Process Automation Systems

Process automation systems (PASs) are big-ticket items. Whether they are part of new plant construction, an upgrade to an existing facility, or a long-planned plant expansion, deciding how to choose and implement them takes time, money, and plenty of control expertise. They can be implemented in-house, through a system integrator, and/or in conjunction with a PAS supplier.


Process automation systems (PASs) are big-ticket items. Whether they are part of new plant construction, an upgrade to an existing facility, or a long-planned plant expansion, deciding how to choose and implement them takes time, money, and plenty of control expertise.

They can be implemented in-house, through a system integrator, and/or in conjunction with a PAS supplier. Along with high price comes high-return expectations on the part of companies and control engineers. Perhaps ironically, some respondents indicate they're not getting the most from some PAS features because of too-few onsite personnel.

According to the March 2006 on-line survey conducted by Control Engineering magazine and Reed Corporate Research, existing PASs varied widely in age and capability. For this survey, a PAS was defined as a control system most frequently applied in process applications and traditionally referred to as a distributed control system (DCS), hybrid control system, and/or open-control system. To qualify as a PAS, systems should include an integrated engineering platform, operator interface, controller, network communication, and I/O subsystem. Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) may be part of the system but, by themselves, were not considered a PAS.

When asked the age of the newest PAS on site , 90% of respondents said it was less than 6-years old. In 7% of the plants, however, the newest PAS was 6-12 years old. The remainder of respondents (1% in each case) reported their systems to be 13-19 years old and 20 years old or more. Considering the time and cost to replace an existing PAS that is "doing the job," this result is not unexpected.

When asked the age of the oldest PAS on site , less than 6-years old accounted for 26% of responses; 6-12 years, 27%; 13-19 years, 26%; and over 20 years old, 21%. Because PASs are not easily replaced or updated even when newer systems become available, it seems logical that older systems would remain in place until plants are decommissioned.

Not so, says Steve Ludwig, Rockwell Automation programs manager: "Rockwell Automation sees an increase in the number of process control systems being updated or replaced altogether. As the cost of supporting aging systems increases and dated functionality reduces competitive standing, end-users look for ways to reduce cost and improve productivity, quality, and agility. The real and opportunity costs of these outmoded systems eventually outweigh the cost of replacement or upgrade," Ludwig says.

Process Control

Respondents at newer plants rate the appropriateness of PAS features and capabilities as “excellent” about twice as often as plants of average age. Perhaps ironically, too-few onsite staff is seen as the main reason for underutilization of PAS features and capabilities.

Availability of updated, standardized communications improves interoperability. Operational standards such as ISA-88 for batch controls (and other automation) improve productivity and reduce cost. Additionally, current technology is less costly to maintain and support, while improving system availability. Newer systems do not carry costs often associated with older systems. Functionality of current systems meets customer requirements with less cost than in years past. "Modern systems also expand beyond process into other control disciplines, further reducing cost and downtime while improving productivity," Lugwig adds.

Right features, capabilities

New PASs rate high for appropriateness on features and capabilities. Ninety-three percent of respondents rated their plant's system excellent or good. Older systems scored only 57% in the combined excellent/good rating for appropriateness of features and capabilities. In the middle ground, the average system on site got "good grades" from users, with 79% rating features and capabilities appropriate vs. 21% rating them inappropriate. As control providers have gained expertise in specific manufacturing sectors, they have leveraged experience (and knowledge of the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule) to craft solutions well suited for industries they serve. Knowing that, PAS developers have honed in on features and give control engineers what they need, while avoiding those that are simply "nice to have."

Another reason for an increase in feature appropriateness and capabilities of newer systems, according to Todd Stauffer, PAS marketing manager for Siemens Energy and Automation, is that, around 1998-2000, many systems went to a more open, Microsoft Windows-based format, coinciding with the survey's jump to 93% satisfaction for the newest systems—those less that 6 years old. As Stauffer puts it, "Once operators got through the newer system's learning curve, they found they could easily tap into all system possibilities."

Use of dedicated teams in marketing and product development—experts on specific industries and products—also help provide appropriate PAS features and capabilities. Peter Zornio, global director of product marketing for Honeywell Process Solutions, notes that Honeywell uses this strategy in crafting its offerings: "Many of these experts have previous experience working in the product area or industry they represent. In addition, they received constant feedback from customers and our own projects group. Our global project operations group works with customers daily to understand their requirements and implement their systems," Zornio adds.

Other ways that companies get to know what customers want is through users groups or vendor forums. Held one or more times a year, these gatherings bring a broad array of users together to discuss topics affecting in-plant problems related to process automation systems. Stauffer credits these meetings as invaluable tools in helping Siemens' customers and systems designers address technical and cultural concerns. Many companies, including Siemens, also hold separate smaller group sessions, often on process-specific topics, such as safety systems, alarm management, and migration concerns.

