The future of control systems in manufacturing: spread the news

Paul Boughton

The desire to unlock information hidden in the manufacturing plant's control system will become more the norm. Paul Gay talked to Gareth Dean of Rockwell Automation who revealed that previously hidden information will in future be available to optimise the business.

Convergence between control and operating strategies in process automation and the discrete manufacturing sector is undoubtedly speeding up as information technology and networking systems develop. The two control techniques that have traditionally been chasms apart have grown ever closer as the trend for sharing data across the whole business has led to company-wide control systems, the popularity of which is very much on the increase.

"The concept of Islands of automation is done," said Gareth Dean, sales director for the UK & Ireland at Rockwell Automation. "(Control stations) must now be linked together and possibly integrated into enterprise systems."

The capabilities are already in the business system to merge discrete and process control strategies. The power and speed of IT devices these days means that manufacturing data is always available, everywhere and in quantities orders of magnitude greater than previously: "Nowadays the data is all there, ready to be unblocked."

Rockwell Automation has long been one of the World's leaders in the control of discrete manufacturing lines with its programmable logic controllers, variable speed drives and low voltage electrical control equipment. More recently, the company has taken bold steps first into the area of safety systems and then into process automation by a series of strategically planned acquisitions and is now ready to meet the challenges presented by the trend for integration of control systems. "And we can achieve this goal with VantagePoint, an information portal that collects and aggregates data from manufacturing processes and business systems," commented Dean.

Enabling informed decision making, FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI can give production teams manufacturing information when it is needed and in a style that is understood by the operator. Most of what manufacturers need to know about their production operations is buried in manufacturing data. VantagePoint offers a gateway to that data and enables individuals to explore the wealth of information buried within - viewing web-based reports and key performance indicator dashboards delivered through the system's portal.

Using VantagePoint, all manufacturing data is accessible in real time whether the system has connectivity with the factory or is interrogating real-time data from an historical database. All that is required to view published reports, dashboards and real-time KPIs is a web browser. Published reports then provide a single version of the truth to the whole organisation maximising productivity while minimising cost.

"The board room is keen to know what's on the shop floor or in the processing factory," commented Dean. The integrated nature of Integrate VantagePoint reporting, which can also benefit from various collaboration tools from Microsoft, goes a long way to making this happen.

Dean also identified a different but related trend in control engineering. Maintenance and repair services used to be reactive. Equipment was allowed to fail or not achieve its design performance before remedial action was taken: "Engineers have become decision makers especially in safety and security so nowadays they need a proactive service which solves problems (almost) before they happen."

In Spring 2011, Rockwell Automation purchased Lektronix, an industrial automation repairs and service provider in Europe and Asia. The company is headquartered in Cannock, UK and provides automation repairs, spares and other maintenance services for most industrial automation products, including programmable logic controllers, electric motor drives, industrial computers, and computerised numerical control equipment.

Customers include a broad range of manufacturers from food and beverage to heavy process industries. Lektronix's management team have moved in with the Rockwell Automation Control Products and Solutions operating segment.[Page Break]

Maintenance partner

The acquisition has accelerated the growth of Rockwell Automation's service business in Europe and further expands the company's customer presence in emerging economies. The company's customers have a large and diverse installed base of industrial automation products and they need their maintenance partner to be able to service a wide portfolio of products to maximise plant productivity. "Rockwell Automation has always carried out remanufacture and repair for a selection of third parties. This service can now be expanded to (a broader customer base)," explained Dean.

So what other trends does Dean see: "Ethernet IP will become the network of choice and security can no longer be an afterthought. It must be designed in at the engineering stage and our partnership with Cisco is vital to this."

Integrated manufacturing operations and business systems will help manufacturers meet their global business demands. That's why Rockwell Automation and Cisco are building joint reference architectures (JRA) and focusing on market education best practices for global manufacturers hoping to benefit from EtherNet/IP standard networking technologies.

Addressing customer demands for converged, common network technologies, the collaboration between Rockwell Automation and Cisco was formed to share common open technology with security and reliability, while meeting the varied requirements across functions for an optimised networking solution.

Manufacturers who need secure solutions to help enjoy the flexibility and improved efficiencies of a single network. Through the creation of JRA, users can support both their office network environment and the factory floor. This technology will give both the plant and IT managers a secure, real-time visibility between the production floor and enterprise resource planning.

Faced with internal pressures to cut costs and external demands for better products and services, manufacturers are realising the business benefits of converged manufacturing and enterprise networks.

The key industrial Ethernet applications are industrial automation and control systems (IACS) networks. And the term IACS is generically used to represent a wide range of industrial systems such as: industrial automation and control systems, process automation system, process control system and supervisory control and data acquisition.

Manufacturers and their industrial suppliers are discovering that standard communication and uniform networking of an IACS is the key to optimised services, greater visibility, and lower total cost of ownership (TCO). They are starting to embrace standard information technology, particularly standard Ethernet and standard IP, for IACS networking environments.

Although IACS vendors recognise that Ethernet and the IP protocol suite are the de-facto networking standards in IACS environments, full adoption of standard Ethernet and IP is still very much a work in progress.

Cisco and Rockwell Automation believe standard Ethernet and IP networking technology offers value inside industrial operations when the technology is part of larger integrated, IACS architectures. Cisco calls this the ethernet-to-the-factory (EttF) architecture while Rockwell Automation calls this integrated architecture. The converged plantwide ethernet (CPwE) architecture joins these architectures.

The purpose of the CPwE architecture, a set of manufacturing focused reference architectures, is to help accelerate the successful deployment of standard networking technologies and convergence of manufacturing and enterprise/business networks.

This solution architecture and relevant design and implementation guidelines will help provide confidence and background necessary to successfully deploy standard networking technologies and integrate IACS and business networks.[Page Break]

IT integration

Looking to the future, Dean believes that although all the best practices of IT are being integrated into control, development must take stock: "We must adopt technology in a responsible and managed way. Energy reduction will be a big driver and here technologies like variable speed drive regeneration systems will play an important role in providing a sustainable future for the World's manufacturers."

Integration into the world of safety systems is also on Dean's mind: "Safety systems have now outpaced growth in standard product sales and this (trend) will continue."

But above all, the desire to unlock information hidden in the control system will become more the norm: "Hidden information will then be used to optimise the business because the capabilities already exist in the business system to merge discrete and process control systems."

Gareth Dean Director for the United Kingdom & Ireland at Rockwell Automation which includes vertical segments and system integrators. He is responsible for setting the sales strategy and implementing the tactical plans to achieve fiscal success and develop customer relationships. Further responsibilities are to maximise routes to market and amplify cross functional teaming for successful delivery of the plans.

Gareth re-joined Rockwell Automation in 2008 after a period at ABB where he held the positions of UK Sales Manager for Robotics and then General Manager for Instrumentation.

His previous period at Rockwell Automation was for 11 years and incorporated a wide range of roles, joining as a commissioning engineer, through account management and ultimately being successful as a channel manager.

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