How Distributed Control Systems are Adapting to the Future of Manufacturing
Published on : Friday 06-08-2021
Roy Tanner discusses existing advances in DCS and looks at how the technology is evolving to meet the changing needs of companies.
Automation is making an increasing difference in the world around us, enabling an expanding range of production tasks to be handled and executed more efficiently, productively, and safely. The arrival of new digital technologies in industrial applications is calling for a new generation of Distributed Control System (DCS), which can adapt to change without compromising process safety or performance.
In today’s plants, much of the hard work entailed in making the decisions that make automation possible is carried out by Distributed Control Systems. Combining a series of control loops regulated by distributed process controllers which are linked into a single operator platform, Distributed Control Systems have proven to be a highly effective way of managing core operational, maintenance and safety functions in a wide range of process and plant applications.
As a way of managing large and complicated control functions in a single environment, Distributed Control Systems offer several advantages, including:
Safety and system availability
The inherent redundancy built into Distributed Control Systems enables safe and disruption-free operation to be maintained in the event of a problem.
By monitoring all aspects of plant performance, Distributed Control Systems can highlight when and where problems are likely to occur, activating alarms to enable action to be taken in good time. Auto-mated decision-making also reduces the potential for mistakes made by human operators, such as missing, misinterpreting or ignoring an alarm condition.
When linked into an operator platform, data from Distributed Control Systems covering a few hundred to potentially thousands of tags or assets can be presented via HMI to provide a detailed overview of plant conditions. Functions such as datalogging and alarm management help to provide a clear picture of what is happening, enabling the operator to make informed decisions based on current plant data.
A key benefit of Distributed Control Systems is their scalability, with extra control or process units able to be added to meet changing demands, such as extra control operations. Compared to PLCs, which have limitations on inputs and outputs (I/O), Distributed Control Systems offer a much easier path, with I/O capacity able to be expanded by adding extra modules to the controller.
With multiple layers of security for different levels of access, Distributed Control Systems offer a secure platform for handling key factory automation control functions.
Adapting to a changing world
While Distributed Control Systems have provided an ideal solution for managing the functions needed to keep plants operating efficiently and safely, they are struggling to meet the expectations arising from the emergence of digital technologies in the industrial space. While developments such as smart instrumentation and sensors utilising IIoT technologies are transforming possibilities for control and access to data, the difficulties of integrating them into Distributed Control Systems have meant that in some cases their full potential has remained largely unrealised.
For existing systems especially, carrying out the modifications needed to accommodate new technologies such as smart field devices like transmitters, sensors and actuators could be a complicated and potentially risky process, incurring significant time and cost to perform due to the need for any new functions or components to be tested. Consequently, the response of many process owner-operators has been to maintain the status quo, keeping their Distributed Control Systems as they are.
With systems that were installed over 3 decades ago still in operation today, new solutions are needed that can handle the growing demands placed by the digitalisation of plants. In particular, there is a need for systems to be able to adapt to meet the growing focus on remote services to help reduce employee exposure to hazardous environments, and to reduce costs. Remote monitoring and management is now commonplace, and Distributed Control Systems, and applications normally hosted on them, are facilitating this. However, the real game changer in recent times is the onset of Covid-19. The pandemic has forced process industries to look at their operations and look at how they can better control employee interaction to help prevent the spread of the virus.
The challenge now is to find ways to enable Distributed Control Systems to be more innovative and agile without compromising their main role of reliably and safely controlling and coordinating large numbers of production assets.
The path forward
One path forward for Distributed Control Systems has come from the NAMUR user association, in the form of the NAMUR Open Architecture, or NOA, initiative.
