Process Automation Technology and Supplier Selection

Process Automation technologies have gone through years of evolutionary changes.  One thing that has remained constant is that modern process operations cannot operate without these collective technologies.  Process Automation offers the potential to deliver significant unrealized return on assets (ROA) throughout a process plant. However, many users purchase process automation systems to stay technologically current and reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) relative to minimized risk, rather than to achieve continuous improvement and associated eco-nomic and business gains.

At the center of today’s process automation is typically a Distributed Control System (DCS).  The DCS, however is just one of the many technologies that allow the end user to fully automate their plant.  Typically, devices to measure temperature, flow, level and many other process variables are essential to be integrated with the control system.  Control valves and associated actuators are also essential in process plants.  Additionally, applications such as process historian, advanced process control (APC), and manufacturing execution systems (MES) are integrated with the DCS to allow the process automation to operate in a unified manner. 

Process Automation Technology and Supplier Selection

Safety of both plant personnel and plant equipment are essential.  Typically, many process plants include the deployment of a Safety Instrumented System (SIS).  The primary objective of the SIS is to constantly monitor the production facilities and equipment and to take action if a failure is detected in a critical plant component.

Of course, advances in underlying technologies as well as international standards play a part in making sure the correct solutions are selected for the future as well as the current business needs.  For example, Industrial IoT (IIoT) and Industrie 4.0 provide new opportunities to improve overall business performance.  For owner-operators, this includes operational improvements mostly through improved asset reliability in the process industries.  For end users, the incorporation of IIoT, analytics, and other predictive and prescriptive technologies help to bring performance to a higher level.  

ARC Advisory Group’s suite of  Technology and Supplier Selection Guides are invaluable tools for process automation solution end users trying to navigate the ever changing market dynamics resulting from the trend towards the digital transformation of the heavy process industries, global pandemics, trade wars, currency exchange rate fluctuations, and dynamic economic swings.  ARC’s broad range of related selection guides are used by some of the largest process manufacturers to ensure they choose a solution partner best suited for their regional, vertical, and application focus. 

For detailed information, please click on the selection guide titles below.  For more information or to purchase a selection guide, please contact us.

Distributed Control Systems

Over the past several years, Distributed Control Systems have undergone changes that signal the end of the traditional, largely proprietary, and monolithic DCS.  The proliferation of digital networks at the field level is changing the role and the demand for I/O in the control system.  While the nature of the physical I/O, control networks, and field networks is changing, technologies like the Industrial IoT (IIoT) are pushing change even faster.  IIoT consists of sensors and edge devices, internet technology, the Cloud, and analytics capabilities. 

DCS suppliers are defining a new generation of products in which industrial control systems will be virtualized and “software-defined” to a much greater degree than today.  This trend is epitomized by the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF - a forum of The Open Group), an effort initiated by ExxonMobil in 2016.  This largely end user-driven initiative seeks to define “a standards-based, open, secure, and interoperable process control architecture that applies across multiple process industries.”  The functions of any DCS in today’s plants could be replaced by these new systems, which consist of both servers and small automation edge devices.  This trend in particular is an important consideration as you develop your strategic plan for keeping your plant’s industrial control systems (ICS) up to date.

More information on the Distributed Control Systems selection guide.

SCADA Systems

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems are available for three different segments of the process industries; Oil and Gas pipelines (O&G), Water and Wastewater (W&W) Utilities, and Electric Transmission and Distribution (T&D) applications.  The need for a highly reliable SCADA system has never been more important than it is today.  In addition, a modern SCADA needs to be able to easily integrate with other systems and technologies from a distributed remote environment, to the central site.  Not only is it necessary to ensure uninterrupted flow of water, but it is also necessary to ensure the return on assets (ROA) that is required by all modern business practices. 

Many SCADA systems are well over 20 years old.  In many cases not only are the components difficult to find to maintain these systems, but also the personnel skills required to keep them functioning are becoming more and more scarce.  The total SCADA solution has become complex and functionality involves the combination of an expanded range of capabilities and specific technology requirements.  While product plays a major role, suppliers have specific domain expertise, geographical presence, and knowledge of the specific industry needs.

More information on the Oil & Gas SCADA Systems selection guide.
More information on the Water & Wastewater SCADA Systems selection guide.
More information on the Electric Power T&D SCADA Systems selection guide.

Manufacturing Execution Systems

Succeeding in today’s competitive global climate requires innovation and operational excellence along several dimensions.  Modern Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) incorporate new technologies, such as mobile smart devices and new intuitive applications that enable users to respond to changing market conditions and reduce costs. MES solutions help improve visibility, make sense of big data, accommodate the new generation of tech-savvy millennial workers, and reduce costs.  MES solutions include production management, operations intelligence, workforce enforcement, batch management, material tracking, quality management, short term planning and scheduling and more.

MES solutions provide process manufacturers with the means to plan and schedule, track and analyze, and direct and operate their operations.  MES software improves visibility, compliance, track and trace, and the bottom line.

More information on the Manufacturing Execution Systems for the Process Industries selection guide.  For information specifically on Batch Management Software selection guide

Operational Historians

Operational historians have now moved beyond their traditional role as a tool focused on the collection and archiving data to better understand past plant performance.  They have now become powerful industrial data platforms that can be used to help improve real-time operations.  With increased data throughput and higher data resolutions, operational historians have also become a foundation for many plant applications including production management, energy optimization, and plant asset management.  Today's historians also support techniques, such as complex event processing, which can analyze multiple streams of plant data in real-time to identify and diagnose emerging problems before they disrupt the production process in the plant, or negatively affect smart grid or other distributed assets.