Use what you have?

To be complete, PAS providers sometimes err on the side of too much capability. If a system is to be tailored to a user's needs, it must be scalable and able to handle a variety of automation and, often, business-related functions. So, are process automation systems giving users what they need?

According to survey results, plant utilization of PASs features and capabilities varied with system age. For the average system, only 17% of respondents reported using more than 75% of their systems' features and capabilities. This figure improves to 25% for the newest system on site.

The survey also provides insight into the reasons for underutilization of PAS capabilities. Suppliers bear some responsibility for under-use, but are not entirely the cause. When reporting why they were using less than 75% of current PAS capabilities, 37% of respondents cited insufficient on-site staff. Some reasons for under-use relate to PAS suppliers. These include features and capabilities inappropriate for the process (32%), too difficult to implement (9%), or too difficult to maintain once implemented (11%). Eleven percent cited other reasons for underutilization.

These survey results reflect the reasons for Invensys' recent introduction of its latest enterprise control system—ease-of-engineering, maintainability of solutions, and ease-of-use—says Grant Le Sueur, InFusion enterprise control system product manager at Invensys Process Systems. According to Le Sueur, two other issues contribute to PAS system underutilization: redundant functionality and lack of user awareness.

"Often functions supplied in the PAS are duplicated by other systems, such as plant information systems (PIMS), and in these cases there is far greater motivation to implement process reports and data analysis at the PIMS layer instead of at the PAS. Additionally, because a PAS often includes myriad functions and due to training course design and/or time and money constraints, users typically only receive training on core PAS components. Individual engineers must explore the latent functionality on their own time, which is often in short supply," Le Sueur explains.

When it comes to overall system reliability, survey respondents gave high marks to the progress made. Based on an 82% positive response (net for excellent/good replies) for new systems on site vs. 55% positive response for the oldest systems on site, progress has been dramatic. Reinforcing this trend, survey respondents said only 18% of the newest systems rated a net fair/poor rating. Older systems, however, rated a fair/poor rating from 45% of those surveyed, a very positive sign for PAS suppliers.

According to Sath Rao, industry manager for Frost & Sullivan, the uptrend in reliability should be expected. "Technology advances certainly account for improvements in reliability. PASs are more robust and investments by operating system vendors and automation suppliers in designing, testing, and maintaining good field practices have helped improve reliability. The real impact has been in the soft side of things," Rao says.

Alarms, diagnostics

Among soft side initiatives is the pioneering investment of time and effort by leading control companies and universities in the Abnormal Situation Management (ASM) Consortium, an organization concerned with negative effects of industrial plant incidents. The ASM Consortium has developed several steps to help prevent these incidents. Automation companies and designers now realize that a better-designed alarm management system will ensure better alarm handling and prevent false trips.

Control companies have also shown vision by investing in fieldbus technologies and diagnostics that are helping to improve process reliability. Field diagnostics and accurate final control element monitoring have proven key in these situations. Industry has also realized that operator training, process improvement teams, process optimization, and technology investments are all important. "Reliability and uptime are key mantras to impacting the bottom line," Rao contends. Simply put, PAS vendors are giving the customer what they pay for.

Process automation system products

For more manufacturers, visit . For systems integrators, visit . Also visit company Websites listed.

Full control, info range


Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture addresses a full range of control and information needs for discrete, process, batch, motion, drive systems, and safety applications. Emphasizing third-party connectivity, interoperability, and use of open industry standards, it reportedly provides seamless information integration with the rest of the site or enterprise.

While ladder, function block, sequential function chart, and structured text programming languages are available, Integrated Architecture now embeds PhaseManager, an ISA S88-compliant execution method, into all Logix family controllers.

This tool is said to simplify application development. Capablitites also include flexibility to dynamically change the production process to accommodate multiple products or recipes.

Integrated Architecture also can manage operations monitoring and batch execution event and information logging to reduce downtime and provide historical information for genealogy tracking and regulatory compliance. Rockwell Automation


Beyond DCS

Siemens has gone beyond the current standard of DCS and has included several new offerings in its configuration for new users looking to upgrade or migrate from older systems. Simatic PCS 7, said to be a high-performance automation system, encompasses a host of solutions for life cycle cost improvements. An integrated safety system, reportedly scalable and flexible, provides embedded safety life cycle tools to assist companies in meeting industrial safety standards, such as ANS/ISA S84-2004. Siemens Energy & Automation

Turning resources into results

I/O Modules

According to its developer, Honeywell's Experion Process Knowledge System extends past the standard DCS, which only controls the process, to wider management by unifying assets, processes, and people to improve business agility. Said to be open, yet completely secure, Experion is built to scale and helps manage everything from optimized yield to reduced maintenance costs. The 2005 release, Experion R300, introduced the Series C optionally redundant process I/O family. Key features include a seamless platform for integrating all process control and safety systems (including non-Honeywell systems) and automation software under a unified architecture with extensive applications to capture and share process knowledge for better decision-making and improved business performance. It is backward-compatible to previous Honeywell systems and interfaces with FOUNDATION fieldbus, HART, Profibus, DeviceNet, LON, ControlNet, and Interbus. Honeywell Inc.

