Preparatory to the last migration

Vimal Kapur speaks of the next generation of innovation in plant and field operations and how cloud-based SCADA will play a large role in the future.

By Kevin Parker August 12, 2017

According to Vimal Kapur, president of Honeywell Process Solutions, five emergent technologies are crucial to unleashing the next generation of innovation in plant and field operations. Kapur spoke at a recent 2017 Honeywell Users Group Americas event.

The depth and breadth of impending change can be compared to circa 1975, when computer-aided design, enterprise-resources planning, programmable-logic controllers, and distributed-control systems were being introduced into industrial settings.

The five inflection-point technologies Kapur cited are virtualization, the cloud, the connected plant, digitization, and virtual reality.

"Despite the rather limited spend by process-industry customers the last several years," said Kapur, "virtualized machines have become very important. In fact, use of virtualized servers is growing 30% a year. Their increased deployment means availability grows even as costs fall."

Big, grey, and looming

The cloud is lowering the total installed cost of solutions. While residence in the cloud already is common for enterprise-business and customer-relationship management applications, it is still relatively rare in process production.

"That will change quickly," Kapur said. "Cloud-based SCADA can reduce the implementation time of a project to a few weeks as compared to eight to 10 months. Historians also will move to the cloud. A cloud infrastructure means control centers can be located anywhere. Software versions are always up to date. Procuring SCADA assets moves from being a capital expenditure to an operations expenditure."

Still to be decided is whether in future process control itself will move to the cloud.

The connected plant starts with the promulgation of a digital twin, which can combine first-principles, empirical, and equipment models. It also incorporates technologies associated with IIoT, including low-cost sensing, systems connectivity and interoperability, and analytics.

With a connected process in hand, connected assets ensure equipment reliability, and connected people collaborate to bring experience-based intuitive insight to bear.

Digitization hasn’t yet transformed our work lives as much as it has our private lives, Kapur said. For example, while technicians and maintenance personnel may have access to an on-line inventory portal, they still work largely in a world defined by the past. The potential exists for analytics to transform supply chains as much as it has altered strategies in major-league sports.

The slog forward

Barriers to adoption are inevitable. Many installed technologies can’t easily assimilate the new technologies. Cybersecurity concerns and simple fear of change can slow adoption of a new paradigm. This even though thousands of systems in versions no longer supplier-supported remain in active use.

You can hardly blame those responsible. Replacing a distributed-control system may entail altering the arrangement of as many as 10,000 wires. Documentation of the control strategies executed may be as scarce as up-to-date wiring schematics.

What could provide encouragement to those anxious to move forward is that, as hardwired functions morph into software code and as infrastructure moves to the cloud, users may be approaching their last migration. This is so because, henceforth, keeping process-control system profiles current will be accomplished continuously rather than by means of long-over-due batch upgrades.

Kevin Parker, senior contributing editor, Oil & Gas Engineering,

Original content can be found at Oil and Gas Engineering.

Author Bio: Senior contributing editor, CFE Media