More information on the Operational Historians selection guide.

Advanced Process Control

Advanced Process Control (APC), also referred to as Multivariable Predictive Control (MPC), is a proven technology that reduces process variability and inefficiency, improves product consistency, increases throughput by allowing operations to push constraints to the limits and achieve higher return on assets.  Over the years, APC has decisively demonstrated its value as a best practice by increasing throughput and improving yield, energy usage, raw material usage, product quality, safety, and responsiveness.

With the availability of more tools and better methodologies, an increasing number of companies are now starting to apply APC to smaller units that were difficult in the past to justify on an ROI basis.  In addition, more transition and startup sequencing technology is being integrated with control applications to provide safer and more profitable operations.  Incorporating rigorous modeling technology into the controller will also extend its applicable range and accuracy.  Advanced control techniques are also finding many applications in batch and semi-batch operations.

More information on the Advanced Process Control selection guide.

Online Process Analyzers

Online process analyzers are penetrating further into the production and processes.  This trend is gaining momentum by technological developments that make existing technologies easier to use and moving more sophisticated technologies and methods from the laboratory directly into the process.

Selecting reliable on-line analyzers is critical.  The total solution has become complex and functionality involves the combination of an expanded range of capabilities and specific technology requirements.  While product plays a major role, suppliers have specific domain expertise, geographical presence, and knowledge of certain industry dynamics.  These must all be evaluated in a supplier selection process.

More information on the Online Process Analyzers selection guide.

Process Control Valves

Process control valves have been a mainstay of process production and manufacturing for decades.  Control valves have become one of the most important, yet often overlooked, assets in the process industries.  Without reliable control valve operation, most processes quickly become uncontrollable leading to unplanned downtime.  This results in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost production, not to mention the potential cost of equipment repairs.  Control valve installation and maintenance practices have changed dramatically with the adoption of digital positioners, digital field networks, and predictive maintenance practices.  With the increasing trend towards digitalization, end users are increasingly looking for up-to-date information from their valves including the health of the control valve as well as other conditions to ensure the signal is accurately portraying the condition found in the operating processes.  This trend is gaining momentum by technological developments that make information available to more than just the control or monitoring function that control valves have traditionally been connected.

More information on the Process Control Valves selection guide.

Flowmeters

The complex nature of process operations coupled with the large investments in assets by operating companies in the process industries make the need for automated process control greater than ever.  A key requirement for process control is the accurate and reliable measurement of gas and liquid flow.  Not all flowmeter technology is suitable for all types of processes.  Different meters are required depending on such factors as pressure and temperature, as well as the material that is flowing.  For example, certain meters are better suited for hydrocarbon gases while others are designed to handle steam.  Also, considerations must be made as to the conditions of the flowing material to be measured.  Crude oil is typically very viscous and may contain entrained gases, or solid mater.

More information on the Flowmeters selection guide.

Level Transmitters

While there are several technologies available to measure liquid levels in the process industries, Ultrasonic Level technology for measuring continuous level is a non-invasive type technology most preferred for measuring clean liquids and slurries.  Level detection is the most widely used application for ultrasonic level devices in the process industries; however, it is by no means the only one.  It can be utilized for pump control in applications such as in pump stations and wet wells as well as for tank level control.

Choosing the right Ultrasonic Level Measurement Device supplier and technology to measure liquid storage in your plant can be one of the most important decisions you will make for your business operations for years to come.  Immediately, one thinks of accuracy, however there is reliability, safety, and maintainability that are also important for the years of service you will expect from these devices. 

More information on the Ultrasonic Level Transmitters selection guide.

Pressure Transmitters

Pressure transmitters have been a mainstay of process production and manufacturing for decades.  The evolution trend for these devices is primarily in the accuracy and support information that is now available in these devices.  Support information includes the health of the transmitter as well as other conditions to ensure that the signal is accurately portraying the condition found in the operating processes.  This trend is gaining momentum by technological developments that make information available to more than just the control or monitoring function that pressure transmitters have traditionally been connected. 

More information on the Pressure Transmitters selection guide.

Temperature Transmitters

Selecting accurate and reliable temperature transmitters is critical.  The evolution trend for these devices is primarily in the accuracy and support information that is now available in these devices.  Support information includes the health of the transmitter as well as other conditions to ensure that the signal is accurately portraying the condition found in the operating processes.  This trend is gaining momentum by technological developments that make information available to more than just the control or monitoring function that temperature transmitters have traditionally been connected.

More information on the Temperature Transmitters selection Guide.

Safety Instrumented Systems

The need for a Safety Instrumented System (SIS) has never been more important than it is today.  In addition, a modern SIS needs to be able to easily integrate with other systems and technologies from a distributed control system to HMI and SCADA.  Not only is it necessary to ensure uninterrupted operation, but it is also necessary to ensure reliability and safety of processes under all conditions.

A Safety Instrumented System selection has become mission critical.  The total solution has become complex and functionality involves the combination of an expanded range of capabilities and specific technology requirements.  While product plays a major role, suppliers have specific domain expertise, geographical presence, and knowledge of certain industry dynamics.  These must all be evaluated in a supplier selection process.

More information on the Safety Instrumented Systems selection Guide.