Upgrading to a modern distributed control system can help producers be more productive, increase profitability and reduce risks as Mark Venables explains.

Business growth in production and manufacturing hinges on the success of its production strategy – expanding throughput, decreasing downtime, improving consistency, ensuring quality, and keeping employees safe. Meanwhile, lifecycle costs associated with engineering, inventory, and system maintenance need to be managed to remain competitive and protect the company’s bottom line.

To succeed in these areas, producers and manufacturers must keep up with the latest technological trends or be left behind in the competitive stakes. A modern distributed control system (DCS) has become an essential tool in the digital transformation, increasing productivity and profits while reducing risks in the production and manufacturing industries.

“While digital transformation represents a fundamental shift in how producers and manufacturers operate, it need not be a complicated process,” Blair Wilson, PlantPAx Marketing Manager at Rockwell Automation, explains. “The idea of integrating modern digital technology into established business practices may seem like a daunting task. After all, it is the catalyst for foundational changes to the way plant floors operate, and how value is delivered to customers. The results, however, are hard to ignore. We are already seeing major improvements in KPIs such as asset utilisation, on-time delivery, and quality in plants which have successfully implemented a digital strategy.”

Even though digitalisation is an ongoing process that can be achieved on an incremental basis – from smart sensors to the full implementation of multi-facility enterprise systems – many businesses have yet to produce a digital transformation strategy.

A strategy is an important step in determining the value of digital solutions for a business, and can help identify business objectives, assess what a system requires to achieve these objectives, and plan the execution of the strategy.

“Given the systemic nature of change that the digital transformation is bringing to the production and manufacturing industry, a modern DCS is set to become the cornerstone of this transition,” Wilson adds. “Automation projects can be difficult to manage and justify financially, and some businesses decide not to take the risk of migrating to a new system. Although these plants continue to run on traditional, suboptimal DCSs, the benefits of switching to a modern DCS outweigh any potential risks incurred.

“Reasons to replace a DCS can include an increased failure rate, higher incidence of off-spec product, accelerating maintenance costs, lack of legacy DCS expertise, capacity limitations, and inability to interface with contemporary systems.

“By contrast, modern DCSs have many advantages over their predecessors, including higher performance, site-wide availability, scalable system capabilities, an open technology stack, and ease of integration.

“Companies are able to make the case for modernisation, based on both the existing system shortcomings, and the significant improvements that a new, state-of-the-art modern DCS can bring.”

Examples of modern DCSs in action

A modern DCS can help to develop a connected enterprise as part of the digital strategy, achieving plant-wide control and optimisation, maximising operations, achieving high availability, reducing costs, and increasing production.

“A pharmaceutical company that we engaged with, for example, managed to implement its digital strategy and achieve its desired outcomes with the help of a modern DCS, which was used to automate its bioprocess equipment,” Wilson continues. “By integrating with a manufacturing execution system application and electronic batch records, it was able to harness the data to increase production throughput, availability, and employee efficiency by ten to 20 per cent, as well as decrease energy usage, scrap material, batch release time, maintenance, and downtime investigations by five to 30 per cent.

“Another customer in the food and beverage sphere was desperate to scale operations and upgrade its automation system and enjoyed a 20 per cent increase in capacity in just one year after implementing a modern DCS. The real-time data now available enables constant access so staff can make immediate, informed decisions at instant speed.”

Modern DCSs enabling the digital transformation

Considering the number of positive stories from businesses who have begun their digital transformation, it is safe to assume that digitalisation is the new normal in manufacturing. Producers who embrace this technological revolution stand to gain a competitive edge compared to those who are slow to realise the potential value it can add to their business.

A modern DCS is the foundation of any digital transformation, providing data and insights which can help improve performance, decision-making, and profitability. Ultimately, with the right solutions in place, businesses should feel confident that they have the tools necessary to meet the challenges of tomorrow head-on.