Established in 2016, NOA is a vision for how to apply digital technologies to control systems in process-oriented industries including chemicals, food and pharmaceuticals. NOA aims to make production data easily and securely usable for plant and asset monitoring as well as optimisation. The guiding principles for NOA are:
1. No compromise on plant safety and plant availability
2. Open interface between ‘Core Process Control’ and ‘Monitoring & Optimisation’
3. A consistent approach for new and existing production plants
4. Agile implementation based on existing standards
5. Automation security must be an integral design aspect (Security by Design), and
6. Usability, reduction of complexity and economic efficiency are the key success factors.
Effectively, NOA adds a layer to a Distributed Control System that enables extra functions to be added by providing an open and secure environment for integrating IT components from the field up to the enterprise level. In contrast to the somewhat closed system design of older generation DCS, and as an improvement to the modern, more open yet slow to advance automation platforms, the NOA principles provide the flexibility for DCS to adapt more rapidly to new technologies. With this new approach, operators can extend the capabilities of their control systems to include new functions such as asset and device management, optimisation, and planning, without impacting on the core functions of the Distributed Control System itself and without the time or risks previously associated with making changes or upgrading.
A good example is edge computing and the Cloud, which are helping companies to increasingly explore the benefits of IIoT-enabled sensors. These devices produce a huge amount of data about processes – temperatures, pressures, and the levels of liquids in a vessel, to name a few. In the past, a lot of this data was left untended and un-utilised, with companies lacking the ability to easily analyse it or share it between individuals, departments, or multiple sites.
By enabling edge and Cloud technologies to be easily integrated into the Distributed Control System, the NOA approach will now allow users to fully unlock the possibilities of Industry 4.0 by enabling the improved flow of data throughout an organisation that can be securely accessed as and when required to allow informed decisions and actions.
It will also provide greater flexibility in the way that solutions are implemented, enabling a shift from traditional buying of systems to usage-based ‘pay-as-you-go’ software subscriptions. This approach always brings new possibilities when it comes to business models and how applications, and eventually the DCS itself, is purchased, from buy it up front to software as a service.
With these initiatives, and new technologies, DCS is set to form the backbone of many processing plants today, and into the future.
Driving growth in India
Manufacturing in India continues to grow at pace. According to Statista, the manufacturing industry in India has emerged as a fast-growing sector owing to the rapidly increasing population in the country. Investments in the sector have been on the rise and initiatives like ‘Make in India’ are aiming to turn the country into a global manufacturing hub. The annual growth rate of production in the manufacturing industry was about 3.9 per cent during fiscal year 20191.
India is also a significant exporter of products including steel, cement, food, pharmaceuticals, oil, and chemicals. The Serum Institute for example is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer2, and is currently playing a key role in helping to tackle the global Covid-19 pandemic.
This growth is making companies focus on maximising productivity, and manufacturing higher quality products, without compromising safety. In the main, it’s these drivers that are behind the current and future growth of manufacturing and DCS in India.
DCS in action – Indian Cement Manufacturer
ABB recently helped a cement plant in India to realise the benefits of DCS. Chettinad Cement, one of the fastest growing cement producers in India, was looking at how advances in measurement and optimisation tools, automation, and process control could have a positive impact on productivity, energy efficiency and environmental compliance.
To meet these objectives, ABB incorporated several operational and control technologies into Chettinad Cement’s operations including an electrical power control and automation package, control system upgrade, and measurement products.
As a result of the DCS, the amount of energy used by Chettinad’s production processes was lowered and made more efficient. In addition, by leveraging the DCS, Chettinad’s control room staff can adjust the pro-cess to run at its optimal level, helping to further reduce energy and raw material consumption while ensuring processes continue without interruption.
As a leading provider of DCS solutions, ABB continuously develops new control benefits for customers. For example, by processing the massive amounts of data generated by the DCS, ABB continues to develop new data analytics that help customers to increase production efficiency, and leverage machine learning capabilities that improve problem predictability and extend asset life.
1. India – manufacturing industry production growth rate https://www.statista.com/statistics/661391/manufacturing-industry-production-growth-rate-india2019 | Statista
2. Inside India's Serum Institute: The vaccine manufacturer at the heart of the world's Covid vaccine supply (yahoo.com)
Roy Tanner, Strategic Product Development – Distributed Control Systems (DCS) for ABB, specialises in industrial automation across various industry segments. His expertise spans Value Proposition based Product Marketing, Value Proposition based Product Demonstration, Product Marketing, Partnership Development, Competitive Intelligence and Building Customer Relationships.
ABB is a leading global technology company that energises the transformation of society and industry to achieve a more productive, sustainable future. By connecting software to its electrification, robotics, automation and motion portfolio, ABB pushes the boundaries of technology to drive performance to new levels.