When physical equipment breaks down, everybody can see and know why the plant is not producing. But, when the automation system is compromised, the resulting losses of productivity or efficiency may remain largely invisible—a loop is put in manual, an instrument is bypassed, or no one even notices the degradation or identifies the cause.
An ABB analysis of control systems worldwide revealed that up to 75% of a typical plant’s automation investment is not providing benefits. In other words, the systems are not operating as designed or intended. The main cause was a lack of ongoing and regular control loop tuning. The result? Instead of solving problems, these control systems were actually introducing them.
In the early days of automation, collecting data to perform maintenance was very difficult, which meant that troubleshooting was time-consuming and manual. Monitoring control loops requires a sophisticated skill set, including the fundamentals of control, knowledge of electrical and process equipment, and detailed process understanding.
Then, as great as modern automation systems are, they typically don’t run and repair themselves—human intervention is still needed. Application software also needs to be maintained regularly, and many organizations have fewer trained personnel to perform hardware and software maintenance.
Today, methods and technologies are emerging that can monitor automation systems, raise the visibility of poorly performing loops, and pinpoint problem instruments in early stages, before throughput, quality or energy consumption compromise profitability or deliveries. Loop and performance monitoring software and systems, remote loop analysis and tuning services, even complete automation system maintenance as a service, are available for plants that recognize the need.
If managers really want to increase productivity and efficiency, they must ensure that they use their industrial control systems effectively. The best way to do this is to ensure that automatic control is turned on and tightly tuned. Ensuring that loops are tuned and optimized regularly enables plants to use less raw material, reduce energy consumption, increase production, enhance product quality and troubleshoot more rapidly and effectively.
For more about the importance of tuning to productivity and efficiency, and available tools for preventive and proactive automation system maintenance, see the Technology Report, “How to tune and maintain control systems to maximize productivity.”