Why use the same controller to manage process and safety systems?

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Looking back at the evolution of the PLC, we can certainly see leaps and bounds in development since the invention of the Modicon 084 controller in 1968. Fast forward to today and we have smart factories and processing environments with edge intelligence and control giving  us improved business agility through better control and faster insights which result in lower operating expenses.

In addition, a growing number of industrial facilities are exploring the power of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cloud computing, advanced automation and robotics, data analytics, digital manufacturing, as well as additive manufacturing as ways to measurably improve their operational profitability. In a highly competitive global marketplace, industrial organisations seek “digital intelligence” to manage hundreds or sometimes thousands of assets in an enterprise. Being data-driven allows manufacturers and process managers to gain a competitive advantage by analyzing information and acting on it in near real-time to improve various processes in production, logistics, and supply chain management and ultimately the overall profitability of the enterprise.

Yet, even with all this development, plant managers are still facing challenges:

The Integration and Maintenance Challenge

While aging equipment and operator errors remain the major reasons for overall unscheduled downtime in the manufacturing sector, there are specific integration and maintenance challenges that are hampering the effective use of PLCs/PACs.

The Safety Challenge

The megatrend of “innovating to zero” is prompting manufacturers and process operators to work towards a “zero concept” operational environment – with zero emissions, zero accidents, zero fatalities, zero defects, and zero breaches of security. Process safety plays a central role in moving towards these goals because safety risks in process environments can lead to lack of availability of production systems resulting in loss of profits and service-level agreement penalties. Process safety risks can also lead to the loss of integrity of control systems resulting in injuries/fatalities and delayed or compromised production. Finally, these risks can result in the loss of intellectual property which reduces competitiveness. From a higher level business perspective these risks can have significant ramifications in the form of reduced profitability and market share, as well as negative impacts on stock price.

The Cybersecurity Challenge

Today industrial environments are becoming increasingly vulnerable to cyber attack due to the greater number of connected devices in operation, and more prevalent use of cloud computing solutions. In addition, cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated and are targeting industrial facilities for cyber attacks.

The Engineering Cost Challenge

The imperative to maximize profitability is prompting greater scrutiny of engineering costs in all automation projects. However, resources required for system design related to documentation, safety, functionality, and flexibility result in engineering costs equating to approximately half of total automation project costs (the other half being hardware and software).

How does common safety help?

Common safety is a control approach which allows process and safety functions to be implemented within a common engineering environment on the same hardware platform while still operating separately and independently.

Here are three reasons why common safety – an approach that ensures that both process and safety operations are separate and independent within the same hardware platform – is seeing increased traction:

  1. With advancements in manufacturing/ electronic technology and connectivity it is now possible to develop common safety controllers which handle programmable safety needs and provide world class control system performance. Therefore, complete automation solutions are available which address both safety and non-safety control functionalities allowing users to improve their operational profitability safely.
  2. Integration of safety and non-safety controls reduces the overall cost of engineering.
  3. Modifying hard wire based, standalone safety systems following commissioning, is a complicated process that many end-users can not undertake themselves.

In the right application the common safety approach eliminates the need for system integrators to design complex, hard wired safety systems. For Hybrid Industry users it could deliver the benefits of flexibility, ease-of-use, and reduced cost of engineering without compromising the independence of either the process safety system or the safety system.

Read more about the benefits of the common safety approach in a new whitepaper: Integrating safety and process environments written by Frost and Sullivan

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