Three of the best

Lisa Ridgely, Rockwell Automation Systems and Solutions Business outlines a trio of major challenges that a modern DCS can help address

  1. Addressing the challenge of productivity. How can producers best innovate when disparate systems throughout the enterprise create bottlenecks and inefficiencies? The sheer amount of information from supply chains, plant assets, and business systems can overwhelm teams trying to function in real-time or create a new concept. Rapid improvements in technology enable producers to access more information than ever for decision-making purposes.
  2. Doing more with less to help the bottom line. Production teams must do more with less to meet budget expectations throughout their plant’s lifecycle. Operators must find ways to gain the visibility and control needed to reduce unplanned downtime, prevent quality issues, and eliminate waste from production. Producers are looking for plant-wide automation that is easily updated and supported, and technology must help the plant remain in continuous operation.
  3. Reducing operational risk. Risk is everywhere and takes many forms respective to your network infrastructure, the backbone of your system. Even when contingencies are considered, unforeseen events can impact safe and reliable plant operations. As producers identify factors that contribute to unplanned delays, downtime, product safety, and worker safety, they require systems that can navigate dynamic conditions and that enable them to aggressively respond armed with information. As threats shift from operational risks to external actors, control systems need to be strong yet adaptable. Are you implementing a robust infrastructure for your system?

Managing all phases of the plant’s lifecycle with modern DCS

 Jim Winter, Global Process Director, Rockwell Automation explains how PlantPAx 5.0 drives profitability and reduces risk across plant operations

 Traditionally, choosing a DCS would tie a company into a system for decades – Is this still the case today?

In the past this would be the case. The scalability and flexibility of traditional DCS systems meant that customers needed to engage for a long time to ensure proper ROI of their significant investments as the capex required for traditional DCS was substantial. Also, in heavy industries safety is a main concern and, in the past, it was not recommended to use PLC/Scada solutions for these types of applications.

With the globalisation of the consumer markets there is a need for increased production flexibility and reduction of capex/opex required to meet the market demands. With PlantPAx 5.0 we have taken an additional step in enabling customers to scale up their system towards their needs and due to the openness of our DCS, you are not locked in forever.

The scalability of PlantPAx allows our customers to modernise their plant at their own pace as our solution can be on a process skid that integrates into our PlantPAx system. We are also seeing that the technology cycles are getting shorter which is driving customers to manage their plant and asset lifecycle in a more proactive manner. To reduce the risk of production losses due to obsolescence customers are planning migrations budgets as part of their business plans.

How can engineers ensure that their process control assets are future-proofed and have the flexibility needed to meet fast changing customer demands?

When we talk about the process control engineers, we need to differentiate between the new generation and the already established engineers. With PlantPAx we made a choice to use our proven technology and extend it with process functionality for all generations of engineers. This means that our DCS is both future proof and backwards compatible enabling engineers to design, implement with their domain expertise rather than traditional DCS systems which are less flexible to adjust to the application.

While the industry is driving more and more standardization throughout multiple plants & process skids, there is a need to allow the engineering community to quickly adjust the system and add process equipment or modify the DCS system to meet production changes. PlantPAx is an open system but comes with all process functionality to allow a high level of standardization without limiting the engineers to adopt the system to the application requirements or future integration of new process equipment. We have added with PlantPAx 5.0 for the newer generation the ability for high end analytics and Augmented Reality. This will enable the process engineers to review plant functionality before it’s even built and provide to the plant engineering community insights in production processes to quickly adjust the process where needed.

Three strategic choices

To help mitigate risk — and spread costs over time — many companies choose a phased approach to migrating to a modern DCS. However, a rip-and-replace conversion strategy is appropriate for others. Each transformation project is unique and requires proper planning to address the organisation’s challenges and goals.

In most cases, it is essential to perform the conversion with very little downtime and minimal risk, and these requirements determine much of the upgrade strategy.

You must decide on three main strategic choices before conversions take place.

  1. Will the upgrade be vertical or horizontal? In a vertical upgrade, just one process area is upgraded at a time. In a horizontal upgrade, multiple similar process units are upgraded simultaneously, generally across process areas.
  2. Will the upgrade be done by replacing all automation system components simultaneously (rip-and-replace) or with a phased migration approach? With a phased approach, replacing the automation system takes longer, but will require less downtime and entail less risk. Breaking the planned downtime into multiple short phases is often a great advantage for maintaining production, and it spreads out migration costs over a longer period.
  3. Will it be a “hot” or “cold” cutover? With hot cutover, the old DCS and the new automation system operate simultaneously, with one control loop at a time migrated from the old DCS to the new automation system at the I/O level. With cold cutover, the old DCS is replaced by the new automation system, with the entire process being restarted at once.

With innovative thinking, each upgrade area is examined for opportunities to enhance how the system performs. Return on investment (ROI) due to these improvements over legacy systems is often very quick; improved operations, better quality, more throughput, few safety-related incidents, augmented cyber-security and less unplanned downtime are the primary benefits of converting to a modern DCS in their new Connected Enterprise.

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