Toward simpler and faster control system implementations

Control system hardware and architectures will look much different going forward: Less customized, more automated.

By Peter Welander January 26, 2015

Changes to control systems are being driven by end users and directed at automation vendors, as explained in the October 2014 Control Engineering cover story. In this particular instance, ExxonMobil Development Company acted as an informal representative for the industry, expressing interest in making automation systems simpler, less customized, and less labor intensive during implementation. A key desire expressed by users is for new systems to be adaptable, particularly in late stages of construction when process engineers want changes made to the automation system reflecting changes they are making to the process equipment.

Such situations are always difficult for automation engineers because they find themselves having to scramble to make late additions and adjustments, and being the last obstacle to starting up production. One point that ExxonMobil has asked for is capability for the control system to configure field instruments automatically using a system called DICED (detect, interrogate, configure, enable, document).

While preparing the article, I contacted several automation system and instrumentation suppliers and asked if they were trying to develop this specific capability. As the article indicated, none responded by press time, but since the article was published, two have stated that they are indeed working on implementations along the lines discussed as part of larger programs. Honeywell Process Solutions and Yokogawa have both reported their engineers are designing DICED functionality for their systems. Both companies also report that it is in the context of more comprehensive improvements along the lines that ExxonMobil and other companies have outlined.

Honeywell has a program called LEAP (lean execution of automation projects), and Yokogawa calls its offering Agile Engineering. They are similar in concept and aim at helping user companies work through new projects and upgrades more easily and on shorter schedules. Both incorporate configurable I/O, and both are developing automated device configuration along the lines of the DICED concept.

Jack Gregg, Honeywell Process Solutions’ director of product marketing for Experion and team leader for the LEAP initiative, characterizes the efforts so far as going more deeply into project management. "The way we’ve been doing projects over the last 30 or 40 years, it’s a very serial process, and very iterative," he explains. "So you build a lot of efficiency tools so you can do things over and over again, so you find yourself reviewing data, validating data, re-editing data. We’re trying to eliminate all that and finding ways to work on the components that are known, while things that aren’t known evolve over the process. At the very end you have lots of change and a high risk that the control system will be on the critical path of the entire project. We want to address that change at the end. Universal I/O is one element of that. You don’t have to go back to the enclosure to move a wire or buy a new I/O module and find a place for it to go in a cabinet."

Nobuaki Konishi, vice president of Yokogawa’s industrial automation platform business, says that these improvements are being incorporated into the latest version of Centum VP, Yokogawa’s flagship control system platform. "We’ve released three major functions on top of Centum R6.01," he said. "The first one is network I/O (NIO), which is new hardware to enable late binding and universal I/O. The second is automation design suite (AD Suite) and the third is FieldMate, which supports field device configuration.

"We have expanded FieldMate functionality to include not only field devices but I/O module configuration possible in the FieldMate validator. Smart I/O configuration and intelligent network configuration are simultaneously possible. Loop checking and validation are also possible at a very early stage with just the hardware installed. There’s no need to connect to the DCS. Software and hardware engineering can be done independently, which allows loop checking very early."

The ultimate objectives of these programs are to change how projects are implemented. This is being driven by the user companies that are launching larger and larger projects around the world. Among their desires is the ability to reduce the amount of equipment customization with its characteristic design, testing, and documentation costs.

As Gregg summarizes the situation, "I’ve been in this business for 35 years. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about solutions. They call this a solution and that a solution. We’re taking different technologies that have benefits in themselves and putting them together in a way that changes the workflow and really solves problems that have been bothering us for many years. The opportunity here is that we can change the way projects are done. We can remove risk when addressing these really large projects we’re seeing today."

Peter Welander is a contributing content specialist for Control Engineering.


See the October cover story, "Automating automation: Why do smart devices have to be configured manually?" linked below.

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Key concepts:

  • Process industry companies are looking for methods that simplify large project implementations.
  • Automation companies are developing ways to streamline projects to reduce testing and documentation complexity.
  • Automated smart device configuration is also part of these new programs.