Top 10 Plant PC Best Practices
BY Ken Cardy
An asphalt plant is comprised of many components that must be maintained in good order to prevent costly downtime. At the heart of it all is one or more personal computers, which are used to orchestrate the entire process and provide essential, real-time feedback to the plant operator, as well as management. Here are a few practical guidelines for keeping the PCs and other automation equipment in tip-top shape.
1. Always make backups. Back up data across the company network, if possible. In this way, even if the computer hard drive fails, you will be able to recover your data.
2. Consider installing an online UPS to protect the PC (and other electronic equipment) from power surges. This is not the power strip you purchase at your local hardware store; rather, it’s an industrial unit that holds the line steady regardless of power fluctuations. A 500-VA UPS is recommended.
3. Shut off the PC in the evenings. If practical, unplug it. The question of whether to shut off PCs nightly was once widely debated—not anymore. The benefits of shutting off the PC include better performance, longer lifespan, improved security, and lower electricity/maintenance costs. With today’s Solid-State Drives (SDDs), the time to boot up in the morning has been improved from minutes to mere seconds. While surge protection equipment is a great idea to guard against lightning or other power fluctuations, there is nothing as absolute as unplugging from the source.
4. Avoid spam and scams. Do not click on any email links that are remotely suspicious. If you receive an email from a trusted sender that seems “fishy,” call them to ask if it is legitimate before opening attachments. To avoid scams, limit web usage to job-related sites and be mindful of unsecure sites. Secure sites begin with https. Unsecure sites begin with http. To ensure the site you are visiting is secure, type in the entire URL (web address), including the https:// at the beginning.
5. Secure PCs from theft. In addition to locking the yard and control room, consider getting a tamper-proof PC enclosure. In some crime-ridden areas, producers use laptops and take them home each evening.
6. Password-protect your automation software and any other apps containing sensitive information. Use passwords that are not easily guessed. Configure the operating system to automatically lock when not used for a select period of time.
7. Ensure you are running automation software within one to two versions of the latest release.
8. Always check with the automation manufacturer before installing third-party software, regardless of compatibility claims.
9. Clean the control room regularly. This is a daunting task considering the harsh environment, but keep in mind that computers have fans that are constantly pulling in dust. Regular cleaning of the control room will lengthen the life of the automation equipment. Before cleaning electronic equipment, always ensure it is powered off. Compressed air is a safe method to remove dirt and dust from these components. Beware of using chemicals that can do more harm than good. For the monitor, mouse and keyboard, spray a microfiber cloth with 1-part distilled water to 1-part isopropyl. Using a cotton swab dipped in 90-100 percent isopropyl is a generally accepted method for cleaning printed circuit boards (PCBs), but be sure to check with the manufacturer for confirmation. Alternatively, ask your automation supplier about their winter preventative maintenance programs, for thorough cleaning and checkout of all components.
10. Use outdoor enclosures that feature fanless designs, such as remote printer terminals or self-service kiosks. While the upfront cost for these units may be slightly more than incorporating them in your control house, over the long-run, they pay dividends many times over.
Follow these best practices to keep your automation running at peak efficiency. Steady hot mix production is too valuable for downtime from preventable issues.
Ken Cardy is the president of Libra Systems. For more information, contact him at (215) 256-1700 or visit www.librasystems.com.