What are your natural inclinations? Do you feel more comfortable with a process control system that has a proven track record, or are you by nature receptive to advanced developments and new approaches such as model predictive control, soft sensors and real time optimization? No matter what your natural tendencies may be, this year’s Namur General Meeting broadened the horizon for conservative users and innovators alike.
The main theme at this year’s Namur General Meeting was “Process Control – Pathways to the Future”, and the event provided a window on the full bandwidth of current technical capabilities. There was a general consensus among the 570 or so individuals who travelled to Bad Neuenahr that there can be more than one pathway to the optimal control system. The production systems, companies and especially the people who are involved in all of the various facets of automation are simply too diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach.
What is the basic requirements profile for any process control system? Meaningful presentation of complex processes in a format which the operator can readily understand is certainly high on the priority list. The system should deliver excellent control performance at optimal speed and support connectivity to the business systems without negative feedback effects. This is not always easy to achieve. Advances in process engineering as well as new actuators and sensors place new demands on the control systems. External factors such as system consolidation, demographic trends and extensions to the operating life of existing systems can add further complications. In general, the cost of process control systems has fallen. The hardware is relatively inexpensive, and the industry standard operating systems are also attractively priced. However, user software has become more elaborate and complex. Companies may have reduced headcounts, but operators and technical staff need to be more highly qualified.
What else the process control system is expected to do depends on the user. Dr. Ulrich Schlagowski from Bayer Technology Services describes the difficult tightrope act: “Conservative users tend to perceive process control systems as a necessary evil, whereas innovative users view the systems as major production assets.”
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