Research: Process Automation Systems

Impact to plant operations is the leading consideration when upgrading process automation systems, according to recent monthly research of Control Engineering subscribers. Other very important considerations: manufacturing cost pressures, changes in the process, and getting needed bug fixes. More research, advice, and latest products follow.


Big business of process control

Process automation systems have progressed beyond the traditional distributed control systems, but many familiar concerns remain among users, such as reliability, help-desk support, and upgrades. To gauge trends in this multi-billion dollar product sector, Control Engineering and Reed Research Group, both part of Reed Business Information, asked subscribers about their views and preferences on process automation systems via an e-mail survey. Results show newer systems are more reliable, and 37% expect to spend more and 43% about the same in the next 12 months on process automation systems.

Methods, respondents

Selected results presented here are based on 193 full responses received in 2007 from subscribers who evaluate, specify, recommend, install, and/or purchase process automation systems. Among these, 73% do so for in-plant requirements, 9% for OEM (resale), and 17% for both in-plant and OEM requirements.

Process automation systems must improve plant operations foremost, Control Engineering subscribers say.

For this survey, a process automation system (or distributed control system, not a single controller) is defined as the collective sensors, logic, and actuators that operate as one working process unit in a plant. The logic portion (software and boards) can be from one vendor and other pieces may be from others.

Fifty-nine percent of those responding reported that their plants did both batch and continuous processing, 23% did continuous processing only, and 18% did just batch processing.

Most plants had more than one process automation system; 20% had two to four such systems, 23% had five to nine, 18% had 10 to 19, and 31% had 30 or more systems. The ages of the newest systems in each plant varied; 35% were less than one year old, 46% were between one and five years, and 20% were six or more years old. A small number (2%) reported that their newest systems were 20 or more years old.

Looking sat the other end of the scale, 10% of respondents said that the oldest process automation system they had was less than six years old (with 2% reporting their oldest was less than a year old), 24% answered six to 12 years, 30% 13 to 19 years, and 36% reported that the oldest system in their plants were at least 20 years old.

When we asked our respondents what they thought of the usefulness of their process automation systems, 90% replied that their newest systems were either excellent (38%) or good (51%), but only 36% were pleased with the usefulness of their oldest systems, with 50% ranking them fair and 15% as poor.

When asked a related question— to rate the reliability of their process automation systems —respondents were generally positive, although newer systems received significantly higher rankings than older systems. Sixty-six percent of users rated the reliability of their oldest systems either good (46%) or excellent (20%), and 34% found their oldest systems either fair (25%) or poor (9%). The respondents' newest systems, by contrast, garnered a 93% positive rating, with 47% calling them excellent and 46% good.

Using capabilities

Process automation systems generally boast a long list of features and capabilities, but not everyone makes use of all of them. When asked their level of implementation of these process automation system features and capabilities, 96% reported using the human machine interfaces (HMI), 55% using them extensively, and 41% using them somewhat. This is followed closely by commercial off-the-shelf hardware and software, with 95% usage– 53% extensively and 42% somewhat. Ninety-three percent reported making use of the ability to keep existing I/O wiring, with 40% making extensive use and 53% using it somewhat.

Multi-vendor support is also commonly used, yet while 63% of respondents make some use of this, only 27% make extensive use. Similarly, although integrated system architecture was used by 88%, only 35% answered that they use it extensively, while 53% use it somewhat.

Wireless technology is moving ahead, but it has not yet taken over. While 51% of respondents make at least some us of it at the system level, 49% do not, and even fewer use it at the I/O level, with 53% making no use of it there.

On the “less popular features” end of the list, 67% of respondents report making no use of language support (German, French, etc.).


Good plus excellent reliability ratings for newest systems equal 93% for the newest systems and just 66% for the oldest systems.

Why features unused

We also asked users why they didn't use all the features available in a PAS. In many cases they simply weren't needed: Half of the respondents said that the available features and capabilities exceeded the needs of their processes, while 39% said that the features and capabilities were inappropriate to the process. A fair number of respondents (32%) also reported that they had too few on-site staff, 32% that they had insufficient staff training; 15% found the features and capabilities too difficult to implement, and 10% found them too difficult to maintain once implemented.

Upgrade plans

Eighty-nine percent of respondents said they planned to upgrade, migrate, or replace their process automation systems. Asked how they planned to go about that, 64% said they would do it in small portions spread out over 24+ months, 13% in large portions taking 12 to 24 months to complete, and 8% in large portions fully completed in fewer than 12 months. Very few (4%) planned to do it all at once (during a shutdown).

