ABB Seeks More Diversity in Safety Business

Oct. 22, 2013
The process industries (especially the hydrocarbon processing industries) are now confronting a disturbing trend in safety. While the number of safety incidents has declined, the severity and impact of individual accidents have increased.

Reversing the Disturbing Trend in Process Safety 
The process industries (especially the hydrocarbon processing industries) are now confronting a disturbing trend in safety. While the number of safety incidents has declined, the severity and impact of individual accidents have increased. This is in part due to the larger scale and increased complexity of their operations. The net effect is that industry safety metrics have stopped improving and, given the past few years, are even regressing.

It would be too much to expect these industries to just return to the simpler operations of earlier times. Much oil & gas production now involves resources that are far harder to reach and require far more complex production systems. So how will these industries get back on the path toward achieving the next level of safety performance? That is a question that end users and suppliers alike now struggle with.

ARC Advisory Group recently met with executives from the safety business of ABB, who were acutely aware of this issue. Their strategy for improvement involves treating safety more as a process; one in which products play an important role, but consulting and application services are equally important in achieving the client's goal.

ABB's safety business has been expanding by riding the wave of new projects in oil & gas and chemicals in which the company is participating, with much of the safety business focused on oil & gas projects. With the company's long history in process safety, it can boast an installed base of thousands of systems, most associated with large projects. Now, the company is working both to improve end results for its customers and address additional segments of today's safety market.

Safety as a Process 
ABB's scale in safety has enabled it to grow its service capabilities. The present business is supported by more than 20 "Safety Execution Centers" worldwide. These locations have significant human resources, enabling them to take on the largest projects. In addition, fifteen ABB locations have been certified by TÜV to execute safety projects.

While these locations share a common safety business process, they are individually certified by TÜV, whose concern is that they maintain a Functional Safety Management System (FSMS) in accordance with the IEC61508 and IEC61511 standards, and that this becomes an extension of the normal quality control process for the group.

ABB Consulting Services organization, a group of over 500 professionals, has practices in a number of operational areas. These include process safety management, safety integrity level/layer of protection (SIL/LOP) analysis, human factors, safety culture, and safety systems review. The organization, functionally separate from the safety product group, has deep experience in the oil & gas industry.

Safety Products 
ABB Control Technologies, the internal organization that manages automation system and operational technology (OT) software development, places safety products on an equal plane with ABB's automation and software products. From a business standpoint, all are developed and commercialized using a common process and organizational structure.

The safety business development strategy has four major components. First is to continue to enhance ABB's flagship System 800xA High Integrity safety system with features and enhancements required for large Integrated Control and Safety Systems (ICSS) for the oil, gas and petrochemical markets.

The second component consists of new upgrade options to 800xA HI for the older Triguard and Plantguard ABB safety products. The company will follow this up in late 2013 with a similar solution for (the oldest) ABB Safeguard line. The ABB team realizes that many of these installations may choose not to upgrade and simply to run their existing safety systems throughout the asset life. However, given that ABB has such a large installed base of safety systems stretching back over 30 years to the earliest days of the concept, it believes a significant number of installations will pursue safety system upgrades, especially if ABB provides a simplified migration path.

ABB DCS-Agnostic "Independent HI" Safety Offering

Third is to exploit "Independent High Integrity." This is ABB's DCS-agnostic SIL 3 safety system offering. Independent HI includes ABB High Integrity I/O and controllers, control engineering tools, and TÜV-certified application libraries. Integration with non-ABB equipment is via protocols such as OPC and Modbus TCP. Independent HI gives ABB's project delivery teams the platform to pursue applications in non-ABB sites or projects that do not have or require a full DCS-style HMI.

Finally, ABB seeks to engage its existing channel partners and OEMs as a delivery arm for projects and industries that ABB does not handle directly as well as for smaller upgrade opportunities. A significant piece of this business will be burner management and turbo-machinery protection systems where a large number of installed systems run earlier and uncertified versions of ABB DCS hardware and may want to upgrade to systems that comply with current regional regulations and global standards.

New 800xA Safety Software 
The latest 800xA software release (5.1 Feature Pack 4) contains several enhancements for safety system applications. IAC (Inter-Application Communication) is a TÜV-certified communications protocol for peer-to-peer and redundant communications between different safety applications. According to the company, IAC simplifies engineering and improves controller utilization, enabling larger applications with fewer controllers. A new Protection Library provides solutions for machine safety. This will enable 800xA HI to serve hybrid industry machine safety applications in place of dedicated safety PLCs. Targeted applications include paper machines, rolling mills, cranes, and food processing lines.

Other new software functions include Safe Online Write (SOW) for multiple systems, a TÜV-certified method for performing a confirmed online write from a remote station to a "target" system through a secure VPN tunnel. This can be used for multi-system integration for 800xA or other DCS. SOW can write to the SIS via configuration without affecting the TÜV certification or requiring custom programming. It also enables interaction via third party systems or HMIs. Remote SOW could also be used to access the safety system from a remote area of the plant or allow an expert at a remote site to perform a task on the system in a secure manner.

ARC's Take 
ABB's approach to safety as a lifecycle process aligns well with the needs of manufacturing end users. The firm has also decoupled its 800xA HI from the DCS product and improved its feature set, opening up new opportunities. These are the necessary conditions to grow its safety business. In order to succeed at growth and diversification the firm must expand its services menu and best practices to satisfy a broader clientele with more diverse needs and procurement practices than traditional ABB safety customers from major oil & gas producers.

In the automation business, the best place to hunt new business is within the installed base. Given ABB's big installed base in industries like power generation and pulp & paper, ARC would expect these industries to be among the first to take up ABB's new safety capability. If ABB can bring this about, the company will be able to diversify its safety business beyond its present reliance on oil & gas.