Digital networks permit global integration, asset optimization

Baytown, Tex. - Digital industrial network proponents in Singapore showed how to easily troubleshoot and change setpoints for process equipment in Texas.

By Mark T. Hoske, editor-in-chief December 6, 2001

Baytown, Tex. Digital industrial network proponents in Singapore showed how to easily troubleshoot and change setpoints for process equipment in Texas. As ‘whiz-bang’ as that was, the larger news, said enthusiasts on both continents, remains how digital networks enable business advantages through asset optimization. Taking a life-cycle, big-picture view adds to traditionally emphasized benefits of lower wiring costs with a digital network, according to end-users, educators, manufacturers, and network organization representatives.

Fieldbus Foundation (FF, Austin, Tex.) Press Day 2001, held at Lee College in Baytown, Tex., Dec. 4, also touted the previously reported $1.8 million U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for the Center for Digital and Fieldbus Education .

The event hosted representatives of technology and local media and featured a live Internet/video link between Lee College and Singapore Polytechnic to demonstrate integration and global connectivity enabled by a FOUNDATION fieldbus industrial network. Each institution features pilot plants contributed largely by a long list of process industry instrumentation manufacturers. The demos were repeated for the Fieldbus Foundation U.S. End-User Council’s Dec. 5 meeting.

Moving away from proprietary automation systems and networks, to a single, open, and integrated fieldbus architecture helps plant optimization by integrating sensors, devices, subsystems, data servers, and application software packages. That integration helps provide real-time information to optimize local conditions to business needs, which may differ from optimal performance for a particular line, suggests FF’s president, Richard J. Timoney.

Representatives from Lee College, Singapore Polytechnic, ExxonMobil, and Shell also praised industries, end-users, and equipment manufacturers, in their support for the technology center under construction. The Baytown, Tex., effort has garnered $4.1 million of more-than matching funds to the $1.8 million NSF grant, along with many hours of on-site help. Considerable concentration of petrochemical plants in the area have augmented their training, often favoring programs available at Lee College, say representatives.

Mr. Timoney said, ‘Today, the need for optimization is driven by increasing pressure to improve product quality, reduce costs, decrease downtime, improve safety, and shorten time-to-market. FOUNDATION fieldbus supports optimization by enabling manufacturers to reduce the number of different networks, gateways and systems in the plant, while at the same time increasing price, performance, and information integration of field devices, automation systems and management information systems.’

‘FOUNDATION fieldbus’ High-Speed Ethernet (HSE) backbone allows data to be transmitted via the Internet to remote locations where operators can view the process directly from their web browsers. Control information can also be retrieved from the network and supplied to enterprise resource planning (ERP) and management systems.’ Mr. Timoney says this enabling technology allows plant operators and engineers at facilities in different countries to share production data, and assist with start-ups, maintenance shutdowns, and other plant situations.

Lee College’s pilot plant facility shows FF H1 fieldbus instrumentation, HSE/H1 linking devices, and recently developed HSE field devices, as well as HART, and soon-to-be-installed Profibus PA. FF’s David A. Glanzer, director of technology development, also discussed how FF’s Flexible Function Blocks on H1 protocol (for discrete I/O) allow programming in IEC 61131 languages, and the structure of FF’s HSE (for PLCs and beyond).

End-users like advantages

Herman E. Storey, advisor, automation engineering for Shell (Houston, Tex.), says present evaluations include analysis of lifecycle cost of ownership. ‘We have a lot of nonstrategic buses that we make use of. They have a lower overhead, but cost more to support. Now we’ve moved to one strategic bus, Fieldbus Foundation, for an open, function-rich automation environment, with high- and low-speed versions.’

Mr. Storey says, ‘Interoperability is a big deal for us,’ so that things work together on the network, out of the box, without custom integration. Shell’s seeking to configure, link, and execute function blocks on open system from multiple vendors, for engineering configuration, programming, operations, and maintenance. ‘ We want devices and tools that have better integration than legacy systems. There’s more stuff to deal with today. Automation demands a lot of things. It is a strategic technology for us.’ Fieldbus Foundation protocols, he says, are the ‘enabling tool for asset management,’ one that will ‘dominate’ distributed control systems of the future.