Respondents gave a variety of reasons for going to a new process automation system. Among those staying with the same manufacturer, many responded that their old system had become “unreliable,” “parts were hard to get,” or “don't have to de-terminate thousands of I/O,” and the like. A good number wanted increased capabilities, and many showed appreciation for the supplier they had; one mentioned “good customer service,” another mentioned “major improvements,” and another simply said “TRUST.”

One said the reason for the change was “being forced to do so by that manufacturer, which triggers a review that could dump them, also.”

Among those who preferred to change manufacturers, a typical reason was “cost, performance, capabilities, reliability, level of customer service.” One user said simply “HELP DESK.” In fact, lack of support was one of the most frequently cited reasons for switching suppliers of process automation systems.

Users advice: Migration, cost

Respondents offered advice about features, implementation, purchasing, migration, or other matters concerning process automation systems. One said to get in-house architecture and system requirements in place, and determine process requirements and growth allowances before requesting bids. Another warned that “consideration of software intra-operability and personnel training/support requirements must be taken into account in evaluating new system(s).” And several said that cost was not always a good guide; as one put it, “It is sometimes ill-advised to consider cost as the main determining factor when selecting systems. What may save money in the short term may be more costly in the long term.” And perhaps the simplest advice was this: “Do your home work.”

New Products: Process Automation Systems

Control Engineering subscribers, using a list provided, identified the following vendors as leading suppliers of process automation systems: Rockwell Automation, Siemens Energy & Automation, Honeywell Process Solutions, GE Fanuc, ABB, Emerson Process Management, Schneider Electric (Modicon), Invensys Process Systems tie with Mitsubishi Electric Automation, and Yokogawa Electric.

For more manufacturers, visit . Also visit company Websites listed with each product description.

Enhanced automation controller

The Rockwell Automation enhanced version of Allen-Bradley ControlLogix L64 Programmable Automation Controller (PAC) has 16 MB of memory for data-intensive applications. This allows for more efficient use of system capacity with the centralization of alarming and other applications. With FactoryTalk Alarms and Events the alarming control is now managed by the Logix PAC. Management of alarm state and timestamps by the controller improves information accuracy and helps with consistency for operators and maintenance personnel. For such information-intensive applications as batch processing, the unit provides larger storage capacity to store more data locally, enabling the user to switch recipes as needed. A future release of the ControlLogix V16 redundancy firmware will qualify the controller for use in redundancy applications.

Rockwell Automation

Process automation system enhanced

Siemens Version 7 Simatic PCS 7 process automation system integrates new and existing automation systems (process, batch, discrete and safety) and devices (instrumentation, analytics, motors, drives, and safety instrumented functions) within one platform. The system also features common tools for engineering, visualization, and plant-wide asset and maintenance management. New capabilities offered with Version 7 include: new tools for configuration/change management, including security and access control, version trail, version management, and change logging; library of advanced control functions; Profibus PA redundancy with safety communication; integration of Foundation fieldbus; smart alarm management; industrial / cyber security; and plant asset management and condition monitoring.

Siemens Energy & Automation

Monitoring system health

Honeywell has introduced a set of technology services to help monitor the health and reliability of safety instrumented systems (SISs). Monitoring the system status reduces unnecessary maintenance and engineering and minimizes failures. Studies show that companies can save up to $100,000 to $1 million per year if SIS and the associated Safety Instrumented Functions (SIFs) are properly engineered and maintained.

Honeywell Process Solutions

Integrated system, process automation and control

GE Fanuc Automation Proficy Process Systems is based on a hardware and software infrastructure that combines aspects of DCS and PLC/HMI systems, PACSystems controllers handle process, discrete, and motion control. Proficy software technologies — HMI/SCADA and Historian technologies, coupled with Batch and a Production Management suite — provide visibility, analytics, and connectivity throughout their enterprise. Major components include an engineering workstation that provides an integrated development environment, an operator console, and a common global namespace, which uses broadcasting technology between the controllers and the operator consoles.

GE Fanuc Automation

Manage control system software certifications

ABB Automation Sentinel program for ABB control system software management combines technical and online support with a planned evolution path to latest generation functionality for earlier control system software versions. The company also announced that its System 800xA Extended Automation AC 800M controller has received Mu Security's Industrial Control (MUSIC) Foundation-level Certification and Achilles Controller Level 1 cyber security certification.


