Next Steps: From Batch to Procedure-Controlled Automation

The Principles of Batch Automation Are Being Used in Continuous Process to Improve Process Safety and Quality, and to Compensate for Losing Older, Highly Experienced Operators

By Walt Boyes

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The ISA S88 Standard Committee, whose work resulted in the ISA-88 Batch Standard, may never have foreseen that the principles and best practices it developed for batching processes in the food, chemical and pharmaceutical industries might one day be the spearhead of an entirely new way to control all types of process plants, whether continuous, batch or hybrid.

Or maybe they did. After WBF, the organization founded to promote batch process technology, and MESA, the organization for manufacturing excellence that grew out of manufacturing execution systems, merged on May 31 (See "FAQ - MESA/WBF Merger"), some of the same people who brought you ISA-88 are now working very hard on ISA-106. ISA-106 is the Procedure-Controlled Automation standard. ISA-106 was designed to leverage the state- and procedure-based functionality of batch processes across the continuous process industries.

About Batch and the ISA-88 Standard

Dave Emerson, director of the U.S. Development Center for Yokogawa, and co-author of BatchML (the language that makes ISA-88 work) says, "The ISA-88 standard has allowed manufacturing companies to focus more on their process and production, and less on software and configuration to automate the processes."

Eddie Habibi, founder and CEO of PAS Inc. concurs. "Yes. Absolutely! The adoption of ISA-88 in the batch industries has yielded incredible benefits in both quality and throughput. Automated batch processes are inherently safer and more optimized," he says. "Leveraging the ISA-88 standards, the batch industries have been able to capture and repeat the performance of their best operators [that is, creating the "Golden Batch"] automatically, every time."

Emerson continues, "ISA-88 enables manufacturing companies to apply more sophisticated automation, and automate processes where there might not have been a business case to automate. The increased attention to more
sophisticated automation enables quality, and increases production and the ability to introduce new products more quickly at lower cost."

Process Automation Hall of Fame member Dr. Maurice Wilkins, who spent most of his career as an end user with companies such as Exxon Chemical, Millennium Specialty Chemicals and Lyondell Petroleum, and is now head of strategic marketing at Yokogawa, is blunt in assessing of the standard's effect. "ISA-88 has also forced suppliers to deal in a common language that all users also understand, with modularity around the way the plant operates and the products are made, rather than how their specific system operates."

Chris Morse, batch product manager at Honeywell Process Solutions, agrees. "ISA-88 enables us to use the same structure and terminology  used by all other stakeholders in the industry. With this foundation, we've invested in features that result in users producing a greater range of products from the same assets, increased throughput from those asseta and higher quality."

Safety and Alarm Management

Many batch and control system theorists believe that ISA-88 started a new trend toward a philosophy of safer control systems. This is somewhat different than having an emergency shut down (ESD) system or a safety instrumented system (SIS) that springs into action when the inherently unsafe control system sees an abnormal situation.

Dr. Peter Martin, vice president and fellow at Invensys Operations Management and author of Bottom Line Automation, says, "Traditionally, the service logic of a batch project was often added in as an afterthought, which diminished its effectiveness and increased its cost of implementation. I believe those who understand and utilize the ISA-88 standard and the concepts on which it's built are much more likely to design the service logic into the procedure from inception. This will potentially improve the safety of the operation."

Joe Shingara, vice president of marketing for NovaTech, a supplier of batch and procedure-controlled distributed control systems, mostly in the fine chemical and pharmaceuticals industries, says, "A more consistent and standardized approach to automation control strategy inherently results in safer plant operations. An empowered and informed operations staff, using consistent recipe development, scheduling and HMI, results in fewer mistakes and fewer abnormal situations. Furthermore, control systems that take full advantage of ISA-88 programming techniques do more work and can monitor and react to abnormal situations without operator intervention."

It's becoming clear that we may have been working on the wrong end of the problem all this time. Serious accidents, such as BP Texas City, Deepwater Horizon and the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake, keep happening, and nearly always one of the root causes identified in the post-mortem analysis is the set of errors made by plant operators, themselves confused, frightened or untrained.

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