When January 1 rolls around, it's traditional for editors of technology publications to take note of the passing year by pointing out that we were supposed to have flying cars a long time ago, but they're still not here. Sure, there are a few versions of aircraft that you can drive on a public road, but they remain bad cars and lousy airplanes.
Still, the hype goes on. The same can be said for the "lights out" factory, self-configuring "universal" I/O, a unified digital fieldbus standard and many other industrial wonders that haven't quite yet come to be.
So instead of the ubiquitous "Where's my flying car?" New Year's diatribe, I'd much rather talk about amazing innovations and creative applications that already exist—that you can do or buy today to make your control system work better, your job easier or your facility more reliable and efficient.
We fit at least a few of these into every issue of Control. This month, I'm especially thrilled by the apparent ease with which Saudi Aramco Abqaiq Plants reduced its energy costs by many millions of dollars without increasing the energy efficiency of its equipment by applying Integration Objects' KnowledgeNet (KNet), an intelligent framework application.
Originally designed to help big plants increase uptime and safety by preventing equipment failures, KNet aggregates data from DCS, SCADA, plant historian, LIMS, ERP and MES systems through OPC, .NET, Web Services and other protocols, then uses a reasoning engine for modeling complex events, root cause analysis for diagnosis and a workflow module for applying best practices. It keeps track of operation issues and tasks, and guides operations to minimize production losses.
Co-author Samy Achour told me it's been difficult to get some end-user company engineers to quantify their results because they're embarrassed to admit they let their facilities run so inefficiently for so long when they could save so much on energy with a system that costs so little. That's the power of information technology, when enough data is intelligently analyzed and the results are brought to the attention of the right people or simply fed back into the control setpoints.
Call me easily pleased, but I was also delighted to see the Steinhauer ModCenter in operation in November, 2014 at Automation Fair. My day job is as your humble editor, but I've punched plenty of enclosures in my time and once saber-sawed a breathtaking hole in my beloved 1974 Civic to install an aftermarket sunroof. Pentair (Hoffman) has made this very cool special-purpose CNC machining center available to quickly, accurately, neatly (and relatively quietly) drill and cut beautiful holes in control cabinets at a price that can make economic sense even if you only modify a dozen or so per month.
Some, perhaps many, of the innovations we see coming in process control are empowered by what we're calling "smart industry" technology. The industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), backed by pervasive sensing, big data and the connectivity of the cloud, is setting manufacturing up to reap many more of the benefits information technology has brought to consumer and commercial applications.
My favorite recent example of data-driven consumer nirvana is the second generation of electronics now coming to sport bikes (performance motorcycles). The fastest models in this class offer about 200 horsepower, do 0-60 mph in less than three seconds and can exceed 180 mph. A few years ago, BMW shook up the Japanese-dominated segment by adding traction control and stability control to the anti-lock brake capabilities of its then-new S1000RR. The result is an incredibly safe, fast and easy-to-ride machine.
Yamaha has introduced the second generation with its new YZF-R1, which Cycle World says has "a 'six-axis' inertial measuring unit...which would fit into the palm off your hand, contains gyros to measure rotations around three axes (roll, pitch and yaw) and accelerometers to measure rate of speed change along each axis. This is the technology of an ICBM's inertial guidance, miniaturized and made affordable....Nose-up pitch indicates 'wheelie in progress' and the system smoothly controls it through throttle-by-wire." List price is $16,490.
I frankly expect smart industry technologies to do the same for your process equipment. Executive Editor Jim Montague says it's already started.
If you're improving the art and science of process control, whether by crunching big data or simply using a better alloy for a crush ring in a pressure sensor, let us know so we can help you change the world. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.