The automation of control processes has been around for a long time and has evolved from the early days of manual controls through switches and relays to today’s sophisticated control systems. The evolution of these systems has focused on gaining efficiencies in the operation, but what is the next frontier for industrial process automation?
As I stated when Foxboro Evo was launched in 2013, “The three most important ways a process automation vendor can help its customers secure their future is to protect the operational integrity of their plants, enhance the operational insight of its people, and enable them to adapt easily and affordably to change.” These factors are fundamental to achieving a business’ goals of maximizing production efficiencies at the lowest cost in a safe and sustainable manner.
Control and safety systems are the heart of the operation and keeping them running is what we mean by “integrity”. Today’s operations, whether driven by PLCs or highly complex control systems have similar needs for stability, security and performance. Reducing operational risk – from unplanned downtime to preventing cyber attacks and ensuring the safety of personnel and the environment are key. Security and safety cannot be after-thoughts; they must be an integral part of the automation system, from design through to day to day operation and throughout the lifecycle.
Automated systems help, but people are the most critical factor, and ensuring that the right information gets to the right people at the right time can make all the difference. We hear all the buzz about “Big Data”, “Internet of Things”, and we see the growing impact of communication in our daily lives. More information can help operations meet their goals, but only if it is harnessed and focused intelligently. Future automation systems will leverage the power of software to provide the right level of insight to the right operational function, enabling them to take actions that contribute to the business’s goals.
Controlling costs is usually the primary goal in operations. And maintaining automation systems while technology changes at an ever-faster pace is expensive. Businesses need to invest in technology that can adapt to advances in software and hardware. And, they need to consider the broader scope of all the systems that drive and support the business. Keeping an operation running efficiently requires that everything work together in a way that changes in one area don’t impact another. Components of a system can be upgraded with a minimal impact on operations – and costs.
When Schneider Electric acquired Invensys in 2014, they had a vision of a broader enterprise network that covered all aspects of process automation and delivered value across the business value chain. Our vision for Process Automation combines the power of our combined technology portfolio with the experience and strength of our people and the vision of the future where software, hardware and information combine to deliver profits safely and securely.