On the cutting edge

The wheels of commerce demand that you adapt to new technologies in order to do things better. Here are eight tech trends that are changing the face of process control automation and instrumentation today.

By Dan Hebert, Senior Technical Editor

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rom the water wheel to the DCS and beyond, throughout history processors adept at identifying emerging technologies and then applying its potential affectively have continued to possess a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Whether to gain energy efficiency to lower costs or to develop precise command over a batch process for higher product quality, the wheels of commerce demand you adapt new technologies to do things better. But which technologies have the most potential?

We at Control would like to think we can help you decide and that's why we publish this article. But it’s not just our opinions that we publish. As with all of our feature articles, first we turn to our readers, process control users and independent systems integrators for input. Next we ask research organizations and suppliers for opinions. Then it’s our turn to sift through all the data, facts and conjecture we receive and try to make some sense of it.

Of course, some suppliers suggest that the next trend will coincide perfectly with their latest product release. Not to worry, such "trends" never make the list. We need to see that multiple vendors identify a trend before we recognize it as such. Then we do our own independent research.

One question that often arises is: Do we discern new trends each year, or do we recycle the prior-year’s trends? The answer is, a little bit of both. Tables throughout the article present technology trends CONTROL’s editors identified in 2001, 2002 and 2003, as well as in this issue. As the table shows, some trends have legs and gain strength, while others fade, unable to hold up in the real world. 

With that in mind, we’ve identified eight technology trends that are sure to impact the process industry control automation and instrumentation marketplace in the coming years.


TRENDS 2004
1.  Asset management
2.  The ultimate in closed-loop control
3.  Real-time performance management
4.  Smartphones conquer mobile computing
5.  Software defines the system
6.  Wireless again
7.  IT requirements drive process control
8.  Industrial biotech arrives


TRENDS 2003
1.  Industrial Ehernet marches on
2.  Wireless
3.  XML and web services provide data access
4.  Frameworks offer super structure
5.  Field-based control
6.  Comprehensive condition monitoring
7.  Engineering and finance converge to define optimization
8.  Engineer's changing roles
Asset Management
Asset management uses software-based monitoring systems to improve the uptime, performance, and operation of plants assets. Asset management can allow a controls company to run its customer’s plant remotely through imaging and monitoring systems that monitor assets (equipment, processes, people, software, and systems, etc.) from the top floor to the shop floor.

Richard McCormick, a process control engineer with Ultramar Limited in St-Romuald, Qubec, sees asset management as especially useful. To keep data flow to a minimum, he suggests that "reporting by exception" be the accepted protocol. McCormick adds, "Asset management provides first-pass diagnostics based on reported symptoms. Then it directs us toward the causes so we know where to drill down and so that maintenance can to plan ahead for repairs." 

Terry Krouth, Emerson Process Management’s (www.emersonprocess.com) vice president of PlantWeb technology, believes asset management, which is now only getting started, will grow in sophistication. "In the drive for improved availability and return on capital, asset management systems will continue to grow. Even though this technology has already delivered major benefits, it is still in its infancy. Users are beginning to understand and enjoy asset management benefits, including faster commissioning of plants and more efficient maintenance of assets," says Krouth.

"Growth will come with increasing integration of all plant assets into plant-wide automation systems and management systems. The holistic view of all the assets, presented in a form to help achieve and sustain operational excellence, will continue to drive further integration of machinery health management, real time optimization, and equipment performance monitoring," adds Krouth. 

Integration is key to asset management, and because integrated software is easy to use, it’s more likely to be used. Further, integration of expanded asset information on plant and enterprise HMIs is an empowering part of this trend.

The Ultimate in Closed-Loop Control
Process control professionals have been performing closed-loop control for decades, but are they using the correct measured variable? Shuzo Kaihori, the president and CEO of Yokogawa Corporation of America (www.us.yokogawa.com), doesn’t think so.

"The most important measured variable in any process is end user satisfaction. All other intermediate measured parameters such as pressure, temperature, and flow are simply steps towards ensuring that the ultimate customer is satisfied," observes Kaihori.


"Some suppliers suggest that the next trend will coincide perfectly with their latest product release."

