is what you receive at the end.