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Automation & Control

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Advancing with automation

| By Dorothy Lozowski, Editor in Chief

Many, if not most, of us have heard of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Simply stated, it refers to the manufacturing application of the Internet of Things, or the interconnectedness of “smart” machines. Similar to what we see with the rapid advances to our personal devices, such as smart phones, smart cars, smart televisions and more, smart devices in industrial settings offer the ability to move to new manufacturing strategies.

A number of the new technologies that are enabling the IIoT include mobile devices, self-learning machines, drones, 3-D visualization, cloud applications and more. At the recent ARC Industry Forum, “Industry in Transition: Navigating the New Age of Innovation” (February 8–11; Orlando, Fla.), Andy Chatha, president of ARC, suggested that more “connected” products are and will continue to be available for the production environment. Just as an automobile company can monitor cars in the field, he envisions that industrial machine manufacturers would be able to monitor their equipment (pumps, for example) over the lifetime of the asset. Chatha expects that the “cloud connected plant is at hand,” with connected machines, supply chains and workers. Designing for connectivity, however, needs to be done from the start.


A significant step toward a new process-automation system

Cybersecurity and open platforms for interconnectivity are important challenges for advances in process automation. Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, Md.; was recently contracted by ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company (EMRE) to develop a “next-generation” open automation system for process industries. According to EMRE’s vice president of R&D, Vijay Swarup, “This breakthrough initiative could help transform refining and chemical manufacturing through the use of high-speed computational components, modular software, open standards and the use of autonomous tools.” The intention is to design the platform with intrinsic cybersecurity protection that can be adapted to emerging threats. This development represents a new approach to process automation.


Training with new technology

One way in which technology can enhance manufacturing procedures is through training programs with advanced simulators. While there is much going on with 3-D immersive simulators for training, advanced screen simulators can address a number of the challenges facing today’s plants, such as engaging new operators in a familiar “game-like” environment, providing realistic “hands-on” training and preparing operators to respond to unplanned events. Simulators can help, for example, to manage alarms (see our two-part feature on alarm management in this issue, pp. 50–60). At the ARC Forum, Ron Cisco, O&M supervisor IV with the Salt River Project – Coronado Generating Station, gave an insightful presentation on how use of a modern-day simulator resulted in an “observable increase in confidence and knowledge levels of trainees.”

Keeping up-to-date with the latest technologies in process automation is increasingly important for the chemical process industries (CPI), as the advances are coming quickly and can bring significant changes to the way manufacturing plants operate. While caution in implementing new systems is warranted, the new technologies offer a wide breadth of new possibilities. ■

Dorothy Lozowski, Editor in Chief