Emerging Trends in Instrumentation & Controls
Published by : Industrial Automation
Emerging Trends in Instrumentation & Controls
Experts debate how IIoT has engendered new trends in instrumentation & controls with the availability of cloud based engineering tools and other emerging technologies.
Doing more with less – that’s what automation has enabled. In the field of Instrumentation & Controls, it is all about collection of data from processes, machines and instruments. Even as sensors and programmable devices automated certain functions, these were essentially standalone systems. The Internet of Things (IoT) has changed all that and together with Industrial IoT, is taking it to the next level. What exactly are the new trends and the challenges they pose? Industrial Automation invited expert views on the subject, both from vendors and end users, to get an idea about the emerging trends.
“We are facing mainly three challenges – the first being obsolescence of instrumentation and control systems. The second one is, vendors are coming with newer technologies but user industry sometimes lacks competent workforce to adopt and maintain new systems; and thirdly, correct justification for investment is a challenge,” says Dharmender Singhal, Global Head, Electrical & Instrumentation, Haldor Topsoe India Pvt Ltd, speaking about the issues faced by user industries.
“Different markets expect different characteristics from Instrumentation & Controls. The military market is reliability-driven, the consumer market is cost-driven, the medical market safety-driven, and the automotive (specifically process plants) market is a combination of all of the above,” says Khemraj Dureja, General Manager – Instrumentation & Electrical, Yara Fertilizers India Pvt Ltd, adding another perspective. According to him, new instruments designed to meet future requirements generally ought to have one or more of the following characteristics: faster speed, smaller size, lower power consumption, greater immunity to noise and physical or electrical interference, increased system reliability and reduced maintenance down time, and last but not the least, higher accuracy.
According to Shyam Warialani, Managing Director, Baumer Technology India Pvt Ltd, “Process measurement and control are critical enablers for manufacturing plants. At the same time industrial sector is facing severe competition, shortage of experienced and knowledgeable engineers. Hence companies are continuously looking for innovative methods to improve efficiency, increase reliability, and reduce risk and cost.” Baumer Technologies is a manufacturer of process instrumentation. “Today, the method for selecting and deploying process instrumentation is changing. Industrial organisations use techniques of productivity tools for selection of products up to the commissioning,” he adds.
“Process instrumentation in earlier years was largely focused on three aspects: Interface to Process (mechanical connections, material compatibility), Instrument Performance (range, accuracies, and response time) and Safety Certifications (ATEX, FM. PESO, etc), says Suhas Bhide, Director – Wireless, Emerson Process Management. “In IIoT era, in addition to these three aspects, which are now kind of considered as given, discussions are around new sensor technologies, digital protocols and data security,” he adds.
Speaking from the user perspective from the oil and gas industry, K R Printer, Former Chief Engineer, ONGC says, “This terminology (IIoT) is new to today’s automation industry. We are now discovering the value of automation through smart embedded technology, which helps different pieces of equipment to communicate with each other and allows a communication link with the Enterprise. This makes things easier for managements to leverage output from the existing machinery as they remain connected on a 24x7 basis. There are three major components that make this possible: Smart instrumentation, fast communication and software.”
Are vendors able to address the issues and in position to offer complete solutions? “Most of the vendors are not able to give single window solutions to the traditional challenges/pain points of industries. There are numerous vendors capable of giving software solutions but required sensors suiting to the specific environment are not available with them. The user has to dovetail the same and therefore sometimes projects fail. Security, reliability, performance, etc., are still unknown,” says Vivek Gupta, Assistant Vice President & Head Instrumentation, DCM Shriram Limited.
Karan Sharma, Instrumentation Head at a Global Energy Company agrees. “Most of the times vendors are able to provide complete solutions but that solution may not be optimum and cost effective, e.g., suitable material of construction of equipment based on process requirement, sometimes you need to go for higher material grade, which increases the cost or sometimes you need to lower the requirements to suit what is available in the market by bringing in changes in your process,” he opines.
“Vendors do have good technical products but I think problem is more of understanding the application and actual business pains,” says Singhal, and elaborates: “I mean sometimes the solution is simple but we start thinking a big infrastructure and make it high investment and non-viable project. In my opinion more joint efforts are needed, relationship between plant owner and vendor should be of partners, more objective focused approach.”