Interestingly, the politics and economics are the largest issues facing Mr. Storey today. ‘We can work through technology, fitting it in with legacy installed base. The question is how retrain and deal with changes, while we reorganize the company once or twice a year. Historically, there’s a lot of inertia to keep doing what we have been doing previously, like the hesitancy of switching from pneumatics to electronics. We’ve created internal support organizations in Houston and Amsterdam to help support changes.’

More training, including centers like Lee College, will help engineers and technicians gain experience in the new technologies. These technology changes can be challenging for technicians, Mr. Storey says; ‘it’s more system-type work how to sit at a console and do things they used to do with a screwdriver.’

The asset management piece was the justification, Mr. Storey says. ‘We’re building up processes and procedure documentation, showing benefits for asset management. Just like advanced diagnostics is taking time to roll out from the labs, we believe the savings are there with asset management, and we’re going for it.’

Steve Ames, process training coordinator, Baytown Area Training Organization, ExxonMobil Chemical Co. (Baytown, Tex.), forecasts a 40-60% attrition rate in his organization over the next 10 to 15 years, requiring an increased rate of training for young people. ‘We need to be getting out to grade schools and junior high students. Nobody’s heard of technology, instrumentation, and manufacturing as a career.’ In addition seasoned professionals are seeking added training to stay on top of new technologies. Mr. Ames is working with those in business and education in the recently created Instrumentation & Control Technology Alliance to create consensus on at least 80% of the core courses on these topics at various institutions.

Educational benefits are clear: reduced cost of interviewing candidates, less basic skills training, less time for new employee certification, and fewer safety problems. ‘Having new hires go through the education program at Lee College reduced their safety incidences by 40%,’ Mr. Ames says.

Educators offer perspectives

Chuck Carter, Lee College director, Center for Digital and Fieldbus Technological Education, and instrumentation instructor, was among several educators offering perspectives. He says the pilot plant offers younger students a chance to prove themselves in a realistic setting, complete with a control room, and field conditions, such as mosquitoes, heat, humidity, and heights climbing a small distiller column. Safety and troubleshooting are also emphasized; new students can take a while to notice a transmitter disconnected, an electrical box open, or pump unbolted from the line. More than 1,000 in multiple disciplines such as welding and emergency medical technology have been exposed to the pilot plant, with about 100 having worked on it directly, he estimated.

Mr. Carter, a 20-year veteran with Bayer Corp. (Pittsburgh, Pa.), says he recently had four graduate engineers with considerable field experience themselves, in a class, helping to configure and hang devices. ‘They were eating this up.’

Lee College’s pilot installation isn’t quite typical. For instance, one line stacks three, soon-to-be four transmitters. These donated devices and related software offer a side-by-side look at various digital networks, Mr. Carter says, which people are interested in seeing. Additional donations, such as analyzers are on the way; more are welcome, he adds quickly, including software, and other devices.

As the pilot plant and new center at Lee College grow, it remains to be seen, he says, if more IT people will gain knowledge in the advanced areas of instrumentation and control, or if instrumentation and maintenance people will step up. It may depend on who’s most interested within various plants, Mr. Carter admits. Lee College training includes credit and non-credit courses, offered in flexible modules, at a variety of times, with on-site and remote-site access, he says.

Lee College’s present offerings include Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees in 25 technical areas, including Process Technology and Instrument Technology, Management-Tech Prep, and Electrical Technology, Computer Maintenance Technology-Tech Prep, Computer Programming, and Business Management-Tech Prep. AAS degrees require 60 to 74 college credits, or the equivalent of about two full years of college work.

Fieldbus Foundation’s Mr. Timoney, in closing, offered thanks to FF members, educators, students, and to Bill Tatum, Smar International fieldbus project manager located in Davidson, N.C., and James O. Gray, Invensys Automation director, I/A Series Product Marketing (Foxboro, Mass.), for helping with the program.

For more on industrial networks at Control Engineering Online at , use the search functions, subscribe to e-newsletters, see technology webcasts, and reference Fieldbus Foundation at , Lee College at , and Singapore Polytechnic for other partners and supporters.