Digitalization refers to enabling or improving processes by leveraging digital technologies and making digitized data available when needed, where needed based on the context. Digitalization in Process Industries is achieved through Process Automation, cellular technology, artificial intelligence. Digitalization increases productivity, safety and efficiency while reducing costs. Digitalization improves existing processes but doesn’t change or transform them. With the present pandemic social distancing has become the new norm in the industry and hence every industry is in the process of digitization, as it minimizes the interaction between the plant personnel, increases the plant efficiency/productivity without compromising the safety.
Digital Transformation is business transformation enabled by digitalization. For example, shift from a manually locally operated process to software driven remotely monitored and controlled process. It involves IT/OT convergence. So, a production plan based on sales forecasting from ERP is fed to the Automation system, which does the production planning and execution at the plant level and feeds the production data back to ERP enabling raw material procurement and warehouse information, integrating the supply chain for greater efficiency and response. All information can be made available in portable handheld device being carried by field operator, thus minimizing coordination problems between the field and control room. With the advent in technology, the plant down time gets drastically reduced using Preventive/Proactive maintenance, as the plant personnel get greater insights to the various equipment’s and its efficiency.
While every industry is striving to transform their businesses through Digitalization, let’s see in which way the process is different for the “Emerging” process industries like F&B. Pharma, Specialty Chemicals and CPG. Let me explain why I am calling them “Emerging”.
The process industry can be broadly divided into three categories. Industries like Refining, Petrochemical, Power, Oil & Gas are large continuous processes. DCS were developed to cater to the automation needs of these industries. The systems have evolved over last 50 years with developments in technology. But primarily their focus areas of application have been large continuous process industries. A lot of standards, practices, literature, case studies in these industries are available. It is also worthwhile to note that highly experienced professionals related to these industries are available. These industries have high CAPEX and OPEX.
At the other end, industries like machinery, metal fabrication, electronics, electrical, automotive are discreet processes. PLCs were developed for automation of these processes. PLC’s with HMI/SCADA as human interface play a dominant role in their automation.
Between these two are the “Emerging” industries such as F&B, Pharma, Specialty Chemicals, CPG. They are called “Emerging” because their growth is exploding and their demand for Digitalization is overtaking other process industries. They had manually operated plants with no automation 20-25 years back. In last 20 years, many of them have grown into enterprises with multiple manufacturing locations and nationwide or global supply chains. With increase in the size of plants, complexity of processes, pressure from regulatory authorities, need to improve consistency in quality and productivity, these industries are heavily investing in automation. In last 5 years, the focus has turned to digitalization to reap the benefits of automation to make the organizations more agile.
Unfortunately, the automation systems available in the market and expertise to implement them have never looked seriously at these industries. DCS Systems though took advantage at these emerging industries initially, as additional business potential, the prohibitive cost of DCS systems became the bottleneck for many industries. Many features in the DCS such as HART, Foundation Fieldbus, Asset Management, Conformal coating, Hot Standby, Proprietary I/O buses and networks, Advanced control templates, SOE etc. make the DCS expensive without adding much value to the emerging process industry applications. The system delivery is through the manufacturers. It increases the dependability on them, and the life cycle costs. The cost of integration with third party systems, customization, upgradation due to obsolescence is usually high.
Similarly, PLC/ SCADA which were developed for the discreet manufacturing and supervision are open systems and flexible, but do not have templates for the standard operations and required too much customization, and the performance depended on the skills and effort of the application software developer. Lack of standardization make the systems difficult to maintain, particularly with the turnover of engineers that we see today.
The available DCS and PLC/ SCADA systems were employed to cater to the growing demand from the “Emerging” segments. In many cases they have been failures or met with only partial success. It was because of two reasons, first being unsuitability of the systems for the emerging industry applications and second limited domain knowledge and expertise about the applications by the consultants and the executioners.
Let’s try to analyze the requirements of Automation in Emerging Process Industries:
- Most of these industries have batch processes. Multiple products are manufactured with the same equipment. Due to continuous development, product formulations are frequently changed. The product recipes are confidential and are required to be closely guarded. They need good ISA S88 based Batch Management systems with flexible recipe management and batch-based reporting.
- It should have templates for common operations such as motors through intelligent MCC and VFDs, pneumatic and motorized on-off valves, raw material charging, different schemes for batch reactor temperature control, sequential control etc.
