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Imagine that with one click a process operator can access any information required to make an informed decision—regardless of where the data resides. Or that a maintenance technician can access from her wireless tablet the commissioning displays, diagnostics and active work orders for the transmitter she is troubleshooting. Or that an advanced process control algorithm can tap energy costs, usage rates and production schedules to automatically optimize plant performance in real-time.
The potential and the power of integration lies in what can be achieved when information is made available, in context, to all of the devices, systems and individuals responsible for controlling, managing and maintaining production. Realizing this vision requires seamless, transparent access to data and information from all traditional hierarchical levels of plant information, from field devices to control system applications to business systems.ABB, with its System 800xA object-oriented architecture, is uniquely positioned to make this vision an achievable reality, according to Roy Tanner, ABB systems marketing manager. Control recently caught up with Tanner to discuss how end users can leverage an "integration-ready" architecture to achieve substantial business benefits—both for today and into the future.
Q: Why do many automation platforms fall short of realizing the promise of integration?
A: With any integration using today's technology, the question isn't "can" it be done, but rather will it be seamless? How easily and economically can it be done? And how sustainable will the solution be over time?
For example, integrating a small software component may be relatively easy, but will multiple support contracts with multiple vendors be needed? And, when it doesn't work, is there anyone on staff that knows about it enough to troubleshoot problems, or must an outside source be called upon?
And can the automation platform accommodate new technologies and integration possibilities in the future?
Q: What trends are driving the process industries to seek more integration-ready systems?
A: In the past, optimizing process control defined excellent performance. But with changing market demands requiring faster turnarounds, greater customization and lower overall costs, production gains achieved through process control improvements have not been enough to guarantee success. In today's fast-paced global economy, competitive advantages result when a company can tap into its assets' unused productivity to meet changing demands.
Also, centralization of systems and resources is a key strategy for coping with retiring plant operators and reduced engineering resource pools. This means that having five to 10 different plant systems—each with its own domain experts—is unsustainable over the long term, whether we're talking about operations, maintenance or engineering.
And as manufacturing processes continue to become increasingly complex, a higher level of integration and coordinated control is required. Integrated systems must reach beyond the single unit or area to various plant entities, departments and people in order for them to be truly effective and to impact production in a positive way. What is needed is an automation platform with incredible connectivity capabilities--a platform that can make actionable information available to users in a variety of roles.
Q: How is ABB's System 800xA architecture uniquely suited for achieving the business benefits of integration?
A: Collaboration among people and systems is fundamental to increasing engineering efficiency, operator effectiveness and asset utilization. In fact, the "xA" in System 800xA stands for "Extended Automation." System 800xA is the only automation platform that unifies the ability to engineer, commission, control and execute automation strategies for process, power, electrical and safety in the same redundant, reliable system.
The extent of integration offered by most automation suppliers extends only as far as a select set of fieldbus technologies and loosely integrated applications, which means that their solutions will be severely limited in functionality and business value delivery now and in the future. So, users need to ask questions, know their goals, and understand what is possible.
ABB's System 800xA is an automation platform that includes a full complement of integration capabilities. We have more than a dozen communications protocol Interfaces to our AC800M controller base as well as pre-integrated interfaces to multiple automation systems from ABB and other suppliers. And with integration hooks for a range of third-party software applications, System 800xA is ready now—and in the future—for any automation integration challenge
ABB's superior lifecycle policies, services and products also ensure the highest possible return over the entire life of the system. System 800xA has become the evolution platform for ABB's prior generation systems, encompassing an installed base of more than $21B USD of Advant Master, MOD 300, Harmony, DCI, Freelance, Melody and SATT systems. And where others promote "rip-and-replace" migration strategies, we deliver true system evolution, allowing users to build on already strong foundations. Removing the barriers of traditional distributed control systems, System 800xA provides the integrated environment that is required to increase productivity while reducing risk and total cost of ownership.