Reduce installation, lifecycle costs


DeltaV v. 8.3, a key component of its developer's PlantWeb digital plant architecture, now includes Zone 1 and 2 remote I/O modules, and an energy limiting single-port fiber-optic switch for use in Zone 1 areas. Remote I/O has been designed to reduce life cycle costs, and the switch permits use of fiberoptic cable in Zone 1 areas without protective sheathing, reducing installation costs. Said to drive down customers' total life cycle costs via easy installation and maintenance, its I/O modules are "plug and play," requiring no dip-switch settings or other user configuration. I/O modules can connect with different controllers on the control network. Zone 2 remote I/O scanner addresses up to eight discrete or analog I/O cards that can be targeted to one of four controllers for added flexibility. Zone 1 scanner works with up to four new intrinsically safe I/O cards that have inputs and outputs on each card. New fiber-optic switch limits the energy in system cabling so it can be run without added protection. Emerson Process Management

Targeting motion apps

Motors, Devices & Motion Control

VersaMax Micro 64 reportedly provides a flexible and scalable automation solution with a wide range of I/O expansion modules and communications options. GE Fanuc says it is ideal for packaging, assembly, and SCADA applications that require performance at an affordable price. Integration add-ons include multiple operator interfaces and motion solutions. Its common software programming and tag database for the operator interface and controller shortens engineering development time and simplifies overall system troubleshooting. For motion applications, the unit supports four 65 kHz pulse train/PWM outputs and can be adapted to GE Fanuc's line of PowerCube stepper amplifiers and motors or S2K servo controllers. Micro 64's high-speed counter supports four 100 kHz type-A counters or one type-B counter for precise motion positioning plus a memory module connectable to the controller to download the latest program changes without the need for a PC. GE Fanuc Automation

Enhanced efficiency, reach

Process Control

Major functional enhancements have been added to ABB's Industrial IT Extended Automation System 800xA. Extensions include a flexible and scalable safety instrumented system for reduced risk to personnel, equipment, and environment; Manufacturing Management to improve batch production efficiency, Real-Time Production Intelligence for monitoring and improving overall equipment efficiency, and a variety of other engineering and device management tools and enhancements. Additional extensions/tools include Process Engineering Tools Integration that works with select databases to provide reuse of resident plant information, such as instrumentation, I/O configurations; wire lists and PID drawings; and a new condensed software package that handles field engineering, commissioning, and maintenance with capabilities. ABB

Control with a unified view

New InFusion "enterprise control system" (ECS) reportedly provides cost-effective integration of plant and enterprise into a unified real-time control and information environment. According to Invensys, this is done without the need for costly, difficult-to-maintain point-to-point integration solutions. The new system allows process manufacturers to preserve and extend the useful life of their installed automation and information assets, while linking plant and enterprise systems to more effectively align operations and maintenance departments with the business function to optimize overall asset performance. InFusion ECS' capability includes interoperability across existing plant-floor systems, subsystems, and intelligent field devices—regardless of vendor or protocol. It provides low-cost, standards-based information interoperability among plant floor, MES, and enterprise systems with a unified view across operations and maintenance domains. Invensys Process Systems

Asset management added

VigilantPlant suite of new solutions work together to help customers achieve plant-wide collaboration for maximum asset availability and utilization. According to Yokogawa Electric, the system will help sustain profitable business growth of the process. Working with Centum CS 3000 RS control system, VigilantPlant technologies address asset reliability, availability, predictability, and performance, allowing customers to set the foundation for very high reliability and enhanced system maintainability, the company says, while adding foresight to on-line monitoring and predictive diagnosis and ensuring continuous performance improvements over the life cycle of a plant. Yokogawa Electric Corp.

Reliable, high capability control


Process control solution is based on Mitsubishi's Q Series automation platform, said to combines sophisticated process control capabilities with extensive networking, hybrid control, and software engineering and monitoring tools. Hardware platform includes high-speed loop processing combined with hot-back-up options as well as hot swappable I/O points for zero downtime. Additionally, its multi-CPU capability provides a flexible hybrid approach by allowing integration of sequence, motion, and PC-based control with the process on the same hardware platform. PX Developer engineering tools provide an IEC-compliant, function block-based drag-and-drop programming environment. MC-Worx SCADA system provides front-end supervisory capability essential in most process applications. Mitsubishi Electric Automaton

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