- It should have segment specific template libraries.
- The system must be with open architecture and flexible. The IT hardware – Workstations and Servers, operating systems and networking should be compatible with standard IT infrastructure without use of any proprietary components.
- Easy and cost-effective integration with third party automation systems on common ethernet protocols and OPC.
- Easy and cost-effective integration with intelligent MCC components, VFDs, Energy Management Systems, field instruments such as flowmeters, weighing systems on Ethernet and OPC.
- Easy connectivity with Batch, MES, ERP and IoT systems.
- The systems should have cyber security features integral with the system.
- Allow design and implementation by system integrators having the requisite domain knowledge and expertise in automation in these segments.
- Allows easy integration with mobile and wireless technologies.
Some automation manufacturers recognized this gap and developed New Generation DCS designed specifically for the emerging industries. They retain good features of the conventional DCS such as single database, tight integration and powerful diagnostics as well as the good features of the PLC/ SCADA systems such as flexibility, ease of use and openness. They provide the features listed above and make them ideal for use in the emerging process industries.
New Generation DCS and Open Automation Framework
Though the DCS vendors are taking advantage of the technology developments, still some amount of proprietary architecture with constraints regarding allowing third party software applications. Thus, depriving the end user to reap the full benefits of digitalization. They depend on the organic developments within their own organizations to adopt advanced concepts in digitalization such as analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, object orientation, service-oriented architectures etc. Due to such limitations of the systems, software applications written for one system cannot run on another system. End users are unable to improve their production processes and profitability at reasonable cost and have to heavily depend on the supplier of the systems they use.
The New Generation DCS operate from an open, as against a proprietary industrial framework. They are open to work with best in class third party digitalization vendors and thus create a competitive advantage for the end user very quickly. It allows the systems to take full benefits of the Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Artificial intelligence and Machine Learning algorithms can greatly improve the quality of operational processes. Prediction of equipment failures before they happen can reduce unplanned downtime. Real-time optimization of products based on raw-material spot prices and real-time optimization of production can be used to maximize the throughput. Industry analysts estimate that the new more flexible production techniques could boost manufacturer productivity by as much as 30%.
End-user organizations such as “Open Process Automation Forum” (OPAF) and “User Association of Automation Technology” (NAMUR) are advocating for changes to the existing proprietary automation system paradigm. To realize full benefits of the Open Automation Framework, the New Generation Automation Systems are adopting IEC 61499 standard. IEC 61499 defines a high-level system design language for distributed information and control systems. The standard allows encapsulation of functionality, graphical component-based design, event driven execution and distribution of automation applications for execution across a broad range of automation & control devices, as well as edge computing devices. Instead of remote I/O stations, smaller and modular localized controllers for individual units are recommended. For maintenance of such systems, it will allow replacement of individual controllers without shutting down the main automation system.
The scope of Digitalization extends much beyond the DCS selected for the core process. A typical process plant in the emerging segments consists of various specialized process equipment and utility equipment supplied by their OEM along with their own automation systems. For successful Digitalization, it is necessary to integrate these automation systems with the main DCS.
Conventional DCS manufacturers show some reluctance to these market demands as compared with the new generation DCS. This job should be entrusted to an experienced Automation Solution Provider having Alliance with a Global New Generation Automation System manufacturer. This will ensure that the chosen automation system is based on the latest technology, will be reliable, will be upgraded from time to time with developments in technology and supported by them. It will also help you in selecting the best-in-class sensors, transmitters, valves and other instrumentation required for the Digitalization project.
Following are some tips for getting the most out of your Digitalization project:
- At the concept stage, your planning must include the entire scope of Digitalization, starting with raw material tanks, process equipment, intermediate and finished products tanks, utilities, filling machines, robotics, OEM equipment, Intelligent MCC, Energy Management systems, Batch, MES, ERP Integration. If there are budget constraints, implementation could be done in a phased manner.
- Needless to say, that the core automation system should be a new Generation DCS. The sizing of the DCS should be done keeping in mind the third-party systems to be connected – number of devices and the data to be handled. All communication with third party systems should be on Ethernet. The DCS should have adequate I/O scanning capacity with at least 50% spare.
- A plantwide Fibre optic Ethernet ring works out to be cost-effective, reliable and fast. For the process I/O you may consider remote I/O stations on Ethernet; RIO stations with about 100 I/O each distributed throughout the plant.
