Rockwell Automation in process plant optimisation

In September 2008 Rockwell Automation were keen to display and explain their range of business activities within the process industry, including process plant efficiency optimisation services and support, which led to this review article.

Viewing Rockwell Automation from a conventional product marketing angle in the process industry has always left me puzzled: but I’ve finally worked out that its a problem with my vision: their Marketing approach and philosophy is just different, and has to be.

The other companies that I am accustomed to looking at and analysing in the process industry tend to have started from a product technology or product range, typically a process measuring or control instrument: they have used that to justifiably gain a foot in the customer’s door.

This interface has developed and impressed the chief engineer or the control systems manager, and the company moves into a continuing business relationship from there, by supplying measurement and control systems and then maybe service packages.

The transition for these product led suppliers into for example Main Automation Contractors, or Process Optimisation Consultants, is still difficult: possibly even confused sometimes by their well-known position as an instrumentation or controls supplier talking to the chief engineer, rather than to the business manager and accountants.

Rockwell Automation has a different profile.

My original impression was that Rockwell was the name behind the company that supplies Allen-Bradley PLC systems through the suppliers of automation and control systems, and these automation suppliers were themselves well known as local distributors of various ranges of instrumentation.

Frequently labelled as system integrators, these local suppliers were then promoted to be ‘Rockwell Integration Partners’, and seemed to be in control of the main customer and application interface, when appearing at process industry events.

It should be pointed out here that this is probably the same approach as that of Mitsubishi, and Siemens as well, a few years ago (It’s interesting to note that Siemens have since taken the route of expanding their process industry interface by instrumentation supplier acquisitions, notably such companies as Milltronics and Danfoss Flow).

A NEW APPROACH?.

Rockwell Automation seems now to be more keen to display, explain and expand their range of business activities within the process industry, and these services include process plant efficiency optimisation services and support.

Possibly this comes from the expansion of the capabilities of the PLC, maybe now also really called PAC, or Process Automation Controller.

These have expanded upwards into serving the MES and business layers.

Possibly they have seen the growth of FOUNDATION Fieldbus, Profibus and Ethernet interfaces, as well as wireless/fibre-optics, meaning that the discrete automation systems used for example in the unit packaging at the end of the line can extend backwards into the batch process control in the plant behind.

A Rockwell Automation press event in London early in 2008 described this scenario from their point of view, which started from the premise that technology advances have blurred the distinctions between discrete and analogue control systems.

This means that the originally ‘discrete’ automation solutions where Rockwell Automation is known as a major supplier, are now using their latest ‘Integrated Architecture’, which can be used in the continuous process environments of the process plant, traditionally regarded as the ‘DCS environment’.

Here Rockwell are pointing out that many companies use different control, automation and information systems for the two types of process production, i.e one for discrete units (usually the packed output going into transportable boxes), and one for analogue systems (usually the processing and batch handling part of the plant): the interface between these systems has always been a problem, and has been acknowledged as such by other suppliers as well, when looking across the whole plant in terms of one overall plant management system.

The multi-discipline, plant-wide solutions based on the Rockwell Integrated Architecture platform are quoted as particularly successful within the so-called hybrid industries – those which operate both discrete and process manufacturing, where these limitations of interoperability in systems and interfaces are most marked.

So based on their established expertise in the areas of drives, high-speed motion, safety, and discrete automation, which provides Rockwell Automation with a significant established presence in certain areas of process plant facilities, the new ability to integrate these discrete control applications, with process applications, opens up a new realm of facility-wide business management and optimisation for the Rockwell core industries – by core industries they mean their established customers.

STRENGTHS IN THE PROCESS INDUSTRY.

Recent acquisitions, and a tie-up with Endress + Hauser, have bolstered the Rockwell Automation interface with the process industry, by extending their in-house product and systems know-how and capability.

The three main relevant acquisitions have been of ICS Triplex in the UK, ProsCon in Ireland, and Pavilion Technologies, headquartered in Austin.

All three provide specialist capabilities for process industry customers.

ICS Triplex is one of very few world class safety Instrumented Systems (SIS) suppliers, providing engineering services, products, and solutions for industries that demand high reliability and high availability from their safety systems.

The ICS Triplex flagship product, Trusted, and the recently released AADvantage provides fault-tolerant control to virtually eliminate spurious trips and are designed for real-world situations, where fixing a fault can rarely be done immediately.

ProsCon is an engineering firm headquartered in Cork, and built up their business and expertise on the back of the recent boom in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology plant construction in Ireland.

Their expertise has delivered process skids, super-skids, pilot plants, kilo-scale facilities and full scale production plants: they bring process and plant design abilities, for plant modifications or extensions as well as new plants, with special capabilities in modular design and fast track implementation.

Pavilion Technologies is a recognised leader in advanced process control, optimisation and environmental compliance solutions for process industries.

Their software products have been integrated into the Rockwell Automation FactoryTalk integrated production and performance suite, as well as the Logix control platform.

But they also bring specialised expertise in process optimisation using Model Predictive Control technology, that reduces process variability and drives up plant efficiency increasing productivity and reducing energy usage.

Examples of the results of their technology have regularly been reported on Processingtalk (See http://www.processingtalk.com/news/pav/pav000.html).

Areas of particular expertise are acknowledged to be in cement manufacturing process optimisation, and biofuel/ethanol production technologies.

