Is Zero Engineering the Next Era in Industrial Automation?
A recent article from Schneider Electric considers the prospect of zero engineering for control and process automation. Various tools already exist and achieving the next step will be the biggest change since the introduction of PLCs.
Fifty years ago, before Modicon first developed the PLC for its automotive customers, making system changes for annual vehicle model updates was more complicated and time-consuming. The invention of the PLC marked a new era of industrial automation.
However, setting up an industrial automation system or making changes to it still takes a fair amount of work. Consider the example of a control system for a water network or food processing plant. The plant control, supervisory and other system components need configuring for each asset. This takes hours of engineering time both for a new system and during its entire operational lifecycle when making changes.
Even with today’s control technologies, there is still a fair amount of time, money and risk involved. Achieving zero engineering means developing