Improving the usefulness of existing plant is a major focus for many process manufacturers in the current economic climate.
Fortunately, technology is evolving to allow them to do just that, and intelligent control systems are at the heart of it.
“Assets that customers have tend to have a very long lifetime,” says Mark Higham, general manager for process automation at Siemens. “It is not untypical for process plants to be 30 or 40 years old. A big challenge for customers is how to get more out of that existing asset. It is often not economic to build a new one.”
Rockwell Automation business development manager Richard Sturt says a key way this is being managed is through the use of data.
“A lot of people are trying to work on the efficiency of their existing plant,” he says. “They are asking whether they have tools that show them how efficient their plant is and allow them to do things to improve it, whether that be through maintenance or process optimisation.”
A big challenge for customers is how to get more out of that existing asset. It is often not economic to build a new one
Mark Higham, general manager, Siemens
Whether the target is quicker production, cost savings, product consistency improvements or anything else – all of which ultimately boils down to ways of boosting the bottom line – control systems are on the front line of the battle for efficiency.
“You see a lot of people adding capability to their supervisory system that allows them to pull data from a process – temperature, pressure, time, reject numbers and so on,” adds Sturt.
Higham says many control systems are collecting data that is not being fully used: “Value is being left untapped.”
As such, he suggests there is a significant move towards accessing this lost information and applying analytical techniques to develop insight from it to help optimise a process.
“For example, a valve positioner helps to open and close a valve as required by a process,” Higham says. “You can use it to measure where the valve is but it also gathers data that helps you identify when a valve is close to sticking, or is not fully opening, so you can do predictive maintenance.
“Control systems are evolving and often have sophisticated data analysis capabilities. We are also seeing the use of cloud-based technology to augment control systems.”
Siemens’ MindSphere platform is a universal cloud platform that gives users access to data and analytics through a subscription or app purchase. Higham believes the cloud will be increasingly used for data management. “In 10 years’ time we will see more of what might have been done in a process control or SCADA system cloud-based.”
Rockwell has a tool called FactoryTalk VantagePoint – found within its PlantPAx control system – which integrates data from a range of sources and allows detailed analysis. “The skill is in analysing the data and turning it into useful information,” says Sturt. “If you are faced with all the raw numbers available from a plant it can be hard to knit it together so the time periods match up – let alone work out what is going on.”
The PlantPAx system is designed to have information relevant for different groups of users.
“You have operator view where you can see pressures, temperatures and so on; put things into automatic mode; run the plant,” says Sturt.
“There is a management level where you can look at things like efficiency; that has its own subset of data. Maintenance people will look at information on how many hours has a motor run for, how many times has a valve opened and so on.”
The skill is in analysing the data and turning it into useful information. If you are faced with all the raw numbers available from a plant it can be hard to knit it together so the time periods match up – let alone work out what is going on
Richard Sturt, business development manager, Rockwell Automation
Lee Sullivan, regional manager at industrial software provider Copa-Data UK, says process manufacturers want their operations software to solve problems before they arise, rather than afterwards. “
Let’s say a machine is showing signs of failure,” he says. “Software should be able to use production data to identify this problem in advance, using predictive analysis. Then the manufacturer can make the necessary repairs to avoid any unexpected breakdown.”
The firm’s zenon automation software helps manufacturers control operations by monitoring machinery in real-time and identifying potential areas for improvement.
Preventative maintenance isn’t the only advantage of this approach. “There are also ways for manufacturers to use software to increase profits,” says Sullivan.
He says improving efficiency is one of the most effective ways to increase the profitability of a plant. “Using software like Zenon, manufacturers can quickly identify exactly where waste can be reduced.”
He says independent software such as zenon can be integrated into a selection of devices, useful when factories have plant from a range of decades and manufacturers.
This spring Emerson Automation Solutions launched the DeltaV version 14 control system [pictured]. James Fraser, director of sales and marketing for systems and solutions at the company, says the cyber security-certified system offers strategic capabilities to improve performance.
“The whole focus of DeltaV V14 is understanding that ‘easy matters’ and how automation and a distributed control system can make engineering, project execution, integration and operations easier,” he says.
DeltaV V14 is designed for process manufacturers across all sectors. Fraser says using the right automation technology can make a huge difference to performance.
“Data management remains a challenge. In the DCS world, pre-configured and standard control objects make data management easier. You can make one change and it goes everywhere.
“It’s easier to manage an entire plant without going through a complicated data mapping process to make that happen. With distributed control, this results in significant hours of savings spent integrating systems across the plant.”
Ease of access to data and analysis is one of the next challenges for providers. “Data needs to not only be collected, but also analysed to improve plant performance,” says Fraser.
“Mobile solutions enable real-time process values, diagnostics, trends and alarms from multiple sources to be monitored by relevant personnel from anywhere at any time. Monitoring operations in this way provides insight that enables faster and better-informed decisions. This can then lead to significant operational benefits, such as reduced unplanned downtime and optimised preventive maintenance tasks.”
Ask yourself: What do I want my plant to look like in five years’ time and is what I’m doing today helping me towards that goal or is it a short term fix?
Simon Keogh, general manager for factory automation, Siemens,
Simon Keogh, general manager for factory automation at Siemens, says visualisation of data is a critical challenge.
“It is becoming more scaleable, we can display something on a smart phone, a tablet or a 50-inch serverbased screen. The scaling is helping, reducing engineering. You want to use the data once and have common visualisation tools allowing people to see it in different circumstances.”
Sturt says long-term planning is the key to maximising the efficiency of a plant over time. “Ask yourself: What do I want my plant to look like in five years’ time and is what I’m doing today helping me towards that goal or is it a short term fix?” he says.
“The guys in control have a long term vision and build towards that with each project. If you have a short-term view you might end up with three different control systems for three lines if the purchasing department has just worked on cost.”
He says some manufacturers could double the output of their existing plant by sorting out issues that cause lines to stop or product to be binned.
“Some have sub 40% efficiency. At the other end it’s more like double that figure if they have their plants really under control.”