Integrated Engineering Heterogeneous Systems: Need of the Hour in Process Industry

Author / Editor: Martin Dubovy / Dominik Stephan

Today, the term ‘integrated engineering’ has become commonplace when it comes to plant engineering in the process industry. At first, the statement that ‘integrated engineering does not match up with reality’ may seem intriguing! Nevertheless, a closer look at the realities of planning shows that the ‘best of everything’ approach offers many advantages, provided it is realized in the right way.

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Simplified and effective planning through revision-proof data import
Simplified and effective planning through revision-proof data import
(Picture: Rösberg Engineering)

The idea of gathering all project data in one common database and using one tool for complete lifecycle of the plant, from concept and basic planning through detailed planning and construction to commissioning and operation, does sound attractive. However, what sounds good in theory unfortunately does not work in practice. Only in rare cases is it possible for a whole enterprise to switch to one integrated software solution – not to mention any project partners who may be involved. Reality in the process industry and hence its software solutions are definitely heterogeneous. Heterogeneous solutions offer several advantages and they can be reliably implemented.

Many believe that there is no alternative to integrated engineering. But users do have a choice. In simple terms, they have to make the decision between having ‘everything from one source’ and having ‘the best of everything’.

How Integrated is Integrated Engineering?

At first glance, both decisions have their advantages. However, with ‘everything from one source’ it is advisable to take a look behind the scenes. Since one is not necessarily looking at a unified database with no redundant information, how homogeneous is the ‘monolithic’ solution really? Rather, different software components have often been purchased to construct the ’integrated’ solution and, wherever too much work was involved in adapting the data structures to make a unified solution, unification did not take place. It is well known that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

If, for instance, the tool for creating Piping and Instrumentation Diagrams (P&IDs) in the integrated solution does not correspond to the user’s concept, the user of a ‘monolithic’ system does not have the possibility of substituting alternative solutions.

Engineering Software - An Underestimated Asset?

Moreover, a decision on the unified use of software is not often made centrally in companies today. If there is a decision in favor of an integrated solution with a ‘monolithic’ system, the changeover is complex and time-consuming. And it is not really possible to influence the solutions used by external project partners. Thus in reality, the software landscape necessarily remains heterogeneous, despite all efforts to the contrary. At the latest, interfaces will become necessary when linking up to the control system.

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