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Automation plays a pivotal role in the evolution of information-driven business architecture

Networking & Connectivity The keyword is collaboration

Oct 1, 2015

To accommodate today’s increased complexity, automation has to take into account interconnectivity between various systems at the supplier, users, and distribution ends. The article discusses how offerings in automation technology and services have come a long way, and have transitioned from technology-centric to being business-centric, adding value to business.

Automation plays a pivotal role in the evolution of information-driven business architecture. Companies are beginning to find ways to quantify the returns from incorporating the latest technologies, such as smart sensors, Big Data, and advanced analytics. Gradually, these technologies are becoming more prevalent as they enable relevant and timely sharing of data to generate actionable information, but implementation challenges remain. Automation can help companies manage business processes by connecting systems and people (both internal and external to the organisation) in a coordinated way. Suppliers and users should implement automation in a manner that enables it to be responsive to the demands of customers as well as changes in plant equipment.

Meeting business structures

With today’s increasing focus on “the business,” automation systems must fit within the overarching business structures. No longer can process automation (and other) systems function independently. Instead, they must perform in a collaborative way throughout an industrial enterprises’ entire value chain. It is essential to understand the impact of the current business-centric trends on the enterprise before considering the collaborative requirements for process automation systems. ARC views collaboration in manufacturing in three dimensions, each of which may be considered from an internal or external perspective: product/process lifecycle, supply chain and enterprise operations.

Industry has seen much collaboration-related activity in the last few years, due — in large part — to the increasingly dynamic and global nature of the competitive environment. New technologies are available, allowing more efficient communication and better performance. Real-time information can be shared throughout the enterprise and supply & design chains. Targets can be set and performance indicators monitored in real time, allowing manufacturers to be more responsive to customer demands and more agile in adapting to changing market conditions.

To fulfil the needs of business, companies have to invest in a range of specific automation equipment, which aid plant operations in many aspects from gathering real-time data from devices/systems, controlling processes, and enhancing visibility; to integrating securely with manufacturing operation management and business systems, while maintaining safety and security. The individual components not only have to interoperate with each other, but also with people and processes. To move from just a collection of “pieces” of automation to a unified “collaborative” automation system requires considerable planning and coordination.

Moreover, businesses these days, grapple with increasing competitive pressures, with demanding customers, increased market requirements, and a stringent regulatory environment becoming the norm. This is driving them to become real-time enterprises, requiring them to integrate the information flow to the operations and engineering centres and automate the entire supply chain.

While companies want to extend the lives of their control systems as long as possible, it is also imperative to have timely DCS updates to ensure that one is not using an out-dated control system platform, which could result in lost opportunities. ARC has analysed the automation needs of modern process manufacturers and has developed a vision of what a Collaborative Process Automation System (CPAS) should be, and how it could maximise return on assets. Operational excellence is the first supporting layer to ROA. Operational excellence delivers measurable performance improvements by focusing on doing more with less as well as working more effectively and reducing cost. OpX results from more people making more correct decisions, more of the time. The OpX continuous improvement methodology reinforces the concept that OpX is an ongoing process. Effectiveness, agility, and performance visualisation are keys to operational excellence. By automating everything that should be automated, many tasks will always be executed based on best practices. Automation also frees up time for worker empowerment, providing these knowledge workers with the opportunity to perform more value-adding functions.

Support for current industry standards

CPAS includes guidance on today’s complex standards environment. From prescriptive international standards such as the IEC 61508 and 61511 safety standards to the new ISA 108 standard on work processes for intelligent device management, CPAS lays out the current standards landscape and how it can affect an automation strategy. Readers should think of CPAS as an application-enabling environment for process control, advanced process control, and operations management applications, plus human empowerment applications such as decision support and advanced analytics.

CPAS expands the vision beyond the traditional distributed control system (DCS) scope and presents an environment designed for agility and adaptability. CPAS is the product of several decades of technological process automation evolution, with each decade adding its specific characteristics and focus.

CPAS architecture

The CPAS architecture supports a wide variety of functionality. For example, it provides a native architecture for interfacing to wireless local area networks (WLANs). Fieldbuses for process control and device buses for discrete control can be interfaced easily through linking devices. Application-specific appliances such as analysers and vibration monitoring devices, can also be easily interfaced.

Application servers can be configured for a variety of applications, non-mission-critical and mission-critical alike. Servers can provide reliability using redundant communication channels or virtual server arrangements. Since they share the same Ethernet-based backbone, business systems and automation systems can communicate more easily.

Moreover, we expect tremendous changes in the industrial landscape in the country with the advent of IIoT. This trend will ultimately change the way plant systems perform. End users should not delay adopting new technologies like IoT, despite the costs involved. Integration of systems, even if partial, is required to sustain the business focus.

Manufacturing challenges are changing and automation must change to stay in control. We now deal with a high degree of uncertainty in an increasingly dynamic environment. Process automation suppliers have come a long way in improving their systems. They are moving outside their core area of automation products, and up the value chain to provide solutions for systems integration and plant performance. While at the same time, they are extending their service capabilities to include technology support and services, process knowledge to ultimately empowering the workforce with their solutions; which will prove to be a competitive advantage to the suppliers.

Conclusion

The industry is mature and ready for game-changing ideas in the expanded role of process automation system. Suppliers and owner-operators alike should understand that CPAS goes far beyond the traditional definition of a distributed control system (DCS) and uses a very broad definition of automation. CPAS makes every attempt to break down artificial barriers to allow information to flow as required to accomplish the required purpose.

Users and suppliers alike, should understand that CPAS is not a single-supplier environment, but instead a combination of structure, technologies, and guiding principles that allow it to act as if provided by a single supplier. Both users & suppliers can then focus on their respective core competencies to provide value for their current and prospective customers.

Image Gallery

  • The diagramm shows that synchronisation of business with operation is a critical part of CPAS

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