Smart futuristic ideas to manage the process unveiled by Yokogawa

04 December 2012

Suzanne Gill reports from the Yokogawa 2012 European User Conference, where the company showcased the some emerging technologies from its R&D efforts.

Several themes ran through the keynote presentations at the Yokogawa User Conference this year, and these were also mentioned by Satoru Kurosu, director, senior vice president when I spoke to him at the event. He said: “The most pressing concern for all our customers, in all industries today, is that of safety and this is an area that we are not willing to compromise on.”

One subject discussed at the event was that of augmented reality, which was demonstrated by the company earlier in 2012 at ACHEMA. Yokogawa is currently looking at how this technology, which is already being used in consumer IT applications, can be brought into the industrial space.

Augmented reality is a term that describes the ability to view the process by overlaying data and information about a process instrument onto a real-time image of the device itself, on the plant floor. It provides a way to display process instruments with data overlayed on top of the visual image of a instrument. This is a technology that is already being implemented in consumer IT applications.

Commenting on this, Kurosu said: “Augmented reality technology is available today, we have already demonstrated its potential using a tablet and camera to focus on individual sensors to gain information on it how it is connected and what information it contains. The only impractical issue with using this technology in the industrial space today is that it would require the tablet to be explosion-proof to enable it to be used safely in industrial applications. We are currently in discussion with an explosion-proof enclosure manufacturer to solve this issue.”

Dave Emerson, director of Yokogawa’s US development centre, used the event to update the audience on emerging user interfaces, enabling industry to keep up with the changing automation technology and which will future-proof the plant for use by the next generation of engineers.

Interfaces have changed dramatically over the years he explained. “Control panel keyboards were, traditionally, laid out in an alphabetic format. This moved to the more well-used QWERTY format – as more of the population began to regularly use this format on their PCs. The use of a mouse to navigate the system was another development in line with consumer trends.

“With plants having a lifecycle of up to 20 years we need to be thinking now about interfaces that will suit the next generation of engineers. Operators of the future are being brought up to use touch panels instead of a keyboard and mouse. The consumer IT world is, again, leading the way and this latest trend will surely filter down to industry.”

Dave Emerson predicts big changes. “A key expectation here augmented reality will combine visualisation of the plant with data and information on what is being visualised to give overall contexturalisation using mobile devices.

“There will, of course, be barriers to the adoption of mobile solutions in the industrial space,” he said. “A key concern is cyber security. It is a very real issue and wherever wireless communication or electronic media is used it will be vital to secure it from both a safety and a data integrity standpoint.” Echoing Kurosu’s comments on safety, Dave Emerson said that safety was currently a barrier to the use of mobile technology in the process sector. Many processes contain hazardous environments and all devices used in these areas will need to be approved for use in a hazardous environment.”

“However, there is the expectation that mobile hardware will soon be hardened for use in the industrial environment. When we have such products, and have overcome the security issues, we expect to see a great many benefits from the use of mobile devices. Today, we need to learn more about how these technologies will add value to customer’s process operations.”

Yokogawa is also experimenting with cloud data. Emerson explained more: “As a test we imported our alarm analysis tool data onto the Microsoft cloud. We now have a test copy in the cloud that can be accessed via a browser, allowing data to be viewed and shared. We are currently looking for customers who are interested in finding out how cloud data can be used and how cloud access can be manipulated. Again, we also need to look at the issue of cyber security with this development too.”

Dave Emerson highlighted the fact that, for all of these concepts, technology is not an answer in itself and does not solve any problems. “Technology is merely a tool,” he said: “What is more important is how these tools can be used to solve problems.”

Yokogawa has identified three main areas to focus on, going forward – alarm management, HMI management, and procedure management.

In the alarm management arena it is involved in a variety of different standard activities. “In the US we are active with ISA and are working towards ensuring that our systems are 18.2 ready,” he said. “There is also a new IPC working group forming to will look at a global standard. We are participating with this too.

“HMI management is another area of great activity. There is a new style of graphics coming out and we are supporting this with Advanced Operator Graphics (AOG) and are also working with standards groups in this domain too.

Our Advanced Operator Graphics (AOG) offering is provided through Vigilant Plant services. “The goal of graphics should not be to hinder operators but to help them. We offer a consultancy service to find the right operator interface solution to meet individual needs. One size does not fit all.

“There are many companies looking at developing ways to display information in a more effective way. In the US Yokogawa is working with the Centre for Operator Performance, a research organisation looking to identify more effective operator interfaces,” said Dave Emerson.

In the area of procedure management, Yokogawa is working with the ISA 106 committee to standardise the automation of procedures, and Kurosu was keen to explain more about Yokogawa’s activities in this area. He said: “Our Modular Procedural Automation (MPA) philosophy offers a powerful service combined with a software tool, which allows for the modularisation and automation of best practice within a plant in a standardised way based on ISA 106, and ensures a stable process quality that does not depend on the operator skills of any one individual.

MPA starts with a consultative assessment of a sites procedural needs. A recommendation will then be made as to the best platform for the customer to achieve their desired result. Prompted procedures may be implemented on any control system using Exapilot, while fully automated procedures may need a CENTUM VP solution, or a combination of both.

“The goal is to provide value added operating consultancy services to bridge the gap between production planning and process control. We already have some user success stories from the implemention of MPA. Savings of up to 69% have been identified in crude switchover times in one refinery process,” concludes Kurosu.

An ARC Whitepaper discussing MPA in more depth can be downloaded from the CEE Whitepaper section

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