DCS platforms: Control systems get small for broader applications

Sophisticated DCS control availability growing for wider range of potential users.
By Control Engineering Staff May 7, 2008

Think small. That’s becoming the message from some large DCS suppliers in an effort to reach smaller-scale users and to assist in lab and pilot plant developments. The bottom line: More companies can benefit from big DCS capabilities without the matching price tag.

Small scale DCS platforms have a two-pronged purpose:

First, provide the type of control that was only available from large and expensive systems to companies that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it; for example, small batch process units common to food processing, brewing, or pharmaceutical manufacturing. A mini-DCS can provide an alternative to PLC systems that may not offer the same sophisticated control possibilities.

Second, provide a pilot plant or lab-scale system that process developers can use in the design phase. This allows the engineers to create a process using the same control techniques that will apply when the system is scaled-up to full production levels. Using the same platform at both stages allows all intellectual property developed early on to be reused, reducing the need to redesign the control architecture. The new process can be configured at the earliest phases to operate as it will in full production. This assumes that the supplier who builds your full-scale system also builds the mini version, or at least something close.

This type of approach is particularly useful in industries where products are constantly under development, which can run from the gamut from food processing to pharmaceuticals.

Todd Stauffer, who oversees marketing of Siemens’ PCS7 Box and Lab small-scale platforms explains how the savings are realized. “The idea of developing a product as if it’s going to go on a DCS as part of the experiments helps retain the configuration of the process—the software, the hardware, the I/O modules, all those things can be the same as would be used in manufacturing. You can preserve the lessons learned. You don’t have to reconfigure everything. You don’t have to learn how the process truly works over again. It makes the scale-up go much quicker, much easier.”

If you are finding PLC based systems just don’t have what you want for your process, you should investigate the mini DCS platforms now available and take advantage of more sophisticated control possibilities.

—Peter Welander, process industries editor, PWelander@cfemedia.com ,
Process & Advanced Control Monthly
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