One of the byproducts of control and safety systems is the accumulation of Big Data. By itself, this data is not useful, unless as ControlGlobal.com editor Jim Montague explains in an article, Alternate paths from the field to cloud, you are:
In this article, he surveys a wide range of instrumentation and automation suppliers on new ways that they are using technology to move this data, as well as additional data not previously captured to the required decision makers. Emerson’s Mike Boudreaux was one of the people who provided his thoughts.
…moving production data faster and more efficiently from process applications, field equipment and plant-floors up to decision-makers and enterprise levels.
Mike notes that the path for new measurements for monitoring does not necessarily need to flow through the control or safety system [hyperlink added]:
A wide swath of users are recognizing that new analytics, applications, software and other capabilities can be enabled by connecting to existing systems. So, while getting DCS data still makes sense, they can also deploy wireless and other network points that aren’t needed for control and safety, and get valuable pressure, temperature and flow measurements. Many process applications don’t need millisecond or 1 second updates, and instead have updates of a minute or more, so some users are looking outside the process control network to develop a ‘process data network’ with many of the same devices. For example, Emerson’s wireless pressure gauge now has an electronic sensor and digital wireless instead of the traditional mechanical device with dials.
The data flowing from these measurements out to the cloud can not only be analyzed by experts within the manufacturer’s organization, but also by suppliers’ experts, as connected services, with whom these manufacturers contract:
Emerson and other providers can host applications, and even do monitoring for clients as a service… It’s a lot like a cable TV subscription. However, this only monitoring; we’re not doing control and safety functions in the cloud, though wireless for monitoring is proven, and more efforts to leverage the cloud are happening.
Mike explains how process equipment can include measurements required for control flowing through the control system as well as measurements required for performance monitoring that may bypass the control system:
Heat exchangers have instruments and controls that usually go to the DCS to control temperature, but they also have pressure signals that don’t go to the DCS, and these can be used to check for build-up and indicate the need for maintenance… Now we can replace a mechanical pressure gauge with a wireless one, and integrate measurements with heat exchanger monitoring software, so engineers can assess heat exchanger performance without opening it and with more certainty about what needs to be done. And, combining pressure sensing data with temperature and flow means we can also do thermodynamic evaluations on heat exchanger efficiency that are more holistic.
Control is possible in some limited use cases using wireless measurements, but the biggest use case now is collecting data and monitoring applications outside of control, and finding areas that aren’t solved, such as heat exchangers, pump reliability, steam trap maintenance and others in the future. My thought is the opportunity isn’t so much bypassing controls, but rather putting measurements into monitoring networks where they make sense. We wouldn’t wire a control signal into a safety system unless it was required for safety, so why should we wire a monitoring signal into a control system if it isn’t required for control?
Read the article for additional viewpoints from several other instrumentation and automation suppliers.