While process manufacturing operations are usually automated, they sometimes are not as completely integrated as end users would desire, often resulting in operational silos or islands of operation. A typical production plant may use a large DCS for process control, supported by many PLC- and HMI-based systems associated with skids, utilities, and other OEM equipment. The sheer variety of equipment types and product manufacturers, especially for automation platforms, complicates efforts to fully integrate all systems.
My Control Engineering Nov 2023 article titled MTP Standard Accelerates DCS and PLC Integration explains the situation, and how a new solution is revolutionizing the integration of DCS, PLC, and HMI systems.
Common integration challenges
Integration of many different automation systems and platforms has been possible but difficult, even with the widespread adoption of Ethernet and many standard communication protocols. Integration methods have typically required manual data mapping, custom code, and various forms of “handshakes” created between related systems. The work is time-consuming and increases risk, and it’s hard to maintain and support through the life cycle.
A better alternative is to create an environment with native and standard mechanisms for supporting communication and integration. To this end, NAMUR NE 148 establishes the concepts and specifications of Module Type Package (MTP), which is:
… designed specifically as a vendor-neutral description language for performing data, visualization and functionality integration between a main process control system and associated automated equipment systems. MTP lets users easily configure their PLCs with the right “hooks” needed for interacting with a DCS, and it provides a mechanism for joining the two, reducing integration duration and risk by eliminating many of the prototyping and integration steps required by traditional integration methods.
MTP is not a communication protocol like OPC UA, Modbus TCP, or PROFINET. Instead, it offers a consistent two-layer way to present PLC-based information to a DCS system for process control, safety and security, alarm management, HMI graphics, maintenance diagnostics, and other purposes.
The first and “lower” layer is the Process Equipment Assembly (PEA), where PLC-based skids and other subsystems live. MTP is used to export PLC configurations from the PEA and import them into the second and “upper” layer, which is the Process Orchestration Layer (POL), consisting of the DCS or other higher-level process automation host system.
Each PLC is called a Module, or a Package Unit. Once the export/import procedure is completed, the Module can seamlessly communicate with the DCS using OPC UA over Ethernet to provide process data, an HMI interface, and more.
Skid and machine builder OEMs can use MTP to future-proof their offerings, making them a preferred supplier. Controls engineers and systems integrators appreciate how MTP streamlines integration work, cutting integration time by half in many cases, while improving quality, reducing errors, and easing support.
MTP is vendor-agnostic and cross-platform, but it is also extensible. To best serve their end users, Emerson has incorporated platform-specific extensions to MTP for DeltaV DCS and PACSystems PLC platforms, preserving standard functionality, while providing enhanced and pre-tested additional capabilities.
One chemical manufacturer built a new production line using Emerson’s MTP-capable DeltaV DCS and PACSystems RX3i PLCs, resulting in advanced integration, while expending only half of the effort typically involved with traditional methods. MTP improves speed-to-market, trims schedules and costs, and reduces risks.