By Maggie Walker, Ed Sederlund, Jerry Gipson and Eric Cosman, Dow Chemical Co.
Over 30 years ago, The Dow Chemical Company embarked on a project that over time evolved into a global corporate initiative: To develop and broadly leverage a standardized, highly integrated process automation system, incorporating basic process control, process information and safety system functionality. Based on what we wanted to accomplish and a lack of available commercial offerings, we developed several proprietary solutions, including a process control system known as MOD—“Manufacturing Operating Discipline.” With the MOD 5 System, Dow was the very first company to certify a process automation system with logical separation of the control and safety function for SIL 3 applications. Our development approach served us well for many years…but we reached a point where developing and supporting our own system was no longer cost-effective.
After a thorough review and selection process, we chose ABB to provide the technology solutions to take our operating discipline forward. The formal selection process had concluded, but the really hard work was just beginning. We needed to lay the foundation for a true collaborative relationship and, at the same time, let go of our own sole-system development mindset.
From the very beginning, continuous improvement has been at the heart of The Dow Chemical Company and is the essence of its stated mission today: “To constantly improve what is essential to human progress by mastering science and technology.” To achieve this, we are committed to the principles of sustainable development. As we discussed in Part 1 of this series, "The MOD Squad: Process Automation at Dow," this underlying philosophy has been an instrumental driver in our process control journey from the start.
The roots of our process automation philosophy go back to the 1960s and are based on our operational strategy. Consistency and sustainability are key elements of that strategy. As a global company, it is important to be able to operate facilities the same way every time to achieve consistent high quality, process reliability and best practices repeatability.
Of course, safety performance is a key focus for Dow. Protection of people, the community and the environment have always been non-negotiable priorities in our corporate culture. We must operate our plants safely every time, and the same way every time. Our “Vision of Zero” translates to zero incidents, injuries, illnesses, accidents and zero environmental harm. So our safety practices needed to be repeatable and redeployable as well. All of these elements made up our operating discipline.
At that time, commercially available process automation systems did not provide us with the capability that we needed. For nearly 30 years, we had enjoyed continued success in practicing our operating discipline with our proprietary MOD System series. It had grown from an analog system at one site in the 1960s to a globally deployed standard process control system with 1,500 instances installed throughout Dow by the year 2000. Over the years, the MOD series system had delivered tremendous productivity benefits to Dow.
However, in early 2000, we realized continuing to invest in proprietary hardware and software systems would not be cost-effective. For a number of reasons discussed in Part 2 of this series ("Process automation at Dow: Part 2") it no longer made business sense to continue to develop and maintain our own process automation system. We needed to focus on our core manufacturing business. After we agreed on our strategy to go commercial, we engaged an objective third-party consulting firm to work with us in the initial evaluation and selection process. It also helped us define our requirements—no small challenge because after all our team had achieved with the MOD System series, our expectations were much higher and our wish list far more detailed than that of typical automation customers. But we knew exactly what we wanted.
Based on our detailed list of 400 requirements we defined 32 high-level criteria—affectionately referred to as “The Crown Jewels”—and our consultants came back with their recommendation about which vendors to approach. A very short list of candidates was presented. We did an extensive onsite evaluation against our requirements for each of these recommended companies, meeting with their executive management, technology officers and development teams.
The Chosen One
ABB was one of the companies on the short list. After numerous presentations and discussions, ABB showed us its IndustrialIT technology—the heart of its Extended Automation System 800xA—and at that point we knew that we had found the commercial solution that would take us forward. The alignment with ABB’s direction and ours meshed nicely.
We had found the commercial technology that could accomplish our goals moving forward and meet our “Crown Jewels” criteria. We could use this platform to leverage our experiences and lessons with the MOD System services and take them forward. But while the technology is a necessary ingredient to make conversations happen, much more was needed to take relationships forward.