The services available from the expertise in ICS Triplex, ProsCon and Pavilion are exactly the specialist services that any consultants in process plant and production optimisation would want to call on for support.

This is the role Rockwell Automation specialists have already established, effectively as automation consultants, in the discrete manufacturing industries, and the expansion into the process field using these same specialists, with the process expertise now behind them, is a current business development.

Another aspect of the Rockwell presentation was the announcement of an alliance between Rockwell and Endress + Hauser, in a move that parallels the Siemens purchase of Milltronics and Danfoss Flow.

This gives Rockwell the entree to a range of process transmitters, but possibly more important for the future, it also gives Endress + Hauser an entree to the supply of instrumentation to plants being managed by Rockwell.

In the meantime the extra input is gained in experience for both sides over the transfer of plant data into management systems via asset management packages and fieldbus networks.

ROCKWELL AUTOMATION SERVICES AND SUPPORT.

If you remember Maintec, at the NEC 6 months ago, one of the major trends identified at the show was the approach of taking plant asset data, such as temperature and vibration measurements, and transmitting this to a central database for analysis and possible review by CM experts.

This was strongly featured on the Rockwell Automation stand, where transmission of this data to their own hosted server, remote from the customer site, was seen as the answer to at least one of the problems in manufacturing industry today: the aging workforce, which leads to a developing shortage of skilled plant maintenance and condition monitoring  engineers, and a lack of expertise in plant maintenance.

By providing their own remote Rockwell analysis team, feeding the plant data into Mobius condition monitoring analysis programmes, quoted as the Rolls Royce of this business, the Rockwell engineers can analyse and report back on the meaning of the data to the local site engineers.

Rockwell Automation is therefore providing the clever analysis as a service contract, with additional back-up from their own engineers as required.

Rockwell acknowledge three significant sources of industry pressure:.

1) Technology, offering the possibility of more flexibility and plant-wide control.

2) The Market, giving pressure from increased competition.

3) Economic pressures to improve productivity, asset effectiveness and increased asset life.

In most production operations these sit alongside reduced numbers of a normally aging workforce, whose competency has been eroded by modern advances in techniques.

The typical management approach to solving this dilemma is to redevelop and redeploy their in-house technical competence onto core activities, and seek collaborative partnerships to complement in-house capabilities.

This is a valid response.

Rockwell described some partnerships that have developed from this scenario at a recent customer presentation, which concentrated on one of the frequent start points of such partnerships, in maintenance, repair and spare parts management.

One of their clients, Perkins Engines, described the development of their 4 year relationship with Rockwell, covering their four Peterborough based production facilities that produce 1000 engines a day, from factories that spend GBP2.5M per day in supplies and services.

Rockwell embedded an Asset Management Professional on site, who acted as the Rockwell contact person, to call in the expertise required, and install the systems required, that suited the existing production plant procedures.

The activities encompassed spare parts, repairs, maintenance and stores: from the Perkins point of view these Rockwell activities released GBP1.1M of capital tied up in spare part stock, and generated GBP600k through reduction and sale of obsolete stock.

The repair / maintenance supplier base has been reduced from 250 to 17 companies, and since these are centrally monitored and managed by Rockwell they are working more cost-effectively.

Even the Rockwell asset tracking produced a saving of GBP147k, by improving the accuracy of the warranty repairs administration.

After the four years operation, Rockwell typically have a team of 9 site based staff at Perkins, involved with maintenance and condition monitoring, and the overall maintenance budget has reduced significantly.

The Perkins partnership is the most comprehensive method of service support available from Rockwell, who offer different levels of support and response through their TechConnect service.

At the lowest cost end, the internet hosted support service can be made available to the on-site maintenance teams, as a consultancy that provides another input of expertise into the analysis of condition monitoring signals to define potential site problems.

This can even be brought in as a gap-filling service, to cover limited periods, such as holidays for key site personnel.

One example of this was quoted with the thermographical analysis showing a problem in a paper machine bearing, which was identified and replaced for a cost of around GBP1000, but which would have caused losses in excess of GBP20k if it had failed in service.

Another example quoted was in the supply of support services on the basis of a 20 minute response time for an engineer to attend at the Shell Stanlow plant during 5.5 days per week, as part of their “Priority Connect” service.

A FUTURE IN THE PROCESS INDUSTRIES.

Rockwell see the process industries as an important area for their future business development, which is why they have made these recent acquisitions.

The PLCs, PACs and systems that they have supplied into the discrete manufacturing parts of production plants are expanding to interface with MES capabilities, and plant wide automation, so they have expanded their expertise to cover the capability of dealing with batch process production, to also cover this part of the plant.

Rockwell see their Integrated Architecture as being able to bridge the gap between these historically separated sections.

Rockwell also believe that there is currently a watershed, as current first generation process systems approach the ends of their lives, and production plants choose the automation system that will serve them for the next 20 years: many of the stories on Processingtalk show that this has already been happening over the last few years, so maybe they are really saying that they now have the solution to offer to expedite this change.

Many of the companies that are about to make this move are existing Rockwell clients, at least for a part of the plant.

With Rockwell well established in these existing plants as the production optimisers and automation consultants for their section of the operation, they are expanding their capabilities to be able to demonstrate that they can also offer production optimisation and efficiency consultancy and expertise into the batch process areas of the plant.

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