Fieldbus / Wireless / HMI / I/O Systems

Missing Links: The Current Status of Manufacturing Technology

The Missing Technologies Are Smarter I/O, Virtualization for Hardware and Testing, the DICED Capabilities, a Third-Party Interface Solution Using Ethernet, Standardized HMI, the IEC 61850 Standard for Communications in Substations, and a Suitable Wireless System

By Paul Studebaker

In the process of exploring the current status of manufacturing technology, presenters at the recent ARC Forum highlighted a number missing links: specific products, software and standards we need for industry to fully benefit from smart devices, pervasive sensing and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Perhaps the most specific was Sandy Vasser, facilities I&E manager, ExxonMobil Development Co., who exhorts his group to "challenge traditional approaches" for engineering and constructing automation projects. The group's vision would eliminate marshalling cabinets, field programming and acceptance tests by automating device detection, identification, configuration, enablement and documentation, a strategy he calls DICED.

Also Read: Connecting the Manufacturing Dots

DICED-based designs will use a modular field junction box, built to company standards with a fixed set of smart I/O, to be purchased in quantities that exceed the anticipated I/O requirements of the project, and deployed on the site roughly according to the distribution of field devices. These junction boxes are connected directly to the control cabinet by fiberoptics. Installers can wire field devices to the next I/O terminals in the nearest junction box.

Meanwhile, the control strategy is independently developed and tested by simulation using "virtualized hardware." Once everything is brought together and hooked up, DICED technology would let the system automatically prepare for start-up, almost without human interaction. "It would just happen," Vasser says.

The missing technologies are smarter I/O, virtualization for hardware and testing, the DICED capabilities, a third-party interface solution using Ethernet, standardized HMI, the IEC 61850 standard for communications in substations, and a suitable wireless system. I wasn't the only one taking notes.

In other presentations, Chris Muench, C-Labs LLC, said the IoT needs development to be used in manufacturing. "Industrial applications are different," Muench says, "They're not necessarily over the Internet, they can be device-to-device." High speeds and determinism require transmission to be fast, so it can't go through conversions. The cloud can provide outsourced computing power for analysis and historian functions, and the Internet can provide connections to supervisory functions through smart phones and tablets, but control must be local. Also, "Security must be baked in, not added on," he says.

Herman Storey of Herman Storey Consulting talked about the ISA-108 standard for communication with intelligent devices, which would define how intelligent valves and transmitters should deliver self-diagnostics and other information to facilitate maintenance.

Our plants have a large HART installed base and some 67% of instruments are intelligent, but most are underused. ISA-108 intends to fill gaps between intelligent devices in automation systems and the ISO 55000 asset management standard used for everything else in the plant.

The ISA-108 initiative began in September 2012. So far, Storey says, the standards committee has drafted Part 1, Concepts and Terminology, and has "starting documents" for Part 2, Work Process Specifications, and Part 3, Implementation Guide. It's a complicated job, and he offered no schedule for its completion.

As sensors and transmitters grow ever smarter and cheaper, data transmission and processing becomes secure and essentially unlimited, and the commercial space carpet-bombs us with innovative applications from trivial to awesomely inspiring. Opportunities abound for folks who can define and implement industrial versions, challenge traditional approaches, and build the missing links that offer a significant competitive edge for their plants and their companies.