Opinion: Advanced control schemes aren’t just for big guys

By Control Engineering Staff February 7, 2007

Recently, I moderated a Webcast sponsored by Honeywell Process Solutions on model predictive control (MPC). The interaction that makes those Webcasts the most interesting to me is the question-and-answer session after the scripted part. Believe it or not, most of those questions are real (at least they are on the Webcasts I’ve done) once you get past the one or two we plant to get the pump primed.

There were two areas of particular interest where we received multiple questions on the same topics:

MPC is great for an oil refinery, but is it suitable and cost-effective for a smaller plant?

And, I’d like to consider MPC, but will I have to replace all my instrumentation?

The first question opened some interesting discussion. Don Morrison from HPS said that the technology is indeed very scalable. There are systems as small as 1 input and 1 output all the way to refinery size. Dave Woll from ARC Advisory Group observed that prices for these systems changed significantly about three years ago, when system suppliers adjusted their schemes across the board to create licensing agreements that would provide closer correlation of value and price, making the technology much more viable for smaller production units. He noted that change applied to most system suppliers, not just Honeywell. The result of these revisions has been growing adoption of MPC in mining & minerals, food processing, pulp & paper and other areas outside of petrochem plants.

The second question about instrumentation also got people thinking. Don commented that reliability was more important than sophistication. As long as an instrument could provide an accurate, clean, and reliable signal, it didn’t matter how old it was or if it was smart. Poorly performing instrumentation will result in a poorly performing process. Dave hit the nail on the head when he said that instruments are the building blocks of control, and that in his experience adopting more sophisticated process control methodologies forces companies to have their regulatory layer in order.

Webcasts like this one can provide useful information, and an opportunity to interact with industry experts. If you can’t participate with the live broadcast, you can go back and hear the discussion by listening to the recording on our Website. If you’re interested in hearing the complete MPC Webcast, click here .

Control Engineering Daily Daily News Desk
Peter Welander
, process industries editor