Why New Generation Automation Solutions Excel in Hybrid Process Environments
Emerging process industry segments such as small- to medium-sized manufacturers have a huge potential for growth and the right industrial automation systems can help fuel that growth. Take, for example, a paint manufacturer based in India who decided to invest in a new generation hybrid automation system (a system that addresses both the process and discrete steps of a manufacturing operation). Initially, the company was manually handling large quantities of raw materials. Barrels of liquid and bags of chemicals were delivered and dropped off on the plant production floor. These were then individually weighed on platform scales so that recipe quantities could be properly measured out. Then those ingredients were manually loaded into the mixers.
All of this changed when the company upgraded to an automation system specifically designed to meet the need of their hybrid processes. Now, the raw materials are stored in bulk in storage tanks. They are transferred by pumps to weighing tanks mounted on the load platforms. The raw materials are weighed in the weighing tank and transferred into the mixer according to the prescribed recipe. Bulk raw materials like oils, solvents, resins, and emulsions are directly transferred from storage tanks to the mixers, with quantities measured with mass flowmeters. Pneumatic conveying systems have been used for bulk powder raw materials, where quantities are measured by means of load cells on silos.
This process automation has resulted in a drastic reduction in the requirement of manpower for material handling, safer handling of chemicals, faster batch cycle time, greater consistency in quality, and higher productivity.
Cutting Through Marketplace Automation Systems Confusion
When we atSupertech, an automation systems integrator and certified Schneider ElectricAlliance PartnerandEcoXpert, meet withcustomersfor the first time, they are often confused by the overwhelming amount of automation solution choices presented to them in the marketplace. Their dilemma is compounded by automation manufacturers who try to sell them traditional solutions that are not specifically designed to meet the needs of the hybrid segments.
Let me explain how this situation has evolved. Manufacturers can be broadly classified into three segments–discrete, process, and hybrid. The automation systems used in these segments are different from each other. In small discrete industries like machinery and electronics, logic and sequential control are based on PLCs and HMI / SCADA. These systems had the advantage of ease of use, openness, and flexibility. On the other hand, large continuous process industries such as oil & gas, power, and refining, have relied on traditional distributed control system (DCS) solutions. These high-speed, tightly integrated systems provide control and supervision, with high capacity for analog signal processing and computational capabilities.
Traditional process applications (such as petrochemicals) and discrete applications (such as packaging) have worked separately, with little or no need for information-sharing. In hybrid segments like food & beverage, specialty chemicals, and pharmaceuticals, however, there exists the unique need to bridge islands of both process and discrete automation applications and to carry the information gleaned from these disparate systems across their plants.
Until now, in the absence of automation systems specifically designed for hybrid segments, manufacturers were forced to either use available PLC / SCADA systems (designed for machine automation) or DCS which are typically used by large, continuous process industries. However, these systems are not adequate to meet the requirements of hybrid segments because they lack the integrated connectivity to link data from both discreteandprocess applications. Users of these systems tried to overcome the shortcomings by developing customized software for each process. However, this was not very successful because the manufacturers became heavily reliant on the skills and availability of the software developers. Those who adopted the DCS option found that the systems were far too expensive to operate and maintain and did not have the desired features. This gap in the marketplace prompted the creation of a middle-level process automation platform designed specifically to meet the requirements of the hybrid segments.
Modern Solutions and Resources Help Support Hybrid Automation Projects
New systems such as the Schneider ElectricHybrid DCSare designed to support hybrid industrial segments where engineering skills and manpower are in short supply. Such systems address the need of these industries for turnkey solutions that require a relatively small investment. By providing tight integration between control and supervision, and powerful diagnostics, these systems allow engineers and operators to work within an open, flexible, and easy-to-use environment.