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  Go Modern: How to Advance Your Process Control

14  March  2017

  Modern DCS provides plantwide control, easier skid integration to improve overall system flexibility

Process-industry professionals are under constant pressure to help increase their company’s market share, ensure compliance with ever-tightening regulations, and find new opportunities to improve productivity.

More often than not, they’re expected to do all this using the same automation approach and control system strategy that they’ve relied on for decades. Yet only so many improvements can be squeezed from old, antiquated technology.

Fortunately, numerous opportunities for operational improvements await in the form of a modern distributed control system (DCS).

When first introduced, DCS solutions offered numerous benefits by connecting multiple controllers and points of access throughout a plant purpose built to handle process automation. However, today the traditional DCS is showing its age.

For starters, a traditional DCS is built on proprietary technology disparate from the other required automation systems in the plant. This has resulted in fragmented control systems being used for the process area, packaging, utilities, electrical and other systems. These multiple, separate automation systems can be costly and difficult to integrate, while also restricting an organisation’s flexibility and responsiveness.

The outdated platform also lacks scalability. These systems were designed at a time when plants were built from the ground up, making them uniquely designed and nonscalable. As a result, integrating skid-based systems with a traditional DCS is typically very expensive. It requires additional hardware and software, custom data-mapping, duplicate HMI configuration and additional licensing.

Lastly, a traditional system is closed and only uses vendor-specific equipment. End users are usually limited to vendor-provided options for servers, workstations and network switches, making integration with business systems more difficult and IT support a challenge.

A modernised DCS can deliver the same core capabilities of a traditional system while addressing many of its challenges. Built on contemporary technology, a modern process platform enables plantwide control, greater scalability and improved connectivity with IT and business systems.

Optimised, Plantwide Control

Leveraging scalable, multidisciplined control technology, a modern DCS is based on a common automation technology with the other automation systems required in the plant. This enables seamless integration between the system and the balance of the plant, including process, discrete, safety and power systems.

The controller for a modern DCS directly communicates with other controllers in a plant without the use of OPC bridges or other custom interfaces, even across system boundaries. It can also be scaled to handle all automation systems, from small packaged systems to large process applications.

This plantwide control capability can help improve productivity in ways that are otherwise difficult to achieve using a traditional DCS. For example, the modern platform gives operators easy access to real-time and historical data that can help them more quickly pinpoint issues or identify opportunities to improve productivity.

A contemporary process platform can also help organisations reduce energy consumption and costs. Today, energy usage is one of the costs most difficult to control in manufacturing and industrial environments. Most organisations simply consider it a necessary burden or overhead cost. A modern DCS can change that mindset.

For example, motors typically consume more than 60 percent of the energy in an industrial facility. A modernised control system, however, can easily integrate with motor control devices, allowing plant personnel to collect data from the devices and then build an energy-management strategy around the data.

A modern DCS with plantwide control can also help an organisation reduce its total cost of ownership compared to a traditional system. The savings come in multiple forms, such as through reduced vendor support for proprietary technologies, reduced training for disparate systems, smaller spare-part inventories and reduced licensing fees.

Scalable, Modular Architectures
While a traditional DCS uses a single-size controller approach, which restricts integration with other equipment, a modern DCS uses a scalable control platform to deliver the right-size control at the right cost. This eliminates the need to purchase expensive control capacity that isn’t needed. Engineering costs are dramatically reduced because the same programming tools are used in a contemporary platform, regardless of the system’s size or I/O capacity.

A scalable, modern system is especially helpful for skid integration. With a traditional system, skid integrations require complex configurations that can increase risk and add significant costs. In fact, studies have shown that the cost to integrate is often 50 to 70 percent of the actual skid-equipment cost.

On the other hand, a modern DCS provides scalable system capabilities, such as HMI, batch management and data collection that do not require a server or workstation. Now, an OEM can deliver a fully tested and functional skid that will instantly integrate into the DCS, and the end user is only responsible for binding the supervisory control and data acquisition.

Secure, Information-Enabled Designs

More manufacturers and industrial operators are converging their information technology (IT) and operations technology systems into a unified network architecture, which Rockwell Automation refers to as The Connected Enterprise. This network convergence is giving organisations greater visibility into their processes and enabling information-sharing in new ways.

Amid this greater level of connectivity, however, organisations can no longer tolerate an isolated DCS. Instead, the DCS must support the seamless flow of information, from machine to machine and across the entire enterprise.

Based on a common IT infrastructure, a modern control system supports the use of commercial off-the-shelf servers, workstations and servers, as well as the adoption of the latest IT technology for automation. A common IT infrastructure also helps IT professionals address industrial-control security as part of a larger companywide security program, versus securing the plant and enterprise systems separately.

Additionally, a modern DCS is built on a foundation that uses open standards, such as Internet Protocol (IP) and EtherNet/IP™ to support a wide range of industrial applications and greater information-sharing.

For example, a contemporary system design provides the ideal venue for addressing emerging HMI design and usability requirements. This includes ensuring the HMI is consistent from screen to screen and can aid the operator in situational awareness for both current and future process states.

Additional Benefits

Beyond plantwide control, improved scalability and open connectivity, a modern DCS also offers greater flexibility for delivering and supporting the system.

For decades, manufacturers and industrial operators have had only one option for implementing and supporting a traditional control system: the original DCS provider. A modern platform offers them multiple choices for implementation and support.

Whether designing, commissioning, maintaining or expanding the system, the end user can either stick with the DCS provider or turn to their preferred choice of in-house engineers, OEMs, system integrators, partners or other professionals. In certain cases, an end user may even want to use a combination of partners to meet a project’s specific requirements and schedule demands.

Ultimately, a modern DCS is an ideal solution for process-industry professionals seeking to retain the capabilities of a DCS while creating new opportunities to increase productivity, cut integration costs and improve overall system flexibility.

Learn more about the PlantPAx® modern DCS from Rockwell Automation at

For more information, please contact:

Rockwell Automation Ltd
UK Marketing Communications Specialist
Kiln Farm
Milton Keynes
K11 3DR
Tel:  0870 242 5004 
Fax:  01908 839696
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