Discerning Digitisation

Louise Smyth


It’s safe to say that HMI SCADA software has transformed the efficiency of our operators and processes, creating immersive user experiences. It is now simple to unite geographically disparate sites and deliver real insight from vast datasets. However, change is now happening so quickly that the lifecycle of industrial applications has become the very thing limiting operational efficiency. In the context of rising costs, an ageing workforce, evolving technology and the planned changes to the Ecodesign Directive, what are the changes that businesses need to make to their platforms to enable them to extract real value from their industrial applications?

It’s no secret that the UK’s power generating environments are changing. Between the advent of Industry 4.0, the risk of an overhaul of energy subsidies, and the emergence of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), not to mention the need for all modern power plants to be fully digitised to connect with their multiple data points, the power generation industry faces more operational challenges today than ever before. And with energy costs continuing to increase on a regular basis, operating a plant is also more expensive than ever.

However, one area where organisations can make considerable cost savings is in their energy expenditure. Being energy efficient has always been an enormous challenge for power plant operators, as it requires them to combine both commercial and regulatory considerations. But it has become so important in the current climate that effective energy management is now a business necessity to which unlocking the hidden value of big data holds the key.

This issue is set to become all the more critical in the run up to the proposed change to the Ecodesign Directive, which comes into effect from January 2018. The Ecodesign Directive, which governs all energy-related products, including chillers and industrial coolers, is set to impose strict new Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) for industrial process cooling systems. The new benchmark for an industrial process chiller will be its Seasonal Energy Performance Ratio (SEPR). Minimum SEPRs will be calculated as the ratio between the annual refrigeration demand and its annual electricity consumption.

With process cooling and refrigeration systems currently accounting for approximately 60% of a plant’s total life cycle cost, inefficient chillers can contribute to highly inflated utility bills that will ultimately impact negatively on a company’s profitability.

Cutting energy consumption
Energy consumption in power generation stations can be reduced by implementing the latest automated technologies and through the improved monitoring and control of energy used in infrastructure. For many organisations, the prospect of a complete infrastructure upgrade is impractical but, with the right platform, they can develop a more robust and insightful understanding of their operations, and become able to visualise their energy use and identify any inefficiencies immediately.

Digitisation advancements within industrial automation are enabling the collection and transfer of greater volumes of operational data across the plant floor, which should, in theory, support them in monitoring metrics such as energy expenditure and efficiency levels. However, not all companies are able to take advantage of this potential insight and, in fact, many are actually finding themselves restricted by the lifecycle of their existing industrial applications.

The reality is that connecting plant assets with control systems and business systems necessitates both highly specialised personnel resources and precious development time. Similarly, application development, deployment and re-engineering considerably raise project costs across the lifecycle of industrial applications and, with IIoT-enabled applications requiring specialised scripting and customisation, it’s not as straightforward as simply saying ‘let’s digitise’.

Fortunately, there are solutions out there and the latest platforms, such as Wonderware’s System Platform 2017, are capable of effectively bridging the gap between the OT and IT worlds. Wonderware System Platform 2017 helps companies take full advantage of increased IIoT connectedness and digitisation, within a centralised, multi-user collaboration framework.

For engineers, System Platform’s powerful drag-and-drop application building and remote deployment capabilities will deliver impressive engineering efficiency, while operations managers can achieve contextualised situational awareness by delivering out-of-the-box content and process visualisation standards that greatly simplify the task of achieving the optimal situational awareness of industrial processes. Crucially, what those in the electric power generation industry need is a platform that works with any device, providing access to real-time management dashboards, allowing them to monitor energy consumption across all of their sites.

The easy availability and analysis of data can transform the way a company works and enable it to better understand its plant’s energy usage, and accurately predict and manage performance and expenditure. With so much of this data already available and locked in process data historians, accessing it is simply about starting with the right foundation.?

Andy Graham is Wonderware product manager at SolutionsPT. www.solutionspt.com

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