     
Of course, the only way to close the loop all the way to the customer in process manufacturing is to track products to the point of final use. Fortunately for process control industries, software and hardware solutions are rapidly being introduced to facilitate product tracking from raw material acquisition to final use.

"Supply Chain Management (SCM) tools connect the purchasing of raw materials with final product sales," says Donald Cruse, a principal consultant with COPESUL in Porto Alegre, Brazil. "The trend is to bridge each company’s internal SCM tools with its suppliers’ SCM tools. For example, when an olefins processor plans its naphtha purchases from a refinery, it would like to know in advance the raw material quality and quantity," adds Cruse.

The olefins processor is the end user for the naphtha purchased by the refinery. The ultimate measure of naphtha quality is not some intermediate temperature or pressure measurement, but the satisfaction of the olefins processor with that particular batch of naphtha.

This type of product use analysis is complex, but the ultimately its value is great. "Suppliers and purchasers will have to work closer to increase the value chain in the SCM process. SCM systems required detailed knowledge of physical and commercial processes. Detailed issues need to be resolved for these systems to add true and accurate value" continues Cruse.

"The industry needs to identify and bridge supply chain gaps in order to benefit both the supplier and purchaser. This SCM issue is fairly new in the process industry and companies such as Optience (www.optience.com), i2 (www.i2.com), Aspentech (www.aspentech.com), Invensys (www.invensys.com), and Honeywell (www.honeywell.com) are trying to address this challenge with exisiting and newer solutions," concludes Cruse.

Real-Time Performance Management
If you’re not using RPM (real-time performance management) as part of a collaborative production management system, you could be losing the edge in today’s competitive markets. According to the ARC Advisory Group (www.arcweb.com), RPM systems allow companies to optimize their entire enterprise by improving asset and resource utilization.

Databases are the engines that power RPM, and the information gleaned from these databases can be taken a step beyond formulating business strategy. "In the past," says Matt Bothe, an automation/validation consultant in Douglassville, Pa., "these databases were used to provide trends in parameter behavior for troubleshooting or maintenance purposes. Many companies are now applying these databases as real-time decision-making tools to adjust production rates, as well as for process improvement. 

"Model-predictive and model-free adaptive control methods, for example, make use of historical data to identify models for both continuous and highly non-linear and batch control applications. In the biopharm industry, a relatively new concept, Process Analytical Technology, has begun to see increasing application for improvement of process operations and quality control," adds Bothe.

RPM systems change the way people work by providing information to make decisions at the best point in the process. According to Rashesh Mody, Wonderware’s (www.wonderware.com) chief technology officer, RPM fosters collaboration and notification among multiple facilities and partners, including engineering and production teams. It means notifying people proactively and getting the right information to the right person with the right security, at the right time, in the right context, and for the right actions. 


TRENDS 2002
1.  The process control engineer's changing role
2.  All-in-one architecture
3.  Software licensing fees increase for large systems and decrease for small
4.  Information centralization (data centers accessed via ASPs)
5.  PC-based control & HMIs
6.  Ethernet invasion
7.  Wirelss


TRENDS 2001
1.  Web servers everywhere
2.  Remote access via browsers
3.  Path-to-profitability (P2P) replaces B2B
4.  Ethernet everywhere
5.  Wireless
6.  PC-based control and HMIs
7.  Rent software via ASPs
8.  Smart instruments
9.  Open systems
10. Plant floor/ERP integration
Smart Phones Conquer Mobile Computing
If it moves and if it computes, smart cell phones can do it now or will do it soon. The cell phone market’s economies of scale are so dominating that smartphones will simply bulldoze all competitors in their path to become the portable computing device of choice for billions of users worldwide.

Mobile phone sales to consumers topped 510 million units in 2003 and will exceed 560 million units in 2004, according to the big three research groups that track mobile phones, the world's biggest consumer electronics market: Gartner Dataquest (www.gartner.com), IDC (www.idc.com), and Strategy Analytics (www.strategyanalytics.com).

Smartphones, which feature calendars, email, pictures, music and other services in one device, were one of the fastest growing new categories. Worldwide shipments for 2003 rose 182% to 9.6 million devices.

