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A radio star

World Coal,

Victor Garcia, Prosoft Technology, explains how using wireless radios cut costs of using expensive fibre-optic cables and helped a South Korean power plant move coal from the conveyor belt to the plant itself.


An average person can turn on a TV set with the simple push of a remote, after turning on the light in the kitchen, and grabbing a cold sandwich from the refrigerator.  Most people do not think of where the electricity powering their light bulb, refrigerator or TV is coming from or the processes involved in producing the electricity. Yet, of course, power generation is vital to sustaining modern life as we know it. Within the power generation mix, coal plays an integral role in creating this energy.

In South Korea, vast ships dock continually each day at the Gwangyang Harbour, which lies adjacent to the country’s Hadong Power Plant, transferring huge amounts of coal. Bucket after bucket load, each carrying tonnes of coal from each carrier ship’s cargo area is then transferred via a conveyor that leads to the coal testing and analysis process facility, which plays a key role in the power plant’s operation.

Rocks of bituminous coal are measured for quality, a determiner of whether it is good fuel or not. Coal quality determines whether it will burn effectively, therefore generating maximum electricity and reducing plant maintenance. The fewer impurities in the coal, the better it burns in the boiler. Impurities include ash, phosphorous, sodium and sulfur, among others, which can also cause problems with the coal plant’s boiler system.

The Hadong Power Plant produces six percent of South Korea’s electrical supply.

“This processing is very important. It works to capture coal samples before they are put into the boiler,” said Kyungkoo Cho, deputy general manager for distributor Ajin Systech.

The Hadong Power Plant, operated by Korea Electric Power Co., produces 6% of South Korea’s electrical supply, making it a vital source of energy in the country that produces many of the world’s consumer electronics from companies such as LG and Samsung, among many others.

Construction of the plant began in 1993, with the first two coal-fired units producing power. In subsequent years, six units have been added to the plant.

In 2009, power plant engineers faced a challenging decision: Should they lay more than 600 m of expensive fibre-optic cable at the plant’s coal handling and testing area, or ditch the wire and use industrial Hotspot Radios?

Laying such a vast amount of fibre-optic cable would not only have been expensive, it would also have been time consuming. On the other hand, industrial wireless radios offer an instant solution at much lower cost. Yet while plant engineers decided industrial wireless radios were indeed the best way to go, there were still some concerns raised over their use.

With wireless, there were concerns about signal strength around the plant. There had to be a good connection between each area of the wireless system.

In looking for a way to abet these concerns, plant engineers sought out ProSoft Technology, which provided a cost-effective, strong signal solution for the Hadong Power Plant.

In 2009, plant engineers opted to use industrial Hotspot Radios from ProSoft Technology instead of more than 600 m of fibre-optic cable.

With ProSoft Technology’s Industrial Hotspot Radios, the solution turned out to be an easy one for Ajin Systech, a South Korea distributor, contacted by the power company.

“ProSoft Technology’s wireless technical solution is stronger than other radio makers in terms of long distance,” Cho said.

In the coal handling testing and analysis process, a ControlLogix® PLC is connected to a Flex® I/O system at remote coal handling stations, which are used for testing and analysis purposes. ProSoft’s radios are installed on the conveyor tower, which controls the buckets moving and discharging the coal and the Master ControlLogix® PLC. Real control input and output data is transferred between the two radios. 

Data is consistently and securely transferred between the radios. Plant engineers know at any minute whether or not the bucket and conveyor system transferring the coal that keeps the plant operational is moving smoothly, as ship after ship unloads valuable cargo. The coal is then input into the boilers, where the energy is converted into steam, passing through a turbine that generates the electricity that is added to the country’s power grid.

The person continues to watch the TV and eat his cold sandwich as the compact fluorescent lamp above keeps the room bright. And it all started at a power plant somewhere, possibly with the unloading of coal from a bucket to a conveyor. In turn, some of these coal conveyors and coal plants rely on industrial wireless radios to ensure the loading, unloading and transferring of coal to the plant continues uninterrupted. At the Hadong power plant, radios really do keep the lights on. 

Written by Victor Garcia. Edited by Sam Dodson

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