Systems Integration / HMI / Automation Fair

PlantPAx Users Reaping Virtualization Benefits

Rockwell Automation Users Prevent Downtime While Saving Money, Energy and Effort

By Walt Boyes

Automation Fair 2012


Virtualization is very real for users of Rockwell Automation's PlantPAx process automation systems. And at this week's Process Solutions User Group (PSUG) meeting in Philadelphia, attendees could choose from half a dozen success stories—in applications ranging from pharmaceuticals to power generation—to hear how their peers have used virtualization to reduce systems costs and maintenance efforts.

"The Fortune 500 has uniformly adopted virtualization," said Nancy Youn, director of global alliances for VMWare, Rockwell Automation's virtualization platform partner, in her PSUG keynote address. IT departments are leveraging virtualization technology to boost system performance and availability while reducing costs, energy demands and maintenance requirements, Youn said. "Energy savings and sustainability make virtualization necessary—but security and high availability are compelling as well."

These same benefits realized in the IT space are proving out for users of process automation systems as well. And to help users realize these benefits, the PlantPAx process automation system software now is distributed on a USB hard drive as a series of virtual templates that can be easily installed and configured in either a physical server or virtual server environment.

Applications Demonstrate Cost Savings

Amlyn Ohio, a manufacturer of diabetes medications, has virtualized two PlantPAx applications on two different Microsoft server platforms. "Both of them worked, and worked well," said Bob Fulop, director of engineering. But because the company manufacturers pharmaceuticals, it's subject to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's validation requirements. "We had some problems with the quality department over it," Daniel Chaput, Amylin's automation manager, said. "So we went ahead and piloted it first."

He described the process. "We built a blank stack with templates, just the operating system files and no application files. We used that to build the virtual system. We moved the actual servers to a workgroup so we could name the virtual servers the same thing, and then we turned off the physical machines, connected the virtual servers to VSphere, added the machines back to the domains, linked FactoryTalk View and Security groups to the domains, migrated the licenses from Rockwell Automation to the virtual machines, and we were done! We converted 11 physical servers to just a few hosts," Fulop said.

Tom Oberbeck of the Mallinkrodt division of Covidien in Saint Louis told much the same story.  "We virtualized our central utility control system when we did the latest project for our new central utility plant," he said. "The Mallinkrodt campus is 145 years old and badly needed a new steam and chill water distribution and control system. We reduced our footprint from 22 PCs to two duplicate SANs [storage area networks] and 11 thin clients. We reported to management a $120,000 cost avoidance initially, and an additional $100,000 savings for future server upgrades, mostly in reduced hardware costs."

High Availability Protects Production

Jeff Moore, senior electrical engineer from Gallus Biopharmaceuticals of St. Louis, along with Steven Schneebeli, lead systems engineer for Malisko Engineering, also of St. Louis, said that they used virtualization to aid Gallus in changing from a "big pharma" manufacturer to a flexible, nimble contract manufacturing organization (CMO).

Key to the company's transformation was a portable, dual-bioreactor control station. It replaced the end-of-life Windows NT solutions they'd been running. "It gave us high availability, reduced HMI requirements and even reduced the number of ControlLogix PACs. It is robust enough to be portable," Moore said.

"We used to have one to six days downtime if a server blew," added Covidien's Oberbeck, "and now our worst case downtime is 30 minutes. Virtualization gives us very high availability, at a continuing savings in energy."

"If we are down for a day, we lose a $1 million batch," said Amlyn's Fulop. "Now we can lose a blade server and automatically failover to a back-up server without the operator even noticing."