To drive efficiencies, manufacturers are always pushing themselves and their machines harder to boost output and improve productivity. Implementing up-to-date plant automation system digital solutions is a proven way to support these goals and achieve growth and higher profitability. However, in industries where hybrid automation system environments are required (systems that address both the process and discrete steps of a manufacturing operation), a lack of information on selection of proper components often drives up costs unnecessarily and leaves end users with a less-than optimized system.
A careful review of typical Distributed Control System (DCS) and hybrid DCS requests for quotations (RFQs) reveal included features that add cost to the digital solutions but that add little to no value to the end user. For instance, some consultants include products and features in their proposals that were originally designed to meet the requirements of refining, petrochemical, and heavy chemical industries. However, for industries like specialty chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food & beverage, paints, resins, inks, adhesives, polymers, and flavors & fragrances, where hybrid processes are common, such features are unnecessary to assure smooth operations.
Three Ways to Cut Unnecessary Industrial Automation System Components in Digital Solutions
When we at Supertech, an automation systems integrator, certified Schneider Electric Schneider Electric Alliance Partner and EcoXpert, and energy solution provider, meet with manufacturers who run hybrid processes, we help them avoid paying for automation components in digital solutions they don’t need. When selecting industrial automation system components that support hybrid manufacturing environments, be cautious in these three areas:
- Avoid unnecessary redundancies – In some cases, particularly in environments where risk analysis has been performed and the level of hardware component reliability is high, the chances that automation system components will fail due to a manufacturing defect are low. In such environments, some batch processes can be intermittently stopped and resumed without much of an issue. Advanced level diagnostics also ensure that systems can be restored within a short period of time if the critical spares are available. In such environments, paying for additional redundancies may not be essential.
- Opt for more open communication systems – Some legacy DCS manufacturers provide proprietary buses instead of cost-effective, open, and high-speed Ethernet for communication between the CPU and the system I/O. Industrial automation platforms that are more open allow end users to modernize and integrate more easily. By prioritizing Ethernet I/O, end users can avoid higher integration costs when modernization and upgrades are needed in the future.
- Verify whether G3 conformal coating is needed – Many RFQs specify automation system components that conform to G3 level of ISA Conformal Coating Standard 71.04. In pharmaceuticals, food & beverage, and performance chemicals industries, some control rooms and plant environments are exceptionally clean. If that is the case, the G3 level coating may not be required. Therefore, the possibility exists that overall costs and component delivery lead times can be reduced.
If these features are specified by a consultant who is managing an end user’s RFQ, end users should push back. By requiring an explanation for their inclusion and removing them if not relevant, you can save cost and avoid added complexity.
Desirable Options that Bolster Hybrid Process Performance
As end user stakeholders work through the automation system component selection process, look at functions that can significantly enrich the performance of the new system in the hybrid manufacturing environment. For example, a system with template libraries that are industry-segment specific for batch process operations will help engineers to speed-up application development. Insisting on either Ethernet I/P, Modbus TCP/IP, or OPC UA protocol support for third-party communication to devices (i.e., tank weighing systems, mass flowmeters, variable frequency drives (VFDs), Intelligent motor starters, and PLCs) will simplify commissioning and allow for more seamless operations.