The bottom line on bottom line automation

Matrikon's VP of technology, Mike Brown, says process automation users must now tackle the real challenges in their plants and transform work processes during Matrikon Summit 2007 in Chicago.

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From the Editors of CONTROL

Matrikon's Mike Brown“I’m hearing a recurring theme that we have to pay more attention to the profitability of automation,” said Mike Brown, Matrikon’s vice president of technology during day two of Matrikon’s Summit 2007 in Chicago. “But my cynical bone keeps wondering if this is just marketing,” he said. The challenge, he went on, is to measure the bottom-line ROI of automation initiatives.

Users and suppliers are beginning to rethink the role of automation and demanding to know more about how automation contributes to plant profitability and the core business drivers.

Over the past years, we’ve gone through several phases in our thinking about automation technology, he added. In the '70s, we invested in automation technology for technology’s sake. Then we moved to a network-centric approach, with open systems and on to an application- centric model with MPC, advanced control and other approaches that are standards-centric as well as open. Now, we’re being told that our systems need to be business-centric.

But, said Brown, “I confess to being confused, and I don’t really know how to do that.”

The trick, he said, is to get the relevant information to the people who need to act on it, not just let the data drive the system for its own sake. Users are asking, how can data help drive common work processes and a collaborative operating environment?  How can we use this data to help business people understand where profitability?

“Sometimes we try to let KPIs drive the system, where the KPIs aren’t relevant to the person doing the job,” he added.

Linking Automation Information to Core Business Drivers
The solution, said Brown, is to develop a plan for getting appropriate information to all the people who need it across the entire enterprise in a context where they can use it in a way that is relevant to their jobs.

He illustrated his point with the example of a simple alarm on the plant floor.  When it goes off, the operator silences it, acknowledges it and tries to understand the immediate process issue. From the automation engineer’s point of view, this same sensor has generated 52 alarms in the last shift. The operations manager sees that the same area has experienced 3 alarm floods and has an average of 12 pending alarms, and he can begin to see the impact of the alarms on the operators. Now the operating manager has information he can use to efficiently manage the system. Now he has context where KPIs become meaningful. At this point, the plant manager can see how the plant is at risk regarding shutdown, safety issues, meeting production quotas, etc.  It is all the same piece of data, but it means different things.

All the people involved in the process have the same data, but now it’s relevant to each person who needs to work with it. It becomes relevant across the organization, and it becomes easier to see the value that automation brings to the organization.  We can contextualize that data, so that it is relevant to every person in the organization as you move through the enterprise.

The People Issues
We are struggling today to get very experienced very capable people, Brown went on to say. We have enough technology to skin the cat, but we don’t have the people to use the technology. People are buying automation on ROI and profitability, but the highest values to consumers of automation technologies are product expertise and industry expertise.

Many organizations are considering outsourcing to meet their needs, but if users can figure out how to use automation technology to make their current workforce more effective at getting ROI out of their automation solutions, outsourcing may not be necessary. Control monitoring technology has the ability to improve resource efficiency by up to 90%. Now how does that directly translate to ROI? Again, it is about data transformation, said Brown.

Driving Innovation
Brown says process automation users must now take advantage of these enabling systems to tackle the real challenges in their plants and transform work processes. For example, 5% of refiners say that they can’t run their plants without APC, and 70% of refiners feel they can’t be competitive without APC, but over 50% of refiners say their APC applications experience significant degradation.

The disconnect in these numbers comes from the difficulty of sustaining the changes to processes and work methods that automation implies, says Brown. The solution comes when people adopted a new standard methodology for sustaining APC. “We need innovation in how we do things—not more technology, but better use of the technology we have,” he says.  “If you change the environment of how people use the technology, it is changes in the way people use technology.”

This brings us back to the humble PID controller, says Brown. Too many people have a tuning package that is sitting on the shelf. “We’re going to change the game and redefine how you are going to maintain your assets by making automated testing and tuning actually work. And this task is going to be easy enough that it can be launched by an operator, not an automation engineer.”

Call for Cultural Change from New Matrikon Partner
For at least 14 years, Michel Ruel of Top Control has been the training arm of Expertune. Yesterday, Matrikon and Top Control announced that Ruel and Top Control will now be doing the same thing, but as Matrikon’s partner instead.

Expanding on Brown’s remarks, Ruel said there’s going to be a huge shift in the way operators and control engineers work. The older experienced engineers and operators are retiring, and the ones who are left both work differently and have way too much to do.

“Imagine what happens when you tell one of these younger operators that he must stay for the weekend for an emergency shutdown. He says, ‘Oh, no, I am going hiking with my buddies.’”

Ruel repeated much of the information he presented in his talk yesterday, which we covered in the eShow Daily that was email blasted this morning. His big point is that only 25% of control loops give acceptable performance in automatic control. “And these numbers are the same ones I was using in speeches like this ten years ago!”

Loop tuning is, however, only part of the problem. The good news is, however, that just monitoring PV, SP, Mode and CO, process control engineers can model exactly what is going on with that loop. Armed with that information, they can convince the operations people to push set points to the limit constraints. “That is where the savings are!” said Ruel. “Imagine what would happen if we did that to all 3 million PID controllers in North America!”

Small gestures count, he added. “If you quantify the results, you can use each PID controller to build successes. Out of these small successes you can grow enormous value.”

Ruel reiterated Brown’s point that the technology is there to do this. The technology has moved from strip-chart recorders to DCS printers, then historians and networks, to continuous monitoring to maintenance and monitoring. Using this technology effectively to drive value across the organization is what must happen next.

Ruel concluded, “We need a culture of change."

Matrikon Control Performance Monitor — Identify, Diagnose and Correct Regulatory and Advanced Controls
- Improve control loop and APC performance
- Enable control loop and APC monitoring and tuning
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Click and watch an interactive demonstration and learn how to reduce process variability.
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