Improving HMI Functions at Pilot Plant

Pfizer migrates to an updated HMI platform to overcome obsolescence issues and 'future-proof' operations. Innovative software licensing helps.


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Pfizer’s European research and development facility is based in the U.K. at Sandwich in the far south-eastern tip of the country north of Dover. The location currently employs about 3,500 people and has a long track record for discovering critical medicines that improve world health. This includes some of Pfizer’s most important products used to treat HIV and cardiovascular problems.


Pfizer's R&D facility at Sandwich, U.K. Source: Pfizer

Two areas within the facility have been operating with Invensys Operations Management’s Wonderware InTouch HMI platform, and they recently migrated to a newer version of the software. Both are involved in small batch production for research and clinical trials. The Kilo Laboratory produces one-kilo batches of substances and ingredients for compound development. The Pilot Plant produces somewhat larger test batches the can be used for clinical trials. Both wanted to upgrade, but needed to continue operating during the change and retain the existing application software. Given the company’s tightly regulated manufacturing environment, it was critical to minimize the amount of change that would require revalidation.

Both units were running Wonderware’s InTouch HMI v7.1 and wanted to upgrade to InTouch v9.5. The existing Pilot Plant control system (PCS) provided excellent service and operated reliably, but much of the system’s software platform was based on software that had been superseded by newer versions. While this was not an immediate problem, it would have eventually restricted further development of the PCS. Further, it was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain PC hardware that supported the existing MS Windows NT4 operating system used by the PCS.

System integrator In Total Control (UK) Ltd., originally led the technical design and implementation of the control systems for both the Pilot Plant and Kilo Lab. Since completing the main project, the company continued to provide support, and implemented numerous system enhancements. The company also developed a plant performance metrics database to provide management information to plant managers and supervisors.

Project goals

For this particular project, Pfizer had specific goals in mind:

  • Update software and hardware;

  • Migrate to a new platform;

  • Cut cost using terminal services;

  • Improve open connectivity– future proofing;

  • Reduce maintenance;

  • Retain existing application software; and

  • Continue running during the migration.

Satisfying all those goals gave a few challenges to In Total Control. One that was key to the success of the project was running the two systems simultaneously, which was made possible by NetAck software from Wonderware U.K., (a trading name of SolutionsPT). NetAck allowed synchronizing alarm acknowledgements between the two systems so operators on either system could see the same alarm statuses. There was no disruption to the round-the-clock production process during installation, and the existing application migrated to the new platform, reducing the need for lengthy validation and operator training exercises.

Another very practical benefit for Pfizer was implementing Terminal Services, which reduced the number of Wonderware licenses required from 45 standard InTouch HMI licenses to only 15 Terminal Services concurrent-user licenses.

Terminal Services is a technology enabling platforms with no Wonderware software installed to connect to a server that will run InTouch HMI on its behalf in a session. The resulting graphic from the session can be displayed, giving the user a full InTouch experience with no locally-installed software. Using the concurrent licensing model meant any 15 machines could be used at any one time, and idle machines did not use a license.

License utilization was improved using scripting to manage load sharing on the servers. The scripting ensures connections are given even distribution and terminated automatically when not in use, allowing an operator to roam around the plant and log in easily wherever necessary.

Key metrics

Pfizer wanted to accomplish a seamless migration to a new platform, with updated software and hardware products backed by comprehensive support. Use of InTouch for Terminal Services means that it now takes just 30 minutes to build a new client. Moreover, the new architecture has greatly reduced the engineering time needed to implement changes to the system as only the server machine requires updating. The backward compatibility of the software also avoided the need for a complete plant shut down, with a positive impact on plant disruption and overall project timescales.

In Total Control found that the backwards compatibility of the new software was better than they’d hoped. “When we started the migration, we took the existing InTouch HMI 7.1 application and loaded it into InTouch HMI 9.5,” says Dave Kaplan, technical director. “Our tag server application was 100% compatible. We had already been advised of new alarm objects for the application by Wonderware, and this gives us great confidence that the migrated system will continue to be supported well into the future.”

Future plans include expanding the Wonderware Historian capability to manage 10 years of data and make it available company-wide, along with upgrading to Wonderware InTouch HMI v10.

Author Information
Roberto Zerbi works in life sciences global industry solutions for Wonderware, part of Invensys Operations Management.

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