How to select a process control system
The process control system (PCS) ties all the automation elements of a process manufacturing unit together and affects every aspect of operations. As the brain and central nervous system of a facility, its performance level and quality is crucial to keep operations running smoothly.
As new technology is introduced in the automation and control industry, now is the perfect time for manufacturers to modernize a process control system (PCS) platform to improve efficiency and operational performance. They can innovate—not duplicate—the functionality of the existing legacy infrastructure. However, manufacturers must carefully select the PCS and a third-party vendor who understands their specific platform requirements that can optimize and upgrade their facility.
Factors for choosing a PCS
First, it is necessary to weigh all system infrastructure options. Making an educated decision will have a positive impact on the facility’s ability to produce effectively and profitably. The operators will find the system easy to use and there will be room to improve and optimize the process. A bad decision, however, can lead to results in the opposite direction.
The assigned project team, which may include outside consultants, should know the challenges inherent in the decision-making process. They must plan early and set a positive course, steering clear of subjective or emotional views based on past experiences and focus on delivering the best strategy. Tools and methods exist to help shed more objective light on these types of projects so groups can make more informed decisions. Teams can then decide based on the facility’s specific needs and process, while considering the three following critical factors:
- To begin, the team should review what the company makes and how these products are produced.
- Next, they should specify the elements, or critical to quality (CTQ) parameters, which have the greatest effect on quality and efficiency. Key stakeholders—operators, process engineers, maintenance, production management, and others—involved in the automation project must help determine the CTQ list. One of the first questions stakeholders should ask is what makes a day successful from an operational standpoint, and where does the the PCS fit? The list of CTQ elements should be arranged and categorized with the most important element at the top (Table 1). This approach helps sort the strengths and weaknesses of each PCS.
- Once the CTQ elements are listed, the next step is to rank each vendor on its ability to meet each requirement. All items listed will need to be considered for its performance now and going forward— vendors must be flexible to deal with emerging technology trends. For example, some systems transitioned from proprietary platforms to Microsoft Windows, or serial networks to Ethernet, more easily than others. Such track records can be useful to predict how a vendor will respond to new waves of technology.
A strong, experienced vendor selection team can generally compile a good list of CTQs, but most may still miss a variety of critical items.
Few people working in a process manufacturing facility for any length of time will have participated in more than one major PCS installation or migration project. It’s not an easy task because these happen so infrequently. In addition, a PCS vendor may lack experience with some of the project’s site-specific elements.
In these instances, a platform-independent automation partner with a track record of executing successful PCS installation and migration projects is invaluable. They typically have specialists who have worked with the main vendors being considered and also can bring objectivity to the team. The partners work with key stakeholders to help outline the CTQ elements and then objectively rate the respective vendors. They also can help with the request for proposal (RFP) process, which is often complex.
A PCS installation or migration project is a major investment. It requires an enormous amount of work and the risks are high. A poor decision will remain with a facility for several years or could require great expense to fix. Choose wisely when selecting the next PCS platform and consider the experienced people who will help ensure the project is successful in terms of budget, schedule, and performance.
Lynn Njaa is a senior consultant for Maverick Technologies’ DCSNext. Lynn leads team efforts to provide consulting and other front-end engineering services. Maverick Technologies is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Emily Guenther, associate content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, firstname.lastname@example.org.
KEYWORDS: process control system (PCS)
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