The Power of Integration: The Users Future-proofing the DCS
The Distributed Control System (DCS) has come a long way, but in the era of Industry 4.0 it must adapt once again to meet the challenges of a digital future. ABB’s Monoj Jena explores some of the initiatives and concepts that are helping to usher in a new era of the evolution of DCS technology.
The Distributed Control System (DCS) has undergone seismic changes in recent years. The advent of digitalization has helped to deliver unprecedented flexibility, agility, and computational speed. In turn, this has helped plant owners to leverage substantial improvements in productivity, efficiency, reliability, and safety across almost all operations. With the Asia-Pacific automation and industrial controls market set to rebound from 2023 as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are seeking to invest in more automation to ensure that processes can run with less input from human operators, while enhancing process efficiencies and reducing the costs of production.
The modern DCS facilitates tight process control, while simultaneously also providing holistic analysis of plant operations in their entirety. New processes or devices can often be swapped in or out with ease, while the vast amounts of data generated can help to enable better, faster, and more informed decision-making across all levels of a plant’s operations.
In consumer products, change is often led primarily by manufacturers. rather than being customer-driven.
In the case of Distributed Control Systems, automation equipment and system manufacturers including ABB have instead listened to what customers want and attempted to implement it wherever possible and/or practical. This is most evident in the move towards open architectures and interoperability across different manufacturers. Automation equipment can require vast capital outlay, and plant owners need a straightforward and transparent path for upgrading their systems to meet future changes. In response, the industry listened, and huge strides have been taken towards creating systems that meet the needs of the people who use them.
Collaboration is key
One such initiative driving this trend towards openness is the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF). Comprised of users from a broad range of industries and disciplines, and including notable automation system manufacturers such as ABB, OPAF aims to define a standards-based, open, secure, and interoperable architecture for modern process automation. In essence, everything should work seamlessly with everything else, with no risk of being locked into proprietary systems, or having to completely replace older technologies as manufacturers render them obsolescent.
Getting to this point has taken years in the making, and required vast amounts of collaboration across disciplines, as well as across manufacturers and other stakeholders, to determine a mutually agreeable set of standards to build around. Another organization contributing to the acceleration of the evolution of the DCS is NAMUR, a global consortium of process industry end-user organizations.
The NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) was developed in response to the trend towards digitalization in process plants and aims to set out a vision for how digital technologies interact with control systems in process-oriented industries, while preserving the security and integrity of production environments. NOA sets and maintains shared standards that all major manufacturers must adhere to, helping to ensure an automation ecosystem that is more open, helping to drive innovation and collaboration across the industry.
Unleashing a new era of productivity
Digitalization is rapidly transforming the automation landscape. Edge and cloud technologies are providing increasingly flexible and powerful computing infrastructure, removing technical barriers that previously held plant owners back from fully embracing the potential that data has to offer. The modern process plant generates vast amounts of data every single second, and effectively harnessing and leveraging this data holds the key to unlocking a new era of productivity and efficiency in industrial processes. Gathering data is relatively easy but using that data and turning it into insight is where the really exciting developments in the future lie. As a way of gathering and processing data, the cloud offers exciting possibilities for augmenting and optimizing the performance of the DCS, particularly when it comes to handling non-critical data. By effectively acting as an extension for the collection and processing of data, the cloud avoids the need to disturb the core functions of the DCS.
Together, these key elements of the digital ecosystem can work together to provide automation users with the tools to continuously monitor and optimize processes across the entire value chain, enabling potential issues to be predicted and prevented before they result in downtime, and allowing assets and systems at all levels to be analyzed and optimized, without losing sight of how any changes will affect operations around them.
The building blocks for tomorrow’s innovations
The standards established today by entities like NAMUR and OPAF form the building blocks of what will be possible with the DCS of tomorrow. And whilst bodies such as these provide an important voice for manufacturers to express how they see the DCS evolving in the future, much of the rapid change occurring is in response to customers, who demand not only agility and versatility, but also the ability to bring legacy equipment with them into the digital age, without compromising core essential functions. Preserving this productive relationship between manufacturer and user will hopefully usher in a new era of DCS innovation and industrial productivity in the years to come.
For more information about ABB’s vision for the future of process automation, visit https://new.abb.com/control-systems/.
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