Power to the Process

Sept. 15, 2008
A Single System for Both Process and Power Automation Can Reduce Investment Cost by as Much as 20%
By Keith Larson, VP Content, Putman Media

Energy costs being what they are, overall asset optimization increasingly means not only process optimization, but power optimization too. Indeed, strategies such as power-shedding to avoid peak consumption charges require an integrated view of the twin—and often conflicting—priorities of production and power. • Today, progressive process manufacturers—aided by a handful of uniquely positioned suppliers of both process automation and electrical systems—are beginning to reap the benefits of a more holistic, integrated view of power and process automation.

“Electrical integration,” explains Mats Pettersson, ABB's product manager for electrical integration, “doesn’t replace power distribution SCADA systems, but complements them on the plant site. It provides a common platform for unified operations, and allows extended asset management and additional applications like power management to be included in the plant control system.”

Siemens, the other leading contender in the drive to integrate power and process, also supplies both process automation and power automation systems built on what is, at its core, a common technology platform. The Siemens solution “includes functions to optimize plant uptime and increase availability with power-shedding, on-board tools for commissioning and testing and operations,” says Bill Joss, regional business manager for power transmission and distribution in Siemens’ Energy Management and Automation division.

Both Pettersson and Joss touted the potential for their companies’ approaches to power and process automation integration at their respective user group meetings this spring. Further operational advantages cited  include savings on installation costs, reduced possibility of blackouts and ongoing operational costs savings resulting from non-duplication of systems and staff, says Pettersson. “It can reduce investment cost by as much as 20% over a non-integrated, two-control-system approach,” he says.

But integration of the electrical and control worlds is not without its challenges and “will require considerable missionary work” notes ABB's Pettersson. Those engineers and technicians responsible for electrical systems often use a vocabulary different from process automation professionals—as do the systems with which they work.

On the power side, the unfortunately acronymed IEDs, (intelligent electrical devices) communicate via the emerging IEC 61850 (or “station bus”) standard for Ethernet-based communications. On the process side, programmable controllers and other devices communicate via Profibus, Foundation, HART and other industry standards.

But the ability of today’s open architecture control systems to handle both types of protocols—as well as advanced applications supporting their disparate, complementary and inter-related functions—is the secret sauce that makes integration both feasible and beneficial.

Voice-of-the-customer surveys have confirmed the appeal of a singular view of automation and electrical systems, adds Pettersson. Value-added applications of particular appeal include asset management, centralized data recording and connectivity to systems for ERP and alarm management.

Realizing the true potential of real-time performance management increasingly requires that operators and engineers move beyond just controlling process temperatures and electrical voltages to making decisions based on dollars and cents. And an integrated view of both process and power data is a key step in the right direction.

“Tighter integration has the potential to increase both efficiency and productivity,” adds Peter Terwiesch, ABB chief technology officer.

And in this day and age, it’s hard to imagine a process manufacturer that couldn’t use a generous dose of both.