The Collaboration Enabler

Tighter Integration Has the Potential to Increase Both Efficiency and Productivity

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The evolution of the traditional distributed control system (DCS) into today's more capable and more all-encompassing process automation architectures has been chronicled by the analysts at the ARC Advisory Group as the advent of the collaborative process automation system, or CPAS. In simplest terms, "collaboration" implies the need for systems to share the information needed to perform optimal control actions—and for people to make sound business decisions.

From a functional point of view, the CPAS model recognizes only two systems in a process plant: the business system and the CPAS, each with different classes of applications, writes Dave Woll of the ARC Advisory Group in Martin Hollender's 2010 book Collaborative Process Automation Systems. The CPAS vision leverages a single, non-hierarchical Ethernet/TCP-IP communications backbone such that field devices, controllers and applications "are able to exchange data and information without barriers," Woll notes. Indeed, the CPAS guiding principles of a common infrastructure that is "functionally transparent, logically concise and based on standards" go a long way toward describing the optimal automation architecture that makes possible the seamless integration of plant systems.

Practically speaking, true collaboration hinges on the integration of all data and information as well as functional plant silos into a single workflow environment. This allows plant resources, from operators to engineers to managers, to not have to deal with multiple systems in order to troubleshoot problems and perform routine tasks. This unified workflow environment helps individuals with different functional roles work together in the context of a bigger, more meaningful picture.

The ABB Approach

At its core, ABB's System 800xA is designed to provide the collaborative environment necessary for the formation and execution of sound business decisions. Based on "Aspect Object" technology, ABB's integration architecture relates all plant data, the Aspects, to specific plant assets, or Objects.

The platform's client-server architecture streamlines controller communications, centralizes configuration and back-up tasks, and provides system-wide management of data for trend, history and audit trail purposes. System 800xA also provides hardware freedom of choice when it comes to the server and workstation computer hardware, even leveraging virtualization technology to streamline and simplify computer systems maintenance.

Engineering is done on a system level and provides significant time savings since configuration of each tag or object is done only once. Personalized workplaces can be configured so that each user has only the information necessary for their function. Licensing is done on a system level so all information and applications in the system are available at each workplace.

A central benefit to using the System 800xA architecture is that once all data and information are plugged into the architecture, a relatively simple, browser-based thin client can be used to seamlessly retrieve and display data from the control system itself as well as any connected third-party systems. Displays are available inside or outside of the plant facility, as long as a secure connection to the plant network exists.

In the case of ABB's System 800xA, this cpmPlus Smart Client provides intelligent data access and viewing functions to assist all levels of personnel in making quick, informed decisions to improve overall plant performance. Among the configurable dashboards that can be easily deployed are trending and statistical process control charts, alarm and event notifications, and even an Excel interface for exporting plant data.

And while collaborative information sharing has broad-ranging benefits that carry into every corner of a process plant's performance, a closer look at the power of integration along two specific dimensions helps to illustrate integration's true potential: the integration of process automation with process safety and with electrical power systems.

Safety Integration Features Flexibility

On the safety front, an integrated approach to safety and control is yielding more cost effective safety instrumented system (SIS) implementations while simultaneously delivering operational benefits. ABB's System 800xA architecture offers the flexibility of hosting both safety and process critical control applications in the same controller or on separate hardware if desired.

Either way, the user still gains many of the same integration benefits, including common operator interface and engineering tools, plant-wide sequence-of-events (SOE) lists for consolidated root cause analysis, as well as centralized historian and data archiving. A common, integrated platform also has the advantage of requiring fewer spare parts, less training and provides a comprehensive, integrated platform for asset management.

"Common safety and automation tools, such as for SOE or alarm management, reduce time to decision and action, while improving plant operations," says Luis Duran, safety business development manager for control systems in ABB's process automation division. "They reduce risk more quickly and allow safe start-up after shutdown because root causes can be quickly identified."

"Similarly," Duran continues, "having a common HMI increases operator familiarity with systems, and this reduces training needed. Seamless integration on all levels reduces complexity and simplifies system design, spare parts and maintenance procedures. Having one engineering environment reduces the engineering required, and this enables simplified application programming, upgrades and modifications to be managed through that one engineering environment. Also, having one supplier means users only need one support organization and lets them have a common life-cycle policy."

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