NAMUR blazes trail toward open control

NAMUR represents several thousand process control specialists, with about 300 participating in almost 40 working groups focusing on: measurement, controls, automation, communication, process management and electrical engineering, covering the entire plant lifecycle.

With the recent focus on the Open Process Automation (OPA) forum, ExxonMobil and Lockheed, it may seem there are no other open/interoperability efforts out there. This isn't true, as ably demonstrated by NAMUR, the “User Association of Automation Technology in Process Industries,” and its NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) program.

Established in 1949, NAMUR is an international association of more than 140 user companies, and represents their interests in adding value through automation. In all, NAMUR represents several thousand process control specialists, with about 300 participating in almost 40 working groups focusing on: measurement, controls, automation, communication, process management and electrical engineering, covering the entire plant lifecycle. Important results from the working groups are published as NAMUR recommendations and worksheets.

Christian Klettner, senior project manager for digitization at BASF SE and chair of NOA's working group for automation architecture and wireless, reports that NAMUR works closely with many control automation suppliers, but adds that, “Many automation architectures still aren't close, extracting data remains painful, and integrating new technologies is often slow or doesn't happen at all. A lot of plants are still using 4-20 mA, so systems aren't open, and data flows parallel to existing systems. Change and updating to new technologies is initially costly and complex, so they don't do it, also because they're subject to high requirements for plant safety and availability. That's why NAMUR asks if process automation is losing track of modern technology. This is much different that IT-based innovations in sensors and communications that are approaching the process industries at high speed.”

Klettner explained at the ARC Industry Forum that NOA aims to equip old and new plants with futuristic, Industrie 4.0 monitoring, and optimize operations beyond the classic automation pyramid, which consists of the field level, basic automation, manufacturing execution and enterprise resource planning. “The question is, how can we remove the brakes blocking flexible utilization of Industrie 4.0 in the process industries, but still be efficient and safe? We can't afford to risk the installed base, so we developed NOA,” he adds.

NOA's guiding principles and key requirements are:

  • No compromise on plant safety and availability;
  • Open interface between process control and monitoring and optimization;
  • Approach needs to fit new and existing plants;
  • Agile implementation based on existing standards;
  • Security must be an integral aspect of design; and
  • Usability, simplicity and economic efficiency are main success factors.

In general, NOA uses a highly reliable IT infrastructure to perform monitoring and optimization tasks in centrally located and plant-specific areas, but it doesn't impact core-process and deterministic controls or the proprietary interfaces in those facilities (see figure). “NAMUR plans to add NOA to existing equipment and networks, but only for monitoring and optimization functions,” says Don Bartusiak, chief process control engineer at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Co. (EMRE). “NOA also makes sure there's no back door through which process control data can reach the enterprise.”

For example, to better predict heat exchanger fouling, NOA can enable easy and flexible integration of required sensor data into its monitoring and optimization system. Klettner explains this can increase transparency of plant assets and reduce production losses, as well as optimize maintenance planning and production schedules. “Production plants normally aren't instrumented for optimization purposes because the added components are usually too expensive,” he says. “With NOA, we can do it and add value.”

For the full story, read "Breaking the interoperability barrier."

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