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Change in Process Automation What Role will Process Control Engineering Play in the Future?

| Author: Gerd Kielburger

Monolithic structures in process automation will soon be outdated.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.

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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:
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)

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.