The notion of a fully integrated operating environment in process industries is like apple pie and Mom: Everybody is for it.
But real-world efforts at integration have given engineers and business leaders reason to view it as a promise that’s too good to be true. Integration of disparate business, production systems and field assets has been so complex that most integration projects have extended only as far as a limited set of fieldbus technologies or loosely connected applications. Functionality and business value are limited; maintenance difficulties and disappointment are not.
But there are a number of technology applications that now make true integration a possibility. When pulled together into a working platform, the familiar DCS evolves into something that ARC Advisory Group refers to as CPAS: Collaborative Process Automation Systems.
CPAS isn’t a really a category of controls that you can shop for and implement. Not yet, anyway. Rather, it’s what the current crop of process control platforms would be if they were successful at integrating all data and functional silos into a single workflow environment –allowing operators, engineers and managers to work in a single system. And allowing plant assets and field assets to be managed through a single interface – on-site or centrally, and even if the assets were made by dozens of manufacturers and installed at different times.
In a 2002 report, ARC indicated “that the problems [to achieve this state] were not insurmountable, nor were they technology-constrained. In fact, most of the functionality required had already been developed with much of it commercially available – just not from a single automation supplier.”
Since then, at least some of the major automation suppliers have taken up the challenge to bring these possibilities together in next-generation DCS platforms. Doing so has meant bringing together at least 6 core technologies, (but these would occupy an entire post in and of themselves).
The point is that meaningful integration used to be a fantasy. Today it’s becoming reality. Do you think it’s still a fantasy, or do you see advances in control systems that make true integration a real possibility?