ULTRAMAX-Advanced Process Management

The Company History:

The Ultramax Corporation (UMC) was inspired by the principle that a worthwhile strategy in production is not only to generate value, but to continually learn how to do it better (an original idea of Box & Draper).

In fact, with the right tools, it is a waste to do anything less.  Further, continuous improvements, especially when aided by serious optimization, in addition to being profitable it is exciting and fun, contributing to the quality of life of all participants.  The incremented ability of the plant personnel makes the business capable of coping with future changes, challenges and opportunities much better.

Most existing production processes have the potential to significantly increase their contribution to company margins simply by adjusting better control settings at which to operate.  Valuable performance improvements may come from combinations of better quality, higher production rates, reduced material usage, less waste, lower energy consumption, reduced emissions and other benefits that directly impact profits.  While a process may perform adequately, there is usually opportunity for a great deal of improvement resulting in cost savings and higher profits. Obtaining this performance improvement has been a very difficult task with the tools available in the past.

The early development of the UMC empirical technology for process optimization was driven by the need to find a low-risk and efficient method to improve existing processes, during production, without intruding on normal operations. Tools then in use such as Evolutionary Operations (EVOP), SIMPLEX, and Design of Experiments (DOE) all depended on experimental methods that were not well suited for the production environment.  So does the newer technology Neural Networks.  They either upset the process or took too much time and attention to be feasible.  In addition, because managers had production goals to meet at targeted costs, they were reluctant to permit experimentation that interfered with their schedules.

To improve process performance, manufacturing managers needed a product that could advise control adjustments to continuously improve the process and respond to changing conditions in order to extract best performance at all times. The challenge was to create a product that would be able to learn from the process as it ran, discover better settings and be easy to use.  The idea and applications were started at Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, Ohio USA in mainframes.  Since 1982 the product was commercialized, and since about 1990 available in powerful low-cost computers, and called it ULTRAMAX®.  Since 2002 it was incorporated more thoroughly into daily management and organizational structure, the whole process being called Advanced Process Management™.

UMC has been the leader in supplying its proven empirical optimization solutions to industry since 1982.  In 1988 it signed a license agreement to optimize the production of semiconductors with IBM.  Since that time other industrial giants such as Procter & Gamble, GE, Ford Motor Co., Textron Automotive, General Motors, Merck, Kimberly Clark, BASF and many others have used ULTRAMAX to assist them in solving manufacturing related problems and improve production effectiveness.

In 1993, ULTRAMAX launched its first industry focused marketing effort. This effort was driven by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and the resultant challenge to reduce air emissions it placed on public utilities in the United States.  With the help of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), that had the technology validated by an outside engineering firm in 1992, UMC pioneered the introduction of empirical optimization to the power generation industry.  The validation effort focused on the optimization of power plant processes such as boiler combustion, SNCR and coal-cleaning.  Based on the success of the validation applications, EPRI funded the development of a user interface improvements in the software and promoted its use among its members.

Thereafter ULTRAMAX consistently demonstrated its effectiveness in optimizing boiler combustion to reduce NOx and meet the clean air standards set by the EPA as well as gain improvements in heat rate and LOI.  Because ULTRAMAX has the unique capability to be used without direct interface to a control system (stand-alone mode), many early projects were performed in this way. Often, the project objectives were to deal with special problems to meet NOx guarantees, avoid de-rating or demonstrate effectiveness on a different type of boiler.  In every case, ULTRAMAX showed that plant operators could expect to obtain NOx reductions of 10% to 40% and lower heat rate by 0.5 to 3%, without negatively affecting other key operating requirements. These applications proved that valuable improvements were possible from software solutions before the capital investment of hardware additions.

As acceptance of software optimization solutions increased, generation plants began to see the value in interfacing ULTRAMAX with their control systems to enable continuous performance optimization for all load levels and with changing conditions due to fuel, environmental conditions and gradual degradation.  The new competitive nature of the power industry brought on by deregulation has put increasing demands on plants to obtain least-cost compliant operation.  Utilities have come to think of ULTRAMAX as an integral part of their overall NOx compliance and performance improvement strategy in addition to low-NOx burners, overfire air, re-burning, SCR, SNCR and other boiler modifications.  The operation of these hardware additions as well as plant components such as precipitators, mills and scrubbers can also be improved using ULTRAMAX.  ULTRAMAX is part of an integrated solution that combines these various processes to obtain optimized operation throughout the plant.  In 2002 a NN competitor acquired the exclusive rights to market, sell and service ULTRAMAX in the power industry in the USA and UK, and this relationship was terminated in 2006. 

UMC delivers this integrated solution in closed-loop supervisory or operator advisory modes. The Closed-Loop format changes control settings automatically without operator intervention – and returns to Advisory when an upset or undesirable operations are detected for immediate plant personnel attention. The Advisory system format allows the operator to review recommendations and make the final choice before control settings are changed.

For cases where external demands or conditions keep on changing, such as for a load-following boiler, UMC created a more powerful solution to optimize on top of the transients so created: "transient optimization".

UMC continues to also provide solutions to companies in the chemical process, automotive, aerospace, semiconductor, consumer products and plastic forming industries.  Key targeted industries are processed foods and metals. Its software products improve the value of continuous, batch and discrete processes while applied in closed-loop, advisory and stand-alone modes.