Another rising trend is wireless instrumentation. How robust and reliable is wireless instrumentation? “Wireless instrumentation is a merger of wireless sensor network technologies with industrial field instrumentation. This is becoming increasingly popular in the process industries since the recent ratification of WirelessHart and ISA 100.11a specifications. The wireless communications provide reliable, self-healing, and self-configuring communication between the devices and control system and also to human beings. They provide cost effective alternative to traditional wired field devices,” says Warialani. WirelessHART is an open standard supported by the independent FieldComm Group.
Emerson is among the pioneers and leaders in wireless instrumentation. “Yes, wireless instrumentation is very robust and reliable across industries. Few harsh applications where wireless has been deployed include rotating kilns, measurement in high gauss environment in metal industry, on-shore oil wells in countries with sub-zero temperatures, sewerage and effluent treatment plants. WirelessHART has been in industries for almost 12+ years and the accelerated adoption with 45K+ wireless networks globally with 16 Bn operating hours, asserts Bhide.
From the user industry perspective, Printer says instrumentation has adopted a fair share of communication technology with the passage of time. “We have progressed from two wire 4-20 mA, HART, Fieldbus and will soon adopt high speed Ethernet. Wireless instrumentation too has made significant strides and is now widely accepted by industry. We have moved rapidly from 2G to 3G to 4G and eagerly await 5G. In offshore instrumentation wireless instrumentation has severe limitations due to the metallic structures and hence very rarely used,” he opines.
Is multiplicity of protocols presenting a problem? “Yes,” says Gupta. “Multiplicity of protocols poses problems. Existing systems protocols do not match with the current requirement, which calls for system upgrade. Some systems work on WirelessHART, others on different protocols and thus the mismatch. There is no international standard for the same. “Yes, at times,” concurs Sharma. “When you want to interface two different systems, which are operating on different protocols, it can be a challenge and painful. With current available converters, it is easier but by introducing a device to interface which shouldn’t be the case. It should be easy plug and play solutions to interface different devices,” he stresses.
Finally, there is the issue of safety and security. “The plant floor and process units have become a growing area of concern for cybersecurity,” says Dureja, who is of the opinion that plants are driven by a digital thread of technical data – product and process information – that can be shared throughout the enterprise and must be protected. “Much attention has been given to protecting technical information in IT systems and networks. But protecting the operational systems of a process industries presents a new and different set of challenges. Not only must the technical data be shielded from theft, it also must be protected from alteration that could impair proper functioning of a process operation or affect the safety and availability of the production system,” he emphasises.
“The first step is to increase awareness about importance of cybersecurity. Every installation and updating should be strictly followed through auditing, and with stringent rules while purchasing of new electronic devices,” opines Singhal. “There are endless examples of security breaches happening on a daily basis. We look at these numbers as miniscule compared to the number of operations the automation network supports on a daily basis. The industry is working on this on a 24x7 basis but yet the threat still exists. Today we trust the internet for purchasing, banking, etc., and most of us are comfortable. However, consider that very miniscule number of compromises in a more complex situation like an aircraft, nuclear missile installation or even offshore oil production that risk cannot be taken as the stakes are just too high,” elaborates Printer.
“An IoT-based service depends on the reliability and quality of the connectivity link. This makes connectivity an important building block in IoT infrastructure. Not only must it be reliable and offer the appropriate quality of service to serve the underlying devices and applications, but it must also be secure enough to stop sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands. Data diode can address such issues,” opines Gupta.
“All users are having strong IT networks and firewalls to keep cyber hackers away. In earlier days, control system was not connected to the internet but now, with advancement of technologies, most of the control systems are connected to the internet. Just having strong firewalls and network may not suffice. In addition to strong networks and firewalls, cybersecurity is more to do with the people and culture. Continuous awareness and training is required to ensure that people are aware about how to identify potential phishing mail/threat and avoid falling into traps,” concludes Sharma.
(Note: The responses of various experts featured in this story are their personal views and not necessarily of the companies or organisations they represent. The full interviews are hosted online at https://www.iedcommunications.com/interviews)