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Process automation – looking into the future

16 October 2012

What awaits process industry companies in the coming years? Thomas Lantermann, senior business development manager at Mitsubishi Electric Europe, presents an integrated analysis of process automation in the year 2020.

To fulfil the growing requirements of process control, companies are continually looking for ways to further improve flexibility, quality, efficiency and productivity of production. However to guarantee a smooth flow of information and seamless conversion of information over all operational levels – from production through to systems of higher level business processes company wide integration is needed. Various aspects, such as overall energy or system life cycle management, compliance, IT security and globalisation of production must be included in the analysis.

Trends in the process industry
The process industry is looking to increase production efficiency still further through optimisation and the basis for this is a rapid, problem-free exchange of real-time information from field level to company level. This will allow production processes to be adjusted to meet changing requirements. Real-Time Optimization (RTO) allows software supported measuring data analysis, based on set targets, maximising productivity with minimal unit and energy costs through the associated process control system. Dynamic process planning is also adjusted flexibly to changing requirements and capacities, including automatic production allocation. With Advanced Process Control (APC) the process variables can be set separately from one another, leading to higher quality results.

Company-wide integration depends on comprehensive automation of the whole business and production process. For the chemical industry, for example, this means that factories are increasingly fulfilling various tasks and will be configurable to the market in a flexible manner.

Heat and energy solutions will be fully integrated. In the energy industry ‘clean’ electrical power is becoming a precondition for licensing. A reliable energy supply can be assured through extensive networking within intelligent electrical power networks (smart grids). Electricity and heat production by means of small format systems (smart power generation) is becoming more widespread. Industrial countries are aiming for ‘green’ production and biomass will gradually replace fossil fuels in the cement industry.

Integrated energy management
Realistically, it must be assumed that energy costs will continue to rise over the long-term and an integrated overall approach to energy management is becoming more important. Comprehensive information from production as a whole must be collected, stored and evaluated. Only in this way can energy consumption be calculated accurately through to the individual plant components, and optimised in the system as a whole. Ultimately, the efficiency of the entire system can be increased, taking account of productivity and costs.

Solutions such as the energy control pack (ECP), from Mitsubishi Electric and e-F@ctory Alliance Partner LEM, record energy consumption data and transfer it from production to control level within a short period via a MES interface module. Complete production systems can be retooled easily with the ECP and no intervention is needed with existing wiring. The monitoring units communicate wirelessly with the central network nodes, so that no new infrastructure is needed for data collection.

At production level, energy consumption can be precisely located, recorded and evaluated by interrogation of speed regulated drives. Energy costs for all possible consumers, from compressors to air conditioning systems, can be optimised in this way. A further benefit is that load profiles can be accurately controlled. Where it has already been installed it has been shown that users of the ECP were able to achieve a reduction in peak loads of 8 to 30% and a reduction in energy costs of 5 to 15%. On average, the peak load was reduced by 13%.

In future ‘smart energy’ components such as PID regulators and special motor control functions, will become fixed components of energy management systems. Parallel to this, a changeover is taking place to fitting speed regulated plant components in pumps, fans, compressors or conveyor systems, in order to promote the sustainable use of energy in this way.

Energy management will, in future, be integrated at all levels of business. It will supply a detailed overview of global energy consumption and will draw attention in advance to possible bottlenecks, instances where contractually determined maximum consumption is exceeded, or cost-effective/profitable purchase and sale options.

System life cycle management
System life cycle management will also play an important role in process optimisation and will become increasingly comprehensive. An integrated solution for documentation management with diagnostics and maintenance tools which minimise development time and costs is helpful here.

The Mitsubishi Adroit Process Suite (MAPS), developed in cooperation with e-F@ctory Alliance Partner Adroit Technologies, provides preconfigured and tested engineering libraries with controller function blocks and associated SCADA graphics, from which integrated systems can be created and which can be used to visualise process control data. With a system lifecycle management via the integrated SCADA PAC solution, all production stages and process systems can be precisely followed up and controlled.

The integrated solution automatically evaluates and converts all data in real time to fulfil the information requirements of different job functions, and then loads it into the corresponding electronic systems for further processing.

The system configuration data always remains consistent and verifiable, because MAPS adjusts all programmes and documentation immediately if there is a change in the system. In order to do this systematically the solution has been built on established standards such as S88 and S95.

