Wednesday, 19 March 2014 18:53

IT increasingly critical in the industrial control room

By *Darren Wyllie
Darren Wyllie, Honeywell Process Solutions Darren Wyllie, Honeywell Process Solutions

In today’s industrial organisations, we have seen an ever-increasing need for convergence  between IT departments and the control room. As automation systems become more advanced, their ability to capture information relating to processes has become both simpler and more effective.

But while control systems are important for managing processes and ensuring optimum performance, they lack an ability to present large amounts of captured data in a meaningful way to drive business results.

This is where the IT department comes in, and in fact is critical. IT systems allow businesses to take significant amounts of data and manipulate them in such a way that enables operations personnel and the management team to make informed decisions. And while we have come a long way in the past two decades, for many organisations there is more that can be done in this area to achieve greater business value.

The history of convergence

Honeywell first saw the entry of IT into the control room in the late 80s. This is because with the introduction of automation and control systems, such as Honeywell’s TDC 2000 in 1975, we saw an increase in the collection and storage of data from industrial processes. But the challenge at this point was what to do with all of that data.

In the early 90s, the control room and the IT department operated in silos, on different Networks and with starkly different priorities. The control team was focused on performance – specifically reliability, availability, safety, accuracy and speed of response.

Whereas, in the IT domain, usability, functionality and the human machine interface were the key focus. And similarly, personnel working in the control and IT departments had vastly different skill sets.

Skilling staff

As more and more organisations see the benefit of combining these two business functions, so too is there a need to combine the capabilities of staff. While control engineers have broadened their skills to more than control system configurations, they now must include core IT skills such as networks, operating system configuration, security and database administration.

For IT personnel, the critical nature of industrial processes means they must have an understanding of the complexities of the industry. Key here is the importance of 24x7 operations and the criticality of system failure, especially the potential safety or production impacts they can have on the operation. In the process industries, a few hours of shut down time can result in tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in production losses.

While many organisations provide on-the-job training, many vendors will also provide support for customers as new technologies are introduced, through training colleges and other methods.

Today’s challenges and tomorrow’s solution

The use and acceptance of IT in processing industries today is quite high, particularly for reporting, dashboards, tracking KPIs and supporting the implementation of MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) within organisations. But the key challenge we face with this increasing number of information systems is how do we determine what information is important. That is, what information needs focus and attention, and how we relate information between disparate systems to provide the whole picture of what is happening within an operation.

Vendors like Honeywell are helping organisations tackle this through the implementation of enterprise-wide data management tools. And we believe the next phase of data management will see us more easily turning the vast amount of information generated from control systems into specific actions to support the improvement and optimisation of operations. For example, capturing knowledge and sharing information and best practices for smarter, more agile decisions, as well as driving performance with work processes to ensure that this knowledge is acted upon.

Further, as technologies evolve over the next 10 to 20 years, we will see more opportunities to use these enablers for the benefit of process operations – as we are seeing now with mobility devices and collaboration tools. While the process industry has rarely pushed for the development of technology to support operations, it is certainly true that as new technologies become available, it provides us with the opportunity to create innovative ways of implementing them to solve business needs. In this way, the relationship between

IT and the control room will continue to grow and become even more necessary for business success.

*Darren Wyllie, General Manager, Advanced Solutions – Pacific, Honeywell Process Solutions.

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