Over the past six months, Invensys executives have given the editors of Control some advance looks into the as-yet-unreleased new iteration of the I/A Series DCS. We have had a chance to look under the hood, kick the tires and talk to the beta testers. We have seen a redesign that is an evolution of the I/A Series system, one that includes several new features and is built on other existing technology that has new capabilities.
"It will have a new name that reflects this new technology and new capabilities," says Mary Beth Connolly, vice president of marketing for Invensys' systems business. "But we want to balance the 'newness' with the sense that this is really the next step in the evolution of the I/A Series DCS. We prefer to call it a modern control system, one that extends the life of our customers' investments, essentially future -proofing their technology."
Grant LeSueur, director of product management, and one of the fathers of the Invensys enterprise control system, InFusion, adds, "This concept is an extension of our 'continuously current' philosophy. The modern control system does not require customers to replace everything they have on a regular cycle, but lets them continue to wring as much value as possible from existing technology while leveraging the emergence of our modern control and safety systems."
One of the system's beta testers, Michael McKenzie of BP in Brisbane, Australia, agrees. "The decision to upgrade with Invensys was made for a few reasons. The initial driver was that we were facing a substantial obsolescence issue and we had ranked this issue as a significant risk to on-going operations," he says. "After initial review, we realized that we needed to upgrade the vast majority of our DCS, but like most sites, we didn't have the luxury of a site-wide shutdown to make a full change possible. We needed a solution that would allow us to upgrade components we needed to, without sacrificing functionality or usability for our operators. That was the main reason for moving ahead with Invensys."
Le Sueur says, "In a nutshell, we use a combination of new innovation and existing technology to deliver a modern system that's flexible and easy to use, while at the same time eliminating constraints that would prevent the system from being improved, updated or built upon. This control offering features object-oriented architecture, a completely new visualization offering, new, larger and more capable controllers, a strong virtualization offering and new virtual controllers, device integration, our Intelligent Marshalling universal I/O, and field device management."
McKenzie points to this last as a key feature that BP has already used heavily: "We use the Invensys control-room side software as an offline configuration tool for DCS, Foundation fieldbus and HART. This gives us integrated support for Foundation fieldbus. In our recent maintenance, we moved all temperature inputs from thermocouple input cards in the field to Foundation fieldbus, and set up monitoring of the health of the instruments without the need for an instrument tech to do anything more than plug in the thermocouples to the fieldbus devices."
Le Sueur explains, "BP used our control-room side software for offline configuration because it provided a centralized configuration repository, even though in some cases the control configurations were being loaded into much older systems. However, our control-room side software can be used online too. Because BP was operating an older system in some areas, the software was used to centrally manage the entire system, but exported to the older portions of the system until they could be upgraded. With the new system, these older portions of the control system can be managed online as well."
The system is based on a focused, simple, easy-to-understand design that ensures no single piece of hardware or software can negatively affect the operator's ability to control the plant. "In effect," Le Sueur said, "we've designed a zero single point of failure. The design goes beyond a pure redundant backup philosophy. We've instituted 1-n failure mode, which allows the system to tolerate multiple concurrent failures before the performance of the plant even begins to degrade."
"Having a set of clear layers within the system that are built on standard interfaces allows our customers to mix and match technology and software versions, and gives them the ability to adopt new innovation and technologies, while keeping the plant running," Connolly says. "This also gives them the ability to adapt to changing compliance, regulatory and other operating or production standards, and allows them to increase or change the power of the system without major distruptions of production."
As result, Invensys can update the control room side of the system based on "Internet time," the rapidly changing cycle of hardware and software updates in the IT world, while continuing to update the process-connected components based on "plant time."
"Here's the thing," Le Sueur says, "The value of a control system is diminished if the cost of implementing it is prohibitive. Users and customers don't see the point of a new system if it can't be easily installed, and if it can't make life easier for operators, systems engineers and technicians."
Does McKenzie agree? "In short, yes. The new evolution of I/A allows for much easier upgrade of all components and will ensure that we can keep our system well away from obsolescence, so that we're not required to perform large scale upgrades as we're doing now. The movement of the new system to Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 will also ensure that the operating systems remain supported by Microsoft, and security patches remain available."