Control systems have been a stable foundation for operational excellence and reliable, repeatable performance in manufacturing for decades. However, just as needs have changed across those decades, so too have control systems themselves, evolving to meet the ever-changing requirements of the modern plant and enterprise.
In a recent article in Control Engineering magazine, Sean Sims, Emerson’s vice president for the DeltaV™ platform, explored the future of control system technology. Sean looked at the ways control system improvements continue to help plants operate safer and faster, and considered the technologies on the horizon that will change the way operators interface with their equipment in the coming decades.
Fewer people, greater distribution
A perfect storm of industry retirements and restricted operating conditions due to global health crises has quickly demonstrated the meaning of “lean staff” for many plants across the globe. This trend has arisen just as
an abundance of new sensing technologies and high-bandwidth transmission options have plants collecting more data than ever, with organizations wanting to extract more value from data to drive business performance and differentiation.
To enable the benefits of greater data collection in the face of shrinking staff, many organizations will begin moving toward small, centralized teams who provide expert support across a fleet using remote operations technologies, often from integrated operations (iOps) centers. Sean explains,
The move to centralized operations will require a shift in control system strategy, even if actual core control is not moving from the plant floor.
The tools experts rely on – system configuration, device monitoring, alarm management, real time data and event historians, digital twins, patch management systems and more – are all part of the control system. Even when tools do not impact day-to-day controls, they are often tied to the control system, which is tied to a physical location in the plant. Sean shares that with the advances in hosted services and mobile computing,
Going forward, it will make more sense to host these components in the cloud.
New standards become the norm
Emerging standards such as advanced physical layer (APL) and NAMUR’s module type package (MTP) will enable cost-effective connectivity to field devices and new equipment. These technologies will be a major asset for organizations needing more flexibility in manufacturing, as they harmonize the physical layer and enable the plug and play engineering that unlocks “ballroom style” systems that can be changed at will to meet rapid shifts in customer demand.
Sean also detailed how organizations will meet their personnel challenges with state-based control (SBC) and digital twin simulation.
SBC also maximizes the investment in the control system by capturing knowledge in the form of operating discipline users can leverage… Operators will focus more on the bigger picture of processes, monitoring key process indicators and making critical decisions to maintain and improve performance, availability, and quality. Tools such as digital twin simulations – exact virtual replicas of the plant environment – will play a key role in helping operators make the best decisions when a process trends the wrong way.
An expert in your corner
As organizations begin to employ more complex technologies to get the most from their control systems, it becomes more important to work closely with an expert automation provider. Emerson experts work closely with customers to gain a deep institutional knowledge of the processes and systems they employ. This relationship not only helps to ensure that new systems and solutions are implemented as efficiently as possible, but also helps customers find new automation benefits that they may not have known were possible. Even as the landscape of control systems changes, the need for an expert in your corner remains the same.
To learn more about new control system technologies on the horizon, you can read the article in its entirety online. And while you’re here, comment below on the future technologies that you’re most excited about.