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Change in Process Automation

Goodbye to Monolithic Structures – What Role will Process Control Engineering Play in the Future?

| Author: Gerd Kielburger

Dr. Jürgen Brandes, CEO of Siemens Division Process Industries and Drives, in answer to the question whether or not lights-out plants will ever become reality: "We do not see factories without a human presence on-site as a customer benefit per se. The customer benefits are plant efficiency, plant availability and plant flexibility."
Dr. Jürgen Brandes, CEO of Siemens Division Process Industries and Drives, in answer to the question whether or not lights-out plants will ever become reality: "We do not see factories without a human presence on-site as a customer benefit per se. The customer benefits are plant efficiency, plant availability and plant flexibility." (Bild: Siemens)

Monolithic structures in process automation will soon be outdated. This will lead to even more competition, Jürgen Brandes, CEO of Siemens Division Process Industries and Drives, says in a double interview with his colleague and CTO Jörn Oprzynski. What role will be left for Distributed Control Systems (DCS) in the future? What can assistance systems already do today, and is autonomous plant operation really going to happen? Our exclusive interview offers up answers to all of these and a lot more questions.

Mr. Brandes, what key finding did you take away from the 2017 Annual General Meeting of Namur*?

Brandes: For me, there is a growing understanding that the process industry is now placing its faith in open systems and increasingly questioning monolithic structures. This is why my favorite presentation was the talk on "Open Architectures for the Digital World!" by Exxon Mobile Manager Don Bartusiak, Jörn Oprzynski from Siemens and Michael Krauss from BASF. There seems to be a willingness to recognize that the different architectural approaches like modular automation, the expansion of the automation pyramid with a parallel data layer for monitoring and optimization (NOA) and the open automation architecture proposed by Exxon Mobil can be driven forward jointly for the process industry. This is a step in the right direction. What I am still missing is the understanding that this technology should be paired with engineering tools that are capable of making the resulting complexity – which is linked with being able to combine everything with everything else – manageable.

One of the key messages from the sponsor GE Digital was that we don't need yet more automation, and that instead we can solve many problems with big data analyses. Do you agree?

Brandes: An organism certainly doesn't just need a central brain, it also requires decentralized intelligence and nervous systems. But to put all your eggs in one basket and simply move all of the intelligence to the cloud will definitely not work. Intelligence will exist with a variable distribution at field level, in communication components such as edge devices and in the cloud. Depending on the application, there will be freely movable software modules for all different functions. And this requires engineering tools that tell us which intelligence can be deployed most sensibly in which location. In the future, there will still be a world with hardware, software and engineering tools.

What is the reason why Namur has not yet cast enough light on the world of engineering tools?

Brandes: Because we still find ourselves in a traditional value creation system. The tradition of large engineering departments at owners/operators was indeed frowned upon for a while. Process, basic and detail engineering are often outsourced, and the owner/operator limits himself to running the process system. But if EPC only hands over paper documentation, then potential value will be lost as a result. Because documentation can become obsolete. The system can be modified or converted, new elements can be added. Using conventional methods, it is not possible to create documentation that has the ability to always remain up to date. For this, there is a digital twin with which the classic separation of value creation stages can be overcome. The owner/operator must then provide engineering and planning competence throughout the entire lifecycle of a process system in order to keep the documentation up to date, although modern planning tools like Comos will offer some assistance here.

Will the GE Namur sponsorship produce a new, relevant market competitor for process IT?

Brandes: We make a general point of never underestimating our market competitors. We are proud about our cooperative links to Namur and other associations. We support open systems, where GE certainly also has the ability to offer added value with its own systems. However, we believe that, in the chemical industry and in the process industry, it is necessary to understand something about the process engineering processes and to be an active member of the community. Just like us and many of our SME-sized market competitors.

Wow, that was a really "political" answer. Yes or no?

Brandes: Probably, yes. We do not underestimate GE.

Oprzynski: Based on the large number of apps, in the future we will, of course, have a lot of market competitors for the simple reason that cloud computing is now a generally available product, and one that our customers already have their own ideas about. Even though we promote Mind-Sphere, our main focus is always to speak to the customer about the specific application – and this is the main thing that sets us apart.

*Namur is an international user association of automation technology in process industries.

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