Making the most of process automation knowledge

Paul Boughton

In the 1960s, the early days of process control, a plant might have 5000 measurement points to achieve the basic regulatory control demanded. Since then this number has grown in order to match demands for advanced process control, real-time optimisation, supply chain management, asset management and business control. Today a typical refinery, for example, might have 150 000 measurement points.

The systems managing and controlling today's process plants are a closely integrated blend of 'traditional' measurement and control with applied IT. So much so that many of the distinctions between the two and between the plant floor and the enterprise are blurring or even disappearing entirely. Up until now, however, the tools available to manage this sophisticated environment have focused on its individual components while largely ignoring their interdependencies and overall context. All this at a time when not only is complexity is growing exponentially, but also resources, both in terms of finance and personnel, are becoming ever more constrained.

An additional challenge here is that the installation and implementation of these assets involves an engineering investment many times greater than their original cost but, even then, their true value to the enterprise may only become apparent after an incident or when the empirical knowledge associated with them walks off the plant as experienced personnel leave or, more likely, retire.

One leading US refiner recently reported losing 2500 man-years of operator experience through retirement at a single site in one year, while a major chemical company said that it expected to lose 75 per cent of the operating staff at one of its largest plants through retirement by the end of the decade.

Arguably the most important aspect of that 'added value' is the production knowledge which is embedded in a plant's automation assets as a result of their configuration and operation.

It's a challenge which has been likened to mapping the human genome, with the added complexity that the 'Automation Genome' is continually changing as a result of integration and interaction. However, a new solution from Texas-based company Process Automation Solutions (PAS) is rising to the challenge.

"We contend that it is untenable to manage plant automation without some help," says PAS president Chris Lyden.

This help comes in the form of Integrity from PAS. Integrity builds on earlier generations of automated documentation systems developed by PAS including the widely accepted DOC 3000 and DOC 4000 systems for Honeywell DCSs. However, rather than being specific to one particular vendor or one class of systems, Integrity can capture data from any source. Moreover it's not restricted to what would normally be regarded as automation assets but can capture knowledge from paper based and even human sources and handle it in essentially the same manner as that from electronic sources.

In order to maximise adaptability and future development potential, PAS has adopted a three-tier, modular structure for Integrity. Underpinning the entire solution is Integrity Foundation which provides a universal framework for aggregating and contextualising data from across the entire process automation environment, irrespective of the individual source. It captures and archives explicit knowledge from each source, mapping the genealogy of the dataflow, and also provides a set of common search, query and reporting functions.

Actually interfacing with and extracting data from the individual data sources is the task of a large and growing family of Asset Models. These driver-like plug-ins convert the source data into a common data format for the Integrity database. Currently some 50 Asset Models are available, covering not only most popular DCSs, PLCs and safety systems but HMI/SCADA packages, historians and asset management packages as well as less automation specific applications including Microsoft Office and Sharepoint.

Building on the capabilities of Integrity Foundation, a series of three additional modules provides Integrity's higher level functionality. Integrity Essentials establishes the asset hierarchy, organising data from the individual assets into a tree structure which enables drill down discovery of increasingly granular data.

Meanwhile the complementary Reference Explorer exposes all of the automation references, supporting progressive exposure of the data, while Genome Mapping provides a third view of automation assets, generating a graphical block diagram of all automation relationships. Essentials also includes a 'Smart Tags' facility to link text in Microsoft Office documents to the Integrity database, a Defects Finder (Fig. 1) which automatically identifies 'genetic defects' or configuration errors and a Change Tracker which maintains a complete history of configuration changes.

Integrity Advanced Elements then provides a further degree of management capability in four key areas, with Spares Capacity maintaining a central inventory, identifying spare hardware and software capacity and allowing spares to be reserved against projects; Backup and Recovery providing a central backup and recovery resource, identifying the health of back up databases and providing a step by step recovery procedure on a system by system basis; Integrity Loop Sheets (Fig. 2), which integrates with Intergraph InTools and provides integrated field and control strategy loop drawing, with automatic identification of discrepancies between instrument and control system databases; and Plant Hierarchy, which extends the Genome concept from automation to plant assets, supporting S88 and S95 asset configurations and correlating plant asset and automation asset data.

But the most innovative module according to Lyden is Integrity Collaboration which supports the capture of empirical knowledge and its incorporation into and access from the Integrity database.

The primary collaboration platform is the Plant Wiki which allows users, depending on their authorisation level, to view, add to, edit or approve plant knowledge. Wiki articles can be imported into and contextualised with the Integrity database, tagged for easy search and linking and have hyperlinks added.

A further Sticky Notes facility allows users to add short notes to any asset or data object. The notes are integrated with the Integrity database and can be searched and accessed in context from their associated objects. It's also possible to add electronic media such as video and audio files which can again be searched and accessed in context from their associated objects.

In addition users can access the huge amount of knowledge now held in emails using the Email Explorer which aggregates and contextualizes tagged emails in the Integrity database where they can be searched and accessed or shared in context. There's also a Data Mining facility for searching for specific patterns across all databases, systems and document, a Subscriber Notification function which sends updates to subscribers by web page, email or pager whenever the Integrity database is modified and an Amazon-like "If you loved this, you might also like ... " Smart Guide to provide additional information based on context.

Integrity in action

Invensys Process Systems (IPS) has just announced that Integrity Automation Genome mapping software will be utilised by project teams within Invensys Operations Management's delivery organisation, enabling collaboration among multiple Invensys Operations Management teams. IPS has already reported 3-7 per cent improvement in performance when using the system. According to Tyler, other users have gone as high as 10 per cent.

Current users among operating companies include Chevron, Mobil, ConocoPhillips and Celanese.Integrity is also helping Chevron as it goes through the process of standardising on Yokogawa Centum and migrating to it on all the company sites. "The company is using our system to capture 'as-is' data on a legacy system and then export it to the Centrum," notes Lyden.

Disaster recovery is another market, too, and Lyden cites the case of a large refinery customer whose control room was flooded when Hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast. "They hadn't done a good job of backing up, but Integrity was in place at the time. That was the genesis of our disaster recovery technology."

Then there is always the example of what can happen without Integrity technology.

Here, a major North American petrochemical facility extended the periods between turnarounds, which forced the company to perform online interlock testing. The procedure called for bypassing an SIS output and ramping the transmitter value to test the interlock.

As expected, the interlock in the SIS tripped, but did not trip the shutdown valve. Due to inadequate documentation, the testers were unaware of a configured link to operator start-up assistance logic in DCS. The DCS logic sensed the interlock trip, placed all controllers in manual, and set all valve outputs to the fail-safe position (shutdown).

The consequences of this included a loss of production estimated at US$150 000 and regulatory fines for breaking flare limits estimated at US$25 000.

"Had someone understood what was in their automation, they could easily have disabled that bit of logic. If Integrity had been in place, the incident would have been prevented: but it took this event for people to realise their exposure," concluded Tyler

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