Remaining Open to New Possibilities
The world of automation will change as modules move into the plants. It starts with questions about who the modules can belong to — the skid manufacturer, the operator, a planning company? Some employees will also need to get used to new operating procedures. Thus automation can certainly also be established by the module supplier or with partners. Moreover, end-users will also interact differently with engineering and automation providers.
In future, users will simply define the tasks they require, and the module provider will deliver. Perhaps modules will be generally maintained by third parties, or wholly new business models will be introduced. It is quite conceivable, for instance, that module builders will market their modules using a leasing model, depending on the campaign.
The automation specialists also benefit from it. “I am firmly convinced that over the medium-term the modules will become higher-value, because automation is growing,” says Haller, citing one example: “Certain process stages call for more monitoring, that is to say they require more sensors and actuators in order to become intrinsically safe, more flexible and more intelligent.”
There is no doubt that commissioning times are reducing. After all, the modules themselves are already fully-programmed and ready to operate. In regulated sectors, this leads to shorter qualification and validation times.
MTPs in a Field Test at Bayer
A pilot project on Modular Automation is currently running in a major life sciences company: Bayer. It examines the key question of how to quickly transfer drugs from the laboratory scale to production, such as for very small batches. If it were possible to combine modules with automation components from different manufacturers flexibly, that would be a big step in the right direction. To find out how the module technology operates in practice and what can be implemented, several MTP control systems and a modular configuration tool were installed at Bayer. In addition, an ABB Ability System 800xA is currently being implemented for orchestration.
Dr. Torsten Knohl, Senior Project Manager at Bayer, is definitely convinced by the modular thinking underpinning this: “We will be changing over from monolithic automation systems for a complete production plant to a more flexible and service-oriented Plug & Produce solution. By doing so, we will achieve rapid implementation of production, scale capacity by adapting production to market circumstances and also be able to improve the capability for and speed of product changes.”
In life sciences in particular, production is being geared increasingly heavily to the individual patient, and the use of personalized medicine to solve the respective problem will increase. “The products are no longer a mass product, and we are moving towards very small batches. With the technology and early implementation of the idea of modular automation, ABB is the right partner in this area,” says Knohl.
It looks like modular automation will increasingly become a matter of course in many areas of the process industry, Haller is convinced. Even on plants that have lifetimes of decades, such as a cracker, there will be areas where modular automation makes sense. “Provided that this part can be incorporated without disturbing the existing automation”, stresses Haller. In other words: as long as the overall sound is right, everything is possible. Ensuring this is the task of an experienced conductor — in this case, an orchestration level that is familiar with and has perfect mastery of both the classics and also the new, modular world.
You can find an infographic on the topic here: “How to achieve perfect orchestration of modular process plants”