Protection from cyber attack
Cyber criminality is developing into a danger which should be taken very seriously. Corresponding protective measures which support systematic IT security and minimise the area open to attack for viruses, worms and Trojans are indispensable. Mitsubishi Electric is already working on developing new security standards. Consideration is also being given to very basic gaps in security such as unprotected connections to the Internet.

The company has identified gateway systems as a major point of weakness in system security. The objective is to separate these mass storage devices from the operating system, and only retain peripheral drivers which are relevant to control. Instead, software tools are integrated on an already existing robust hardware platform such as the PAC platform. By eliminating the PC level, additional crash security and a high transfer speed are guaranteed as well as protection from the dangers from cyberspace.

The fact that users are frequently unaware of gaps in security was made clear in 2006 by NESEC Gesellschaft für angewandte Netzwerksicherheit mbH in a study entitled ‘Hacking SCADA/SAS Systems’ which showed that many wrongly assume that their SCADA systems are not connected to the Internet and are therefore safe. In fact, the systems tested in the study were connected to the Internet and were wide open to malware. (http://stuweb.ee.mtu.edu/~ssmoily/NESEC.pdf)

Company-wide integration
Potentially insecure and maintenance intensive gateway systems are eliminated by direct, rapid communication. This exchange of compliance relevant information between field level and ERP system is made possible by solutions such as MES-IT, C Connector, C Batch or RTUs. General compliance, namely the observance of the company’s internal specifications and regulations as well as legal and contractual ones, in particular in the IT area, makes a contribution to data and production security and product quality, and for this, in all process production environments, all relevant parameters, events and actions must be constantly measured, processed promptly and passed on to higher system levels.

Weak points in process sequences are often not easy to recognise. Generally, there is a lack of an efficient, direct flow of information between the production environment and company management, which is the aim of company-wide integration. The IT interface module MES-IT, developed jointly by Mitsubishi Electric and e-F@ctory Alliance Partner ILS Technology, represents a simple, direct connection from process systems at field level to ERP or MES databases and systems at company level. It collects production data and test results in each phase of production and transfers the data directly to higher level systems.

Similarly to MES-IT, the PAC module C connector, developed in cooperation with e-F@ctory Alliance Partner ubigrate, supplies real-time information from the whole automation system directly into the SAP system. However, the solution can be operated even more intuitively due to preconfigured templates. C connector simplifies cross-platform, vertical integration of the production level in MES and ERP systems through a bi-directional data exchange. Here, too, the PC, as a gap in security, is consciously dispensed with. Efficiency is increased, as products can be manufactured practically ‘on demand’. Time and costs can be saved because of the ease with which the system can be installed and integrated. An IT specialist is not needed. Even additional components, such as controllers or RFID readers from other manufacturers, can be integrated.

A solution for the control of batch processes in real-time is the batch control system, C Batch from Mitsubishi Electric and INEA, a partner of e-F@ctory Alliance which reduces the complexity of traditional process control architectures. The batch system is based on a standard control platform and can execute several recipes in parallel. Recipe parameters are scaleable to requirements.

Globalisation of production
The growing shortage of raw materials is leading to a need to extract them from remote places in the world. Innovative solutions allow centralised remote control of a fully automated production process, so that the use of local employees can be minimised.

Smart remote terminal units (smart RTUs), are being developed which feed data into the company system over large distances from widely branching plant systems such as pipelines, switching stations or sewerage treatment plants. GPRS, EDGE, Ethernet, PLC (Power Line Carrier) or radio modems, for example, can be used for data transfer.

Thanks to tested, industrially hardened control and I/O modules, the smart and robust RTUs can also be used even under extreme temperature conditions. Already with low energy consumption, the RTU can be operated via a photovoltaic or wind energy system, for example. A new, intelligent additional module for data transfer carries out complete protocol handling. All the necessary protocols and preconfigured function blocks for the relevant industry are considered, for instance protocol standards for water and waste water, infrastructure and oil and gas industries or communication standards IEC 60870-5 and IEC 61850 for the energy industry. SSL technology secures the data from hacker attacks.

In conclusion
For company wide integration, exchange of information must be possible from systems at field level and company level, in both directions. Higher level systems will have a general overview of the complete production process, including supply chain, logistics, production capacity, energy consumption and demand. The company level will be able to optimise systems at works level when the relevant information is available to them promptly. Solutions which take over this task will play a significant role in the process industry in future.


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