Encapsulating Complexity — Namur Main Session Sets Course
Practical Examples Show the Benefits of Digitization
The second day of the Namur main session dealt with the question of what challenges the process industry is facing in the context of increasing digitalization. For example, are new job profiles really necessary, such as the much-discussed data scientists? Alba Mena Subiranas, BASF, gave a pragmatic answer: “The activities of a plant engineer remain the same, whether you are working in a traditional plant or in a completely digital world. The only difference is the how.”
And it was precisely this difference that she demonstrated together with Dr. Thomas Pötter, Bayer, using two fictitious companies 'Stagnate' and 'Innovate'. The company Stagnate represents today's locations, i.e. with a variety of IT systems that are not linked to each other. Processes are supported by a pile of paper forms and this data is then laboriously transferred into the IT systems at the back office.
The typical plant tour then usually takes place in this way: During the routine run, a pump noise is noticed and a dripping water pipe is also detected. First of all, it is clarified whether alarm messages are already present in the control room. Then the appropriate service company is contacted. If one is lucky, a corresponding service employee also has time and the maintenance is ordered. But even then there are many small work steps that tie up capacities, from the registration of this employee at the site, the safety briefing, to the inspection of the protective clothing etc. It takes several days until the service performance is actually confirmed after the repair, even in the most favorable case.
This can look quite different in the digitalized company Innovate. In such a company, the systems and machines have a digital twin and standardized interfaces. Paper processes have been abolished and data is recorded in IT systems and processed where they occur. Here, a tour would take place with mobile end devices that could be used for direct maintenance orders. As soon as the pump was repaired, the push message would be on the person's mobile phone. A drone might have recognized that the water pipe was dripping much earlier during its routine flight. This could lead to an automatic order for the repair, immediately after the coordinates have been sent.
This ideal image is certainly still a dream of the future — but some elements are already present. Auto identification via QR Code or RFID is already being implemented and maintenance flights, such as wall thickness measurements with drones, have also been carried out at BASF. And at Evonik, a camera can be used to check whether the employee of the external company is wearing the right protective clothing. Only then can they be released for work assignment.
Unscheduled plant shutdowns could also lose their horror, as the example of a compressor failure at the fictitious company Innovate showed. For example, it would be conceivable for the compressor manufacturer to report at an early stage that an increase in energy consumption indicates a failure. Thanks to the data in the digital twin, the corresponding spare part can already be produced and made available via 3D printing.
Although the examples are fascinating, the focus has so far remained on selective applications. “As long as we do not introduce consistent total cost of ownership (TCO) considerations in companies, use cases will continue to be implemented only slowly across the board,” reminded Pötter.
Plug & Produce Thanks to Modular System Technology
A real success project, on the other hand, is the concept of modularisation, which was launched several years ago. The idea of Plug & Produce is gaining momentum and is on the verge of market launch. What is particularly exciting about it is that many parties benefit from it: users, module builders, manufacturers of automation solutions and system integrators. This is why the company has made considerable progress in implementation — also from an automation point of view. Axel Haller, ABB and ZVEI, promised the first products in 2019. “Plug & Produce was previously successful in proprietary systems, but now this is to be done across manufacturers. This means, however, that we have to go into international standardization,” Haller said.
Ulrich Christmann (Bayer) pointed out several application cases. In a modular bioproduction with disposable components (Bayer and ABB), engineering times were reduced, among other things. At a Brownfield plant (Evonik, Siemens, Yokogawa), a chiller was integrated as a package unit into a conventional control system using an MTP concept. And the Smart Factory (Merck, B&R, Siemens) is also gaining experience, especially with the engineering of the modules as well as the integration and orchestration.
Although some homework still needs to be done, but those who are involved feel they are on the right track. “All points, such as the definition of the requirements, the development of demonstrators or the creation of standards, have been put in place. The prototypes are also ready and can be purchased next year,” says Christmann, summarising the status. In 2019, the community can then look forward to further projects in the field.
In addition to international standardisation and harmonisation, there will also be a focus on security and IT security aspects as well as alarm management, diagnosis and maintenance. The approval procedures, not only in the regulated industries, will also have to be redesigned. To ensure that success continues, Christmann encouraged users to become active themselves. There are opportunities to try out a showcase both in the Invite research project in Leverkusen and in the P20 Lab at the University of Dresden.
Adding Structure Into Engineering Thanks to New Data Model
While the engineering process for modular plants will be redesigned in the future and thus offers the opportunity to work very lean, the situation is still different for current plants. The CAE, IT system and interface landscape is still fragmented. The consequences are well known: Plans that are no longer up-to-date, engineering systems that cannot be networked, Excel lists that cannot be integrated, etc. “As a rule, there are hundreds of IT systems at one location, a large part of which are CAE systems. Problems will arise in maintenance at the latest,” says Dr. Wilhelm Otten of Evonik. But: “In order to build a plant, I need knowledge and this is what I get from information based on data”.
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