For decades now, ABB has been on the leading edge of efforts to streamline the design and delivery of digital automation systems—and to minimize associated project risk. To learn more about how ABB’s latest technologies, software tools and project execution methodology are helping the process industries to improve capital project delivery, Keith Larson, publisher of Control, sat down with Brandon Spencer, vice president and business unit manager for oil, gas and chemicals in North America, for the big picture view.
Larson: What’s behind the current industry-wide emphasis on improving capital project delivery?
Spencer: The process industries’ newest production assets have never been larger or more complicated. But with increased scale and complexity has come a growing inability to predictably deliver capital projects on schedule and within budget. Key contributors to this growing risk are late design changes that tend to cascade throughout a project, causing delays and budget overruns.
Larson: We’ve heard that from the readers of Control, too. In a recent poll, 70% of respondents indicated that late changes often affect overall project budget and schedule. Further, the majority indicated that these effects are “significant” or “major.” What is it about automation in particular that tends to put it on the critical path of project completion?
Spencer: The engineering of instrumentation and automation systems necessarily depends on the design decisions made by other engineering disciplines. And traditional automation systems lack the flexbility to roll with any late changes that come their way.
For example, despite the longstanding availability of fully digital fieldbuses for instrument communication, many process end users still specify analog electronic loops. And while analog loops remain a familiar and trusted technology, they require an extensive hardware infrastructure of input/output (I/O) systems in order to bridge the gap between analog field instruments and digital automation systems.
Traditionally, these I/O subsystems and even the enclosures for them have been custom, highly engineered systems designed to accommodate a specific mix of I/O types based on anticipated process requirements. Schedule delays and cost overruns happen when, say, a new measurement point is added late in the design cycle and there isn’t a spare I/O channel of the appropriate type available. With the old way of doing I/O, this kicked off a whole series of expensive and time-consuming rework.
Larson: ABB has put forth Select I/O, which can be configured in the field on a single-channel basis, as a key part of the solution to this problem. How does Select I/O help reduce project risk?
Spencer: Select I/O effectively allows each I/O channel to remain flexible and “undeclared” until very late in the project, often until just before commissioning. All that’s needed from a project planning perspective is an approximate I/O count. This effectively decouples I/O hardware engineering from software design, which lowers development costs and shortens delivery schedule. Further, physical marshalling cabinets and terminal blocks are eliminated in favor of “digital” marshalling in the course of system commissioning.
Larson: What other steps has ABB taken to reduce project risk and streamline delivery?
Spencer: ABB uses a combination of digital technologies to speed the development, testing and validation of automation applications. Development teams have the option of using these tools locally or collaborating across the cloud. Standardized logic templates mean that developers seldom start from scratch but can adapt proven strategies to their processes’ unique requirements. Also, process simulation and hardware emulation tools allow full software testing in a virtual environment that mimics how the real system will behave.
Finally, automated data management tools effectively allow I/O points within process skids and intelligent electrical devices to be digitally marshalled into the 800xA architecture as well. This means that all of the data points that make up a project—whether resident in a control system I/O module or within a connected electrical substation—are integrated, visible and manageable from the start.