Process Control Renovations: DCS Edition

June 14, 2013
You Can Do More Than You Think
About the Author
Jim Montague is the Executive Editor at Control, Control Design and Industrial Networking magazines. Jim has spent the last 13 years as an editor and brings a wealth of automation and controls knowledge to the position. For the past eight years, Jim worked at Reed Business Information as News Editor for Control Engineering magazine. Jim has a BA in English from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and lives in Skokie, Illinois.

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I was miffed when Control's editor-in-chief Walt Boyes told me weeks ago that this month's cover story on migrating aging systems, "Restoration Possible," should be limited to distributed control system (DCS) upgrades. Why restrict the topic, I thought? There have to be lots of other process control renovations I could cover, right?

Well, as is often the case, time proved Walt right, and I was soon up to my neck in DCS migration stories. Recent recession or not, it seems there are more renovations going on in process control than on This Old House, and everyone and their brother is repairing or replacing a DCS or doing some combination of the two. What also became apparent was that many of the hardware and software tools needed for migrations are getting easier and less costly to use—mainly because they're more based on PCs and microprocessors running software, so they're less costly and more flexible to apply, configure and readjust.

For instance, besides the tales related in the cover article, RasGas in Doha, Qatar, reports it recently upgraded to Invensys Operations Management's Foxboro I/A Series DCS and Triconex safety instrumented system (SIS) to improve communication and production between its on-shore control room and liquid natural gas (LNG) processing train and part of its North Field natural gas field located 130 kilometers offshore. The new system integrates HART, Modbus, Profibus, OPC and Ethernet communications and enables them to interoperate within one project database.

Similarly, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., recently migrated from its old Crisp DCS controlling dozens of DOS-based HMIs for its cryogenics cooling compressors to InduSoft's modular software architecture and operating system running on browser-based displays. RHIC refrigerates and liquefies about 6 million cubic feet of helium to run its experiments, and its 80K cooler, cold-snake superconducting magnet and other systems have a combined 10,000 I/O points reporting to its VAX control system. Consequently, system integrator Salem Automation (SA) helped Brookhaven use InduSoft's migration tool for Crisp to re-host its existing displays on new PCs, while InduSoft's communications driver allowed them to talk directly to their control system.

Likewise, Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ky., relied on its APACS+ automation system for 24/7 production since 1999, but recently needed to upgrade because its hardware and software were being phased out. Luckily, Four Roses' distillery operations director, Ryan Ashley, determined he could upgrade to Siemens Industry's Simatic PCS 7 DCS, but still retain his existing APACS+ controllers, I/O and field wiring. Also, the APACS+ HMIs were replaced with PCS 7/APACS+ OS HMIs, which allowed Four Roses to continue to use its APACS+ controllers without making modifications to the application software.

All of these and other cases show how software and PCs can help upgrade and run process control applications, but there's just one snag. I think it's because the tools and methods for doing DCS and other upgrades have advanced so quickly, but many potential users don't seem to know how much more approachable and affordable DCS migrations and other upgrade projects could be for them. Similar to so many other much-needed human endeavors, the only barrier to doing them is in the minds of those who think it can't be done.

Maybe that's what Eleanor Roosevelt meant in her famous quote, "You must do the thing you think you can't do." Well, with software and PC-enabled controls, a lot more of those old obstacles—mental and otherwise—should be coming down, and many more useful gains will be within reach.

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control.