Taking the opportunity to optimise process integration

29 July 2014

In a recent whitepaper the ODVA describes an opportunity for the optimisation of process integration (OPI) and offers an overview of its vision for a comprehensive approach to OPI.

Process industries now face many of the same challenges as the hybrid and discrete industries. While users have looked to the latest automation technologies to help address these challenges, process industry plants, which are typically designed to operate continuously for many years, are often not able to adopt and benefit from advances such as industrial Ethernet and IP technologies. However, with an increasingly ageing installed base of process automation systems and the need for additional capacity to meet consumer demand in emerging economies, this situation is set to change.

The ARC, for example, has projected that the process industries will invest over $100 billion globally in new control systems for process automation, split equally between modernisation and new installations. 

Many users in the process industries are also now looking to develop new strategies for maintaining cost-effective, sustainable production capacity and any such strategy will need to take into account the efficient integration of the plant’s network infrastructure.

Any such strategies will also require a network architecture that can provide integration with external systems as well as providing an integration solution within the process plant. The diverse and often complex nature of field devices in process plants has traditionally made integration complicated because users have needed to deploy a range of specialty process fieldbuses in the network architecture. This fact, combined with the often extreme nature of applications in process industries – extreme plant size, hazardous areas, climate, environmental hazards, or remoteness – have made it difficult for users to realise all the benefits possible from process integration. 

However, standard Ethernet and IP technologies – already proven in hybrid and discrete industries – stand to change this situation for the process industries.

The Open DeviceNet Vendors Association (ODVA) approach to OPI is based around three principle domains of the industrial ecosystem – production, enterprise and power grid. The focal point of OPI is the production domain and the process plant. The need to integrate field and functional safety devices with the control systems, along with the business value of providing process information from the field to enterprise systems is driving the need for OPI solutions. 

Foundation of OPI
The foundation of OPI is an interoperability framework achieved through a unified communication system using standard Ethernet and Internet technologies. This framework also covers other requirements particularly relevant to applications in the process industries such as intrinsic safety and configuration of field devices with a large number of parameters.

ODVA’s plan for OPI focuses on its core competency in information and communication technologies, grounded in the Common Industrial Protocol (CIP) and in EtherNet/IP, its network technology is based on standard, unmodified Ethernet and Internet technologies. For OPI between field devices and industrial control systems (ICS) ODVA seeks to include objects, services and device profiles that are optimised for applications in the process industries and allow the transparent and seamless exchange of production, logistics, configuration and diagnostic information. 

In the long term it is expecting physical layer implementations that allow for the integration of devices on Ethernet that are intrinsically safe and network-powered.

The production domain in process plants – where the tight integration of field devices with industrial control systems is required is the focal point of OPI. Although integration of field devices is essential, plant engineers have no standard ways to facilitate this integration. Originally, process plants relied on 4-20 mA analogue signals for transmitting process values to and from field devices. More recently, these signals have been replaced with digital communication technologies which often require specialist training, knowledge and tools to integrate with higher-level networks and, in many cases, have not been designed for the transmission of large amounts of data available from today’s instrumentation. Remote access is also complicated, requiring additional hardware in the form of gateways to allow remote access connections to the plant and its field devices, industrial control systems, and interrelated systems using IP-based technologies.

Market trends for standard Ethernet and IP technologies indicate that an evolution will occur in the process industries and that this will accelerate over time, mirroring the evolution in the hybrid and discrete industries. 

EtherNet/IP incorporates the same commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) network interface components (NICs) used in standard Ethernet and IP technologies. The overall connection cost for these devices continues to fall and, in a growing number of cases, is now less than traditional non-Ethernet fieldbuses. 

Furthermore, the latest generation of engineers and plant personnel is much more familiar with standard Ethernet and Internet technologies, which will make it the preferred technology for new and retrofit installations. With the Internet of Things (IoT) forecast to grow at a rate of 36% between now and 2021, more devices will be IP-enabled by default.
Taking advantage of trends
OPI seeks to ensure that users in the process industries can take advantage of these trends and that process data is accessible at every layer in the production domain. This approach forms the foundation for future optimisation of process integration in terms of all of the interrelated assets, systems and processes within the production domain. ?

Despite wider acceptance and use of Ethernet and IP technologies in process automation, there are still gaps between the field, control and enterprise levels. OPI will provide users with a unified communication solution that includes the information and communication standards for the objects, services and profiles needed. Realisation of OPI requires a three-pronged approach to common use cases in automation for process industries –field device to ICS integration; field device to PAM communication integration; and a seamless, holistic field-to-enterprise communication architecture. 

OPI in practice
OPI enables a unified communication solution that can be ultimately comprised of standard unmodified Ethernet and Internet technologies using EtherNet/IP, in combination with an over IP-oriented network architecture. In practice, skid builders and end users are able to integrate both simple and complex field devices and instrumentation more easily and support multiple control loops in real time with higher performance. Process data can be collected, visualised and accessed at multiple levels in the production domain and aggregated for use throughout the industrial ecosystem.

The ODVA approach to OPI allows current applications to be optimised for overall equipment effectiveness while still providing a technical foundation for future evolution toward a fully unified communication solution that can benefit from and migrate to, standard Ethernet and Internet technologies using EtherNet/IP.

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