Application helps optimize control system loop tuning

Emerson Process Management introduced the DeltaV InSight integrated control performance software as part of DeltaV version 9.3 release. DeltaV InSight is used to monitor, analyze, diagnose, and improve control loop performance. It includes all basic monitoring and tuning capability of its predecessor products, DeltaV Tune and DeltaV Inspect, plus advanced diagnostics and adaptive tuning capabilities. It automatically learns users' processes with embedded learning algorithms running at the controller level and develops process models based on day-to-day operations. These models help identify operational benchmarks, diagnose problems and calculate optimum loop tuning across the entire control system.

Emerson Process Management

Programmable safety controller, based on PLC

Schneider Electric introduced a programmable safety controller based on its high-end PLC platform, the Telemecanique brand Modicon Quantum PLC. This offer is certified according to the IEC 61508 standard by TÜV Rheinland Group for applications that require a Safety Integrity Level (SIL) up to SIL2. Based on a standard PLC structure, it achieves SIL2 certification as a result of the integrated design in the PLC that allows standard wiring, cabling and programming along with extensive internal diagnostics at the I/O levels and CPU level, no additional hardware (such as voter and splitter hardware) and no additional wiring or logic are needed. This new offering consists of just five new part numbers: two CPUs and three I/O modules.

Schneider Electric

Migrate APACS systems, save wiring

The Foxboro Automation unit of Invensys Process Systems has a new family of plug-in I/A Series migration cards that facilitate upgrading from legacy Moore APACS ACM and ACM+ control systems to I/A Series DCS and InFusion enterprise control system (ECS) technologies. The upgrade can be accomplished without having to replace existing field wiring, termination assemblies, system enclosures, or power supplies. Invensys replaces the old APACS I/O modules with new Foxboro I/A Series I/O modules that plug into the existing system racks. With proper upfront planning, database conversion, and off-line testing, the system switchover can be accomplished in hours, with little if any downtime. In addition, InFusion View can be seamlessly layered over the new I/A Series DCS components to provide a familiar HMI and an initial building block toward implementing a complete InFusion ECS.


New process platform

During 2008, Mitsubishi will begin roll-out of iQ Automation, a new platform that expands Q Series capabilities with the integration of robot and CNC control alongside the other existing Q Series features. iQ will also leverage the CC-Link IE gigabit Ethernet controller network. Mitsubishi has been steadily moving its Q Series programmable controllers into the process field. Some years ago the company, along with several process industry system integrators, founded an organization named “MP2” (MELSEC Process Partners). Then in 2007 it announced a relationship with Invensys' Wonderware unit to provide higher levels of integration for SCADA products such as Wonderware InTouch. Also in 2007 it announced a specialized process control system for the food and beverages industry, developed in collaboration with ProLeiT AG.

Mitsubishi Electric Automation



Yokogawa Electric Corp. offers process and production automation systems.


Process automation system suppliers are in the Control Engineering Buyer’s Guide


System integrators tout process automation expertise.



For related articles from Control Engineering , see:


Analysis: PLCs vs. PACs


Research on Programmable Logic Controllers


Rockwell Automation does process


Rockwell Automation adds new data historian to FactoryTalk suite


Product Research studies, in the Control Engineering Resource Center, are free with registration, at

Big business of process control

Process automation systems, without which today's process industries could not exist, are a multi-billion dollar industry themselves. The study “Automation Systems for Process Industries Worldwide Outlook” from ARC Advisory Group, predicts that the worldwide market for process automation systems will increase from nearly $30 billion in 2006 to more than $47 billion in 2011, for a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.6%.

Globalization is among the big drivers toward increased use of automation, says Himanshu Shah, principal author of the study.

“[B]ecause of the globalization the manufacturers have no alternative but improve the plant performance,” Shah explains. “To improve the plant performance… one of the major things they have to rely on automation.” What else is influencing the market for automation equipment? “Information exchange is really huge,” he says, “a huge amount of information needs to be transferred,” which affects networking technologies, Shah continues.

“That's why Ethernet is in the forefront, because it has a basic capability to handle high speed and a lot of data, and that is important as integrations continue between in the plant and the business data,” he adds.

Another big influence, says Shah, is demand from emerging markets. While the U.S. economy may be softening, demand is at least firm in Europe and Japan, and growing rapidly in the Asian emerging markets. “That's driving a lot of this products and process industry because the infrastructure industries, demand for oil and electric power, and also now increasing need to compete in a global market.”

For those countries to compete in this global market, he continues, “their manufacturing facilities have to be at the same level as the global standard. That… attracts more process automation systems and increasing process automation.”

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Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

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