P2E: the foremost frontier for plant profitability

P2E materializes as the foremost frontier for plant profitability.

By Paul Studebaker

Streamlined MES, plant-wide wireless and communications methodologies for disparate systems were dominant themes at the recent ISA Show in Chicago, all presented as enabling tools for performing maintenance and production more efficiently by bringing real-time information to and from control, condition-monitoring, CMMS, scheduling, ERP and the hundreds of other applications running in the typical plant.

The course was set by Tuesday keynote speaker Kevin Roach, chairman of MESA International and vice president of Rockwell Software. “Executives are getting only half of what they want from their ERP systems,” he said. “The problem is limited access to plant-floor data.” The top (ERP) and bottom (automation) layers of the plant information hierarchy are “stable and producing,” he says. “But due to lack of integration, the squishy space in the middle is causing production to be delayed.”

Compared to typical plant production, Roach’s research says the “perfect order,” which is processed without delays and meets quality standards, requires 15% less inventory, gives 35% shorter cash-to-cash (raw material purchase to payment for sold goods), and results in just 10% of the stock-outs.

As Roach spoke, Rockwell Software is rolling out a plant-wide information software strategy that includes expanding the capabilities of its FactoryTalk suite to deliver real-time information between manufacturing and business systems. He says the suite will bring together current solutions for control, visualization, information management and MES, and provide a foundation to develop and acquire additional highly scalable, standards-based applications that give plants insight into manufacturing operations and help them execute business strategies that optimize production.

Later that morning, Invensys announced a secure wireless strategy for plant and enterprise applications. It uses a comprehensive managed network approach centered around shared access point technology and common data and security models for wireless devices, regardless of vendor or application. Asset utilization and availability are targeted for improvement through real-time equipment monitoring, energy management, personnel tracking, process optimization, security, enterprise asset management and more.

“The good news in the emerging world of wireless technology is that more and more ingenious wireless devices are being introduced all the time,” said Hesh Kagan, wireless program manager at Invensys. “The bad news is that most of these devices use different, vendor-specific wireless protocols, technologies and access points to communicate with the wired communications infrastructure.” This can make it very difficult to use the data coming from these devices effectively and virtually impossible to ensure appropriate levels of security.

“That’s why we worked closely with our partners and several large customers to develop a unique managed wireless network approach that uses shared access point technology for all devices and a common data and security model for all wireless frequencies and protocols -- WiFi, WiMax, 802.15.4, RFID, ZigBee, VoIP, proprietary protocols, etc.” Kagan added (see figure). “The shared access points provide significant upfront and ongoing cost-savings for our customers. The common data model makes it much easier to incorporate the wireless data into our asset performance management applications. And with a standardized security model, we can now effectively manage the wireless infrastructure to help ensure appropriate levels of security and performance.”

The wireless push is apparently well underway--the announcement included examples of rollouts in progress at several large process plants. The Invensys initiative is particularly significant in the context of the company’s recent announcements of a partnership with condition-monitoring company Swantech and a company-wide focus on asset management. Initial offerings include monitoring systems for instruments, valves, loops, pumps and other equipment.

In other ISA Show news about wireless, the Accutech division of Adaptive Instruments introduced its next-generation platform. Advancements include increased battery life with a 20-year shelf life, enhanced connectivity with OPC as a standard interface, increased coverage that now supports 100 field units per base radio and more than 100 base radios in overlapping zones, improved security with the new AccuWire data protection, and backward compatibility with existing installations. A handheld configuration/diagnostic
tool and a fully redundant system, where multiple base radios are listening to all field radios for bumpless redundancy, are coming soon.

Whether the protocol is wired or wireless, announcements at the show evidenced a rush to standardize on device descriptions to improve interoperability of different brands of instrumentation and controls. The HART Communication Foundation (HCF) announced approval by its member companies of an enhanced device description language (EDDL) specification. The enhanced DDL allows users to more easily configure, diagnose and monitor performance of intelligent instrumentation. ABB, Emerson, Honeywell, Invensys, Siemens, Yokogawa and others have announced plans to fully support it.

Ron Helson, HCF executive director, said a wireless working group has been formed and is expected to draft a preliminary HART wireless specification late in Q1 2006.

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