Software-Defined Control Unlocks a Future of Flexibility

by , | Apr 5, 2024 | Control & Safety Systems, Digital Transformation, Sustainability | 0 comments

It seems as if the challenges facing process manufacturers have changed nearly overnight, with many operations teams now facing entirely different goals than just five short years ago. These new goals—increased sustainability, reduced energy use, optimal efficiency—are demanding a laser focus on flexibility in process control, which in turn is driving a push toward modernization.

In his recent article in Control Engineering magazine, Sean Saul shares how many organizations are embracing a Boundless Automation™ vision of automation to accomplish these newer, more complex goals. At the heart of the modern industrial revolution, Sean explains, is data. Everyone generates data, and some teams even organize it, but few can effectively move it from the intelligent field, through the edge and into the cloud. The roadblock, Sean explains, is the complex engineering of existing automation systems, which in most cases must be custom engineered to intercommunicate. The Boundless Automation vision is helping companies break down those layers of complex architecture to build in seamless, intuitive connectivity. It all starts, Sean suggests, with software-defined control.

“Software-defined control will eliminate the hardware complexity of existing automation systems. Instead of built-for-purpose hardware, teams should be able to execute containerized control workloads on many different hardware platforms. One likely deployment environment for software-defined workloads is delivered via hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), with the control system operating as a redundant service on the HCI environment.”

The benefits of software-defined control

In the article, Sean breaks down key benefits of software-defined control. He explains that new automation built on software-defined control will be more resilient. For example,

“If a single containerized control function fails, HCI’s rapid failover features will empower the team to keep operating continuously and seamlessly. The flexibility provided by HCI allows for fault tolerance beyond the traditional 1:1 primary/backup architecture, including the potential to fail over to virtualized hosts in another physical location.”

Moreover, he shares, that same containerization will lead to increased scalability. Instead of every expansion becoming a massive capital project, teams will be able to add new solutions and additional computing power simply by adding an additional blade in a server cabinet.

This reduction of hardware overhead also leads to more flexible projects. Front-end engineering and design time and effort will likely be dramatically reduced, as teams will retain the flexibility to make late-stage project changes without triggering skyrocketing costs. Sean offers an example,

“If the project team needs to make changes at any time that impact the capacity or type of I/O points, scaling the DSTs up or down simply requires a change in the software configuration.”

Those same benefits also extend into operations, empowering companies to add functionality when and where they need it.

“Teams are no longer limited by the decisions made in project execution, instead growing their automation alongside their needs.”

Embracing the future today

No organization is going to transition to flexible, efficient, sustainable operations overnight. However, succeeding in the expanding global marketplace nonetheless requires a plan to meet those new goals. Operations teams are finding that a Boundless Automation vision grounded in software-defined control can help them drive the operational efficiency that leads to increased throughput and sustainability. Sean goes into more detail on the benefits of software-defined control, including where the technology is today and where it is headed in the future in his full article over at Control Engineering. It’s a short read and will provide insight into how you can start moving to secure competitive advantage in your own organization.

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  • Todd Walden
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