Neil Shah, Global Product Manager for Adaptive Execution, ABB, explains how the digital revolution coupled to new I/O concepts are unleashing unprecedented savings in time, effort and costs in process control design, development, testing, and installation.
For many years, engineers have been forced to work in a straight line for their design, engineering, and commissioning activities; religiously following left-to-right critical path in Gantt charts in order to optimise their equally linear production-line concepts.
Critical paths certainly define stage gates and the all-important ‘critical’ order in which things are done, but they can also prescribe incredible inflexibility, especially when elements of a project timeline rely exclusively on those preceding them… no matter how long they take.
Arguably the most time-consuming elements of any electrical/automation project are I/O design, allocation, installation, wiring, and testing. Fixed addresses, fixed locations, fixed tags, and fixed wiring have colluded very successfully over the last century to define critical paths and orders of operation on project timelines.
In a traditional project, the application design is created and then frozen at a point that both determines and triggers the purchase of application specific I/O modules (coupled to their associated lead times). This approach has always been fraught with danger and the possibility of changes down the line completely negating design requirements and I/O capabilities.
Remove Dependencies And Rewriting The Rules
Advances in digital capabilities – especially those revolving around modern DCS solutions and tools, such as comms and I/O configuration – are set to introduce a whole new concurrent dimension into project execution, removing these step-by-step dependencies.
ABB’s xStream approach for both engineering and commissioning separates field installation and testing from the application programming, meaning that the latter can now be performed in parallel with hardware configuration and installation – almost discrete from each other – with the knowledge that the software and tools exist to homogenise the project. Tactile human interactions can also be greatly reduced and virtually eliminated on-site, lowering risk both in terms of project deliverables and health and safety.
This capability is thanks to the ‘signals’ concept leveraged by the latest version of ABB’s Ability System 800xA distributed control system. Both give designers, engineers, and technicians a completely new way to approach these types of projects. Each project is still a journey, but there are now multiple concurrent or parallel paths, which deliver far greater freedom and far shorter lead times.
Removing The Need For Fixed Addresses
The signals Control Builder concept is deployed in the field using Select I/O, an Ethernet-based I/O solution, which uses a signal-conditioning module to interrogate and condition field signals, be they process or safety. By removing the fixed path/location element of I/O, software can instead allocate I/O addresses – effectively decoupling the physical relationship between the hardware and the programming.
Hardware and software engineers can refer to the same signal names, without having to scour a huge, fixed table or Excel document. The Control Builder then visualises any conflicts when the applications meet the hardware configuration, allowing easy resolution. The “signals” also enable digital marshalling, where different controllers can connect to and use the same Ethernet FCI.
Massive Time Savings
Out in the field, during the commissioning stage, the DCS Field Kit gives installers the ability to configure and test the I/O loops without the control software or process control hardware. The primary benefit of this approach is that multiple tests can be performed in parallel on multiple devices and each test takes a fraction of the time a manual process would take. Indeed, man-hour savings of 90 percent are not out of reach.
It’s very easy to imagine the savings that this non-linear approach can deliver. If you consider fairly typical medium or large projects, we could be looking at IO counts in the region of 8,000 to 10,000, covering all aspects from automation, safety, fire, gas, etc. To date, this sort of installation would have seen a linear project path, where stage gates caused design freezes so other critical path processes could be instigated, even before the design is finalised.
The biggest issue would be design, hardware or operational changes, both after the purchase has been triggered or after the IO has been installed. All of a sudden, the frozen design upon which major decisions were based is no longer the latest version.
It is issues like this that came to a head in the oil and gas industry, which, due to its volatile market fluctuations, forced many companies to investigate new ways to rein in project changes, or that the least find ways of dealing with them more efficiently.
One example is ExxonMobil’s DICED approach. DICED (detect, interrogate, configure, enable & document) relies on pushing customisation from the hardware into the software, which eventually leads to, among other advantages, standardisation of cabinets and control solutions.
As a result of the DICED approach, smart I/O can eliminate up to 70 percent of a control cabinet’s wiring while delivering far greater flexibility and the all-important a data capture for analytics.
The oil and gas industry is not the only beneficiary of this approach. Any application where IO and its associated ‘challenges’ dictate the critical path can benefit. Indeed, any level of standardisation is welcome in all industries as it cuts costs, time, complexity, effort, and of course money, while, in this case delivering even greater capabilities.
Removing Effort And Errors
Probably the biggest impact is at the factory acceptance testing (FAT) stage. FAT is always on the critical path and is an essential element of any project, big or small. Using smart, configurable I/O and advanced software, you don’t need to attach the 1,000+ sensors to confirm the operation. As sensor count rises, so does the possibility of human error, so this too is removed from the test equation.
With smart IO and signal-conditioning software working in a similar way to the synapses in your brain – finding the right connections and connecting them to the right things to make things work – process and automation design is now a far cry from the complex monster is has been for the last 60+ years, since numerical control and logic started to proliferate.
Yesterday 8,000 individual – and often remote – I/O would have generated groans from all involved in the project, especially the field technicians, even though they knew they were necessary. Today, it’s just some simple mouse clicks, some intelligent allocation and the software takes over. And you can change it all tomorrow… without affecting the critical path!
ABB Adaptive Execution
In response to the growing demand for faster project delivery, ABB has developed an Adaptive Execution solution, which integrates teams, technologies and processes into a single process using virtualisation to avoid delays and budget overshoots. ABB estimates that the system can reduce automation-related capital expenditure by up to 40 percent, compress delivery schedules by up to 30 percent, and reduce start-up hours by up to 40 percent.
For more information about ABB xStream Engineering, please click here.
Photos by ABB.
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