The ones and zeroes don't care what physics or events they represent. Pressure, temperature, flow, oil, gas, chemicals, water, ore, slurries, pulp or tapioca pudding—it's all the same to them. Likewise, mathematics, algorithms, software and microprocessors are equally willing to chew on whatever digital data comes their way—and now it's power and electrical control's turn to join the process automation party.
The separation between process control and power is one of the oldest organizational barriers on the plant floor. However, digital data is starting to flow more freely between them, and their convergence is allowing users to achieve many and varied gains, improve efficiency and reliability, and reduce costs at the same time.
"We're seeing demand for integration of electrical control and process control across the board among our clients from hydropower to large production plants, mostly due to greater awareness of the IEC 61850 standard," says Brian Harrison, president of Coast Automation Inc., a CSIA-member system integrator in Vancouver, B.C. "I think it began six or seven years ago, when users tried to settle on a common programming language based on the IEC 61131 standard, and then this commonality spread via the fieldbuses and Ethernet-based protocols. Of course, everyone is looking for efficiency and energy savings, and IEC 61850 lets them look at power use at the production level, add meters to their motors and drives, and monitor their consumption and efficiency on a combined SCADA package."