Next-gen DCS doubles as control system and “information hub”

Yokogawa Electric Corp. says the next generation of its CENTUM distributed control system (DCS) illustrates how the DCS is evolving from a single-purpose tool for managing production processes to take on the dual role of plant information hub. The next-generation Yokogawa DCS, dubbed CENTUM VP, is scheduled for release mid-June.


Yokogawa Electric Corp. says the next generation of its CENTUM distributed control system (DCS) illustrates how the DCS is evolving from a single-purpose tool for managing production processes to take on the dual role of plant information hub.

The next-generation Yokogawa DCS, dubbed CENTUM VP, is scheduled for release mid-June.

The new system's design is a response to customers' desire to have control systems bring in data from more sources within the plant, according to Steve Lazok, technical support, Yokogawa.

Lazok says pressure to get more out of existing production equipment is causing process-oriented manufacturers to ask plant operators to make decisions about when equipment should be repaired, and that requires giving the operators more information.

“There has not been a new oil refinery built in the U.S. in 30 years,” Lazok says. “So that's an industry that's running beyond 100-percent capacity, and they are constantly pushing operator productivity. They need to give operators more information so they can do things like predict when failures might occur. They can do that, for instance, by monitoring pressure and temperature changes around a heat exchanger and getting a feel for when it might start leaking. They can then order preventive maintenance. This helps avoid downtime and losing dollars that can never be recovered.”

Lazok says the operator console—or human-machine interface (HMI)—is the most visible change in CENTUM VP from previous versions of the system. The interface is much more graphic-oriented, making heavy use of colors and animation, but it also gives operators access to information they could not get before.

“Previous HMIs were focused only on allowing operators to control the plant,” Lazok explains. “They were built with proprietary software. But to do what customers want now, we had to use de facto industry standards that allow bringing in data not only from Yokogawa's control systems but from other vendors, like Rockwell's Allen-Bradley PLCs, or from historical databases.”

To make this transition, Lazok says, Yokogawa built CENTUM VP on the Microsoft .NET technology framework and employed a programming language called XAML.

“By using .NET and XAML, we can pick data from multiple databases—and the Yokogawa control system—and display it all on a single screen,” Lazok explains.

As users implement the system, they will use a program similar to Microsoft's Visio to map connections between the original sources of data they want to tap and the CENTUM system.

CENTUM VP, an integrated production control system, will become the flagship platform for Yokogawa Electric Corp.’s VigilantPlant Operational Excellence initiative, which seeks to empower plant personnel to take actions that optimize plant and business performance.

Operators will look at a screen resembling Microsoft's Windows Explorer, with tabbed folders representing various data sources. As operators pull data from the system, they will be able to choose how it is displayed: in graphical form, as a trend chart, or some other customized view.

While the system provides unprecedented levels of information, Lazok says companies expecting to get the most from it should consider getting their operators additional training.

With operators now being asked to use these systems to make what amount to business decisions, Lazok says they require training in new subject areas such as asset management. He also notes successful operation of this new generation DCS will require operators to be comfortable with Web-based systems.

“We are moving closer to the point where control systems and IT will intersect,” Lazok says.

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