Advancing Automation Requires an Evolution in Data Management


Advancing Automation Requires an Evolution in Data Management
Advancing Automation Requires an Evolution in Data Management

The last five years have seen a massive shift in the way industry designs and secures automation systems, with much more emphasis on the value of data. And with each passing year, more new software and technology continues to shift how we generate, store, and access critical plant information. This evolution in data management starts where input/output (I/O) enters the system, enabling new control and analytics, and resonates all the way up the automation stack, touching every level of the enterprise.

Industry needs data at all levels of the enterprise to stay competitive with increased speed to market and the ability to rapidly shift production to meet new customer needs. But just having data isn’t enough. If data is trapped in silos or hard to interpret and analyze, personnel across the enterprise will struggle to implement the process, software, and hardware changes necessary to stay flexible enough to compete in the global marketplace.

The technology shifts poised to shape process control over the next five years are focused on this challenge—designed to harness the latent power of the control system to end data silos and leverage data-in-context, unlocking nimbler, more efficient, and more profitable operations.

Expediate information from field devices

Traditionally, the capacity of communications from field devices into the I/O subsystem was limited by the electrical properties of necessary interfaces. As a result, many existing automation systems contain myriad I/O types with a large variety of I/O signals, from traditional I/O to communication protocols such as HART, Modbus, Profibus, etc., each using different physical media and wiring strategies. This variety complicates design and installation. Over time, communication protocols have evolved to fully digital, Ethernet-based protocols with mostly similar names: HART-IP, Modbus-TCP, and PROFINET. However, use of Ethernet devices has been limited by wire length, additional power wiring, and non-hazardous area installation.

Today, Advanced Physical Layer (APL), a new, Ethernet-based physical layer, enables plants to dramatically increase the data connectivity and capacity of the control system. Ethernet-APL provides a physical media enabling digital protocol devices to communicate across long distances via a pair of wires that also provide power. Multiple digital protocols can coexist on the same network.

Since many Ethernet-based protocols are extensions of previously used protocols, there is no need for end users to re-train their personnel. For example, HART-IP is the enhanced version of the longused HART over 4-20mA—now fully digitized and secure. All the tools for device configuration, calibration, and troubleshooting can transition from the non-Ethernet protocol to the Ethernet-base type. The user experience for Ethernet devices will be quite similar to fieldbus-type devices, just much faster—no more waiting for the device configuration display to populate with information.

APL is on the horizon As with any new technology, it will take some time before APL is widely available in all device types. Complex and/or critical devices such as Coriolis meters or digital valve controllers will be the first to realize the benefits of APL, followed by simpler instrumentation such as pressure or temperature transmitters. Time will tell if any existing discrete devices will transition to become “smart” Ethernet-APL devices.

As APL gains popularity, end users will have to seek out solutions that do not require two dissimilar I/O subsystems: one supporting traditional signals and another completely separate APL subsystem. Otherwise, APL adoption will suffer similar deterrents as when the fieldbus solutions were introduced. Emerging solutions that enable users to easily swap out a legacy device for an APL device will be ideal (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Smart Junction Box supporting both Ethernet-APL and traditional field devices. Courtesy: Emerson

APL is more secure

The industry is moving to more open architectures. The NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) intends to make information available for different use cases including process control, monitoring, and optimization. Smart field devices will need to transmit data to multiple places—not only to the control system or the asset management system. EthernetAPL may allow for control and monitoring solutions to share the same infrastructure without forcing all the signals through the control system first.

Ethernet-based protocols will facilitate the routing of information to all the required end points. However, with the increased exposure of field devices, security will be even more critical. Ethernet-APL will enable more secure communications as it can leverage secured protocols such as the updated version of HART-IP, which includes all the elements required to secure communications among field instrumentation, the control system, and the asset management solutions.

Ethernet-APL will transform the industry by delivering faster, more secure, and easier integration of data from field instrumentation to support the deployment of open architectures. The success of Ethernet-APL will depend on the availability of simple and secure APL solutions based on proven system architectures facilitating the integration of both legacy and new technologies with minimum relearning and the ability to deliver timely information to all the levels of the enterprise.

Near plug-and-play automation

The emerging data evolution extends to how plants connect and integrate subsystems into their automation. This broader integration of subsystems has been costly and difficult to plan because of the time, effort, and expense of establishing and maintaining those links. In addition, rapid market shifts in many industries today drive a need for more flexibility in the manufacturing process. One of the key methods of meeting this challenge is introducing new modular process technology into automation, enabling plants to quickly shift manufacturing to meet global demand.

Module Type Package (MTP) unlocks the ability to bring a broader set of those subsystems more easily into plant automation, providing end users a path to much greater flexibility. MTP— introduced by the User Association of Automation Technology in Process Industries (NAMUR)—will help industry integrate distributed control systems (DCS) and programmable logic controller (PLC) systems more easily by reducing the time and cost to integrate distributed process and reliability assets and equipment. Easier integration will increase speed to market and help industry meet customers’ individualized needs.

Much of the potential cost and delay in capital projects or in adding new equipment to existing processes comes from the effort spent on integration. MTP automates much of this integration by providing a framework for standardized equipment data models and description language to streamline interoperability.

One of the best ways to stay ahead of market shifts is to build modular production systems. However, unlocking flexibility typically means purchasing many different types of equipment and making them work together—often with complex custom interfaces. MTP compliance ensures new products will work with existing MTPcompliant products already in place. As the standard progresses, plants will more easily integrate equipment via standardized, pre-tested and pre-qualified interfaces.

The most comprehensive MTP solutions incorporate the control system as part of the process orchestration layer to operate and supervise process equipment assemblies such as PLCs and machinery health and prediction devices (Figure 2). Moreover, asset monitoring technologies can also be designed with pre-configured MTP objects specialized for asset reliability data to enable seamless integration with a plant’s control system. In MTP-supporting asset monitor applications, users create measurement points and can then export an MTP-ready file to import objects directly into control and safety systems without additional configuration.

Figure 2: Holistic MTP solutions provide the DCS in the process orchestration layer to operate and supervise process equipment assemblies such as PLCs and machinery health prediction devices. Courtesy: Emerson

All these technologies are helping industry more quickly and easily move a wider spectrum of data into the control system. As a result, the control system becomes a critical repository for data, adding increasing value through the context provided by control and analytics. New opportunities for process optimization, improved product yields, and abnormal situation prevention through early fault detection, are possible.

Operator effectiveness is enhanced with embedded analytics and decision-making tools using this data, predicting—and potentially responding to—the impact of process changes.

The operator’s role becomes more supervisory, acting as process managers intervening in the process only if prompted or at the most critical points. Moreover, these elevated operators make better decisions.

Access the goldmine of data

If newly contextualized data is locked in the control layer, it is not very effective for the overall improvement of the business. A critical element of data evolution, then, is…


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