A great example of a technology likely to soon be displaced by smartphones are MP3 players like Apple’s iPod. Users download songs to the device and listen to the stored MP3 music files via headphones. Although just introduced, the writing is already on the wall for the technology.

Why? Think about it—users are already downloading similarly formatted ringtones to cell phones at a startling rate. According to research group ARC, ringtone sales were $3.5 billion worldwide last year, up by 40% from 2002. Sales of ringtones, costing up to $4 each, have now overtaken those of CD singles. By contrast, Apple's iTunes generates annual worldwide sales of less than $100 million.

With production rates in the hundreds of millions per year, it is inevitable that "smarter" phones will offer users increased memory storage and sound quality, enough to make carrying a single-use device like an Mp3 player redundant and unnecessary. The scenario will repeat itself for inexpensive digital cameras, and also for virtually any mobile computing application.

Overwhelming economies of scale in the cell phone market mean that it will soon be feasible to equip all plant personnel with a smartphone priced under $100. These devices will deliver a host of integrated features including global positioning, RFID tags, video recording, digital displays, web browsers, e-mail, biometric user authentication, and corporate Virtual Private Network (VPN) connectivity. 

At that point, SCADA applications will be limited only by the imagination of end users. Remote cell phone access via SCADA screens, photos, and other information accessed via the corporate network will help technicians pinpoint problems. Remote access to control systems via a VPN will then allow long-distance troubleshooting from virtually anywhere in the world.

COTS For All, So Software Defines the System
For several years major OS vendors fought the "Open" wars. The UNIX vendors couldn’t agree on open systems, and PC OS vendors complicated the picture when networking took the PC away from its stand-alone model. Because there wasn’t any one networking standard, systems integrators had a difficult time establishing even basic communications. 


"Asset management provides first-pass diagnostics based on reported symptoms."
     
Today, Microsoft gives away its services for UNIX, establishing connectivity between Windows and UNIX systems. And the Internet has created one large, open network. So if there are connectivity problems, it’s usually not due to platform issues.

Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) software owes its success to open standards. And this has benefited HMI and control software. Says Steve Young, vice president of platform technology development at Invensys, "Thanks to the increasing use of open standards such as OPC and XML along with COTS technologies, control systems are becoming more open, interoperable and the cost/performance ratio of these systems continues to improve." 

But application compatibility is not yet perfect. ABB’s (www.abb.com) president and CEO, Dinesh Paliwal says there is a real lack of application interoperability, even when hardware and operating systems are compatible. He adds that the industry has made substantial progress at the OS/COTS and fieldbus levels, but not at the application level. 

According to the Venture Development Corp.’s (www.vdc-corp.com) study "Global Market Demand and User Requirements for Industrial Distributed/Remote I/O," application software compatibility is still a major issue. According to the study, compatibility with other software and systems was the most-identified requirement cited by at least 60% of the users for each application (DCS, PC-based, and PLC)." 

       


"North America is the undisputed world leader in agriculture and in biotech. Which could provide thousands of jobs for process control professionals."

What steps can be taken to make applications more compatible? Mody suggests that any one system should be able to normalize diverse sources of data into a secure, object-based environment. Microsoft’s .NET is one technology that might provide a suitable backbone for application vendors to accomplish Mody’s vision. Its Web services, built on OPC and XML can provide data sharing among applications regardless of platform, OS, and device. It’s then up to the application developers to take advantage of .NET’s services.

Software will continue to define the control system, and control systems—whether industrial or consumer—will sink or swim based on the software that defines them. Without the right features and the convenience of controls defined in software, hardware, no matter how good it is, will go begging for buyers. 

Wireless, Again
As the table reveals, wireless has made our technology trend list for the past three years. It makes the list again this year as growth rates continue at a blistering pace. 

According to VDC, wireless Ethernet infrastructure networking components will experience a growth rate of nearly 35% over the next three years. Shipments of wireless Ethernet infrastructure access point/networking components for use in industrial facilities are forecast to increase from $62 million in 2003 to $152 million in 2006.

Another VDC report shows that portable wireless operator interface terminal shipments are expected to grow to over $80 million by year-end 2005, a compound annual growth rate of 53.3%. These types of growth rates clearly mark a trend, and process control industry players agree.
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