- Intelligent MCC and VFDs must be on Ethernet for fast and efficient motor operation.
- Intelligent field instruments such as load-cell based weighing systems, mass flow meters etc. should be connected to the DCS on Ethernet.
- A separate Energy monitoring system connecting the energy meters and intelligent breakers is recommended. The energy data required for energy reporting should be exported to the DCS through OPC. This will reduce the load on the DCS for scanning large number of energy meters.
- The Automation System (DCS) package should include the Intelligent MCC, VFD and Energy monitoring system and the automation vendor should be responsible for the integration and successful implementation.
- ISA S88 based batch management system, MES and integration with ERP should be considered in the road map. You will need them to transform your business. When smart phones were introduced, many people felt that they did not need them. Five years down the line, you cannot live without them.
- Many processes have exothermic reactions and can turn into a catastrophe if not adequately safeguarded. In recent years, there have been many such incidents. There is a rising trend to use the Safety PLC systems based on IEC-61508 as Emergency shutdown systems over and above the normal automation systems. For hazardous processes, safety PLC systems that can be easily integrated with the DCS should be considered.
- The emerging industries usually do not have experienced automation professionals in their project teams. The decisions are taken by the Project Managers who are not having automation background. They find it convenient and safe to offload the automation package to one of the large Automation system manufacturers. The automation package consists of many items and services beyond the scope of a single automation vendor. Success of the projects depends on successful integration of various components and services. Therefore, only system integrators having requisite domain expertise as well as system integration expertise should be considered for execution. This practice is followed in the advanced countries like USA and Europe.
- End products of Pharma, F&B and CPG are for direct human consumption and hence subject to strict regulatory compliances. Features such as User management, Audit Trails, compliance with 21CFR11 etc. help in meeting the regulatory requirements and should be available in the selected system.
- The selected system must have advanced cyber security features integral with the system. The firewall and other security features must be a part of the system architecture.
Following is an example of an Automation system consisting of many features mentioned above. It was implemented in 2019 for a large Decorative Paint manufacturing plant in India. The system architecture is shown below. The machines shown in the architecture are actual number of machines used. Such large systems are virtualized these days.
The system consists of the New Generation DCS “EcoStruxure Process Expert” from Schneider Electric with 2 no. Operation Servers, 1 no. Engineering Server, 8 nos. Operating Stations, 2 sets of M-580 Hot Standby Process Automation Controllers. 55 nos. remote I/O stations, 8 nos. Intelligent MCC panels with 150 Tesys T intelligent relays and 43 Altivar VFDs are connected on an Ethernet ring network. Third party PLCs for OEM systems – Zeppelin Pneumatic Conveying system, Oliver Y Battle Mixers, Ystral Mixers, Devree Bulk Filling Machines, Cadetronics Retail Filling Machines, ABB Robots, Godrej Z Conveyor and ASRS system, have been integrated with the DCS on with Modbus TCP/IP, Ethernet I/P and Profinet. Schneider Electric Multifunction meters in Electrical panels have been connected to “Power Monitoring Expert” (PME) software for Energy management. Relevant energy data has been provided in the DCS and Batch through OPC DA. About 75 nos. Load-cell based weighing systems and 60 nos. mass flowmeters have been connected to the system through Ethernet I/P and Profinet respectively. The system has approx. 15,000 I/O. Archiving of critical data and customized reports have been provided through the Historian. Wonderware InBatch has been used to provide advanced ISA S88 based Batch Management. The system has on-line interface with the customer’s SAP system. Process orders are received from the SAP, scheduled in the InBatch, and executed in the DCS as per the recipes. On-line batch and process data is transferred to the SAP phase by phase. At the end of a batch comprehensive batch reports are automatically generated. The system will be shortly upgraded with MES to improve its analytical capabilities. A 64” display is provided in the control room to show the dashboards with critical operating parameters.
Automation requirements of the emerging process industries are different from the continuous and discreet process industries. They need new generation DCS to meet their automation requirements. The basic automation system or the DCS is only a part of the total scope of Digitalization. Integration with the third-party automation systems for process and utility equipment, intelligent MCC, Energy monitoring system, intelligent field instruments, Batch management, MES, ERP must be taken into consideration at the design stage. The job of design and implementation must be entrusted with an experienced Automation Solution Provider and not the automation system manufacturer. Digitalization is not an option it is the survival strategy.