How tomorrow’s plant automation systems will empower users and simplify tasks

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Industrial automation systems have helped processing plants increase production value, reduce costs, improve safety, comply with environmental regulations, and more. However, as plants increase in size and complexity, there is the potential for information overload.

New automation systems will enable operators, engineers, maintenance technicians, safety teams, and management to extract context-rich data, helping them gain new levels of operational insight and simplify tasks.

Future-ready teams

Operators are challenged with more instrumentation, more data to be processed, more steps needed to assess and resolve problems, and potentially more human error. New automation systems will bridge the gap between complexity and human capability. Situational libraries based on modeling tools will help reduce response time. Pre-configured templates will improve operator effectiveness, reduce fatigue and errors, and ensure consistency with company procedures. Critical information will be accessible through mobile devices, depending on the process and safety considerations.

Systems engineers need to remedy any production problems quickly. Their environment comprises large numbers of systems, typically from different vendors, each with evolving technologies. With no time to deal with complex flow charts, ladder logic, etc., what’s needed are intuitive, easier-to-use interfaces. One approach is the use of Scientific Apparatus Manufacturer’s Association (SAMA) configuration tools, which present a more accurate representation of the relevant proportional-integral-derivative (PID) blocks and data flows. Users are reporting that SAMA intuitive modeling and dynamism can reduce engineering workloads by as much as 60%.

Project engineers need to stay on top of requirements and costs to be able to deliver upgrades on time. An automation system that decouples the configuration layer from the runtime layers enables portions of a system to be configured and tested in the cloud, speeding project delivery. In addition, cloud-based engineering and project management tools enable real-time, worldwide collaboration.

Maintenance technicians are now dealing with an unprecedented quantity of alarms, and systems from different vendors with multiple communication protocols, toolsets, and manuals. A maintenance response center – akin to an operations alarm management system – will offer dashboards and other information to help technicians determine where to drill down into procedures, as well as help synchronize work with other teams.

Safety team members are responsible for securing the plant from safety breaches and cyber-attacks. To maintain operational integrity, a modern process automation system must integrate safety. This will give the operations team enhanced information regarding where an emergency shutdown is being deployed and the safety protection levels in operation. Dashboards can then provide further context on the company’s risk profile.

Plant executives and managers need a future-ready automation solution that provides an effective perspective across the enterprise, facilitating better and faster business decisions. It should also help integrate execution of plant strategies at every level. For example, a template of the operator situational awareness library would display real-time performance against raw material or energy cost reduction objectives. In this way, new automation systems can help align everyone on the same strategic page, yielding a greater competitive advantage.

A future-proof platform

Many of the applications needed to manage the future have not yet been developed or even imagined. To accommodate them, it’s critical to build on an open, secure system platform. Adherence to common object models will ensure users can more simply incorporate applications built to open computing standards as they become available. These could include:

  • Simulation and modeling – training, online optimization, process control
  • Enterprise manufacturing intelligence – trends in production and operation
  • Corporate energy management – respond to fluctuating energy costs and supply
  • Customized SCADA – e.g. well-field, pipeline, water/wastewater
  • Enterprise asset management – diagnostics, inventory, and predictive maintenance
  • Mobile field apps – procedure guidance and reporting

A future-ready automation system will deliver tremendous competitive and protective benefits. But it will also enlighten plant personnel with the context-rich information they need to improve performance, safety, and gains – for themselves, their employers, and the consumers of their products.

To learn more about new levels of plant operations insight, refer to the Schneider Electric white paper ‘The Enlightened Plant: How an Automation System Delivers New Insight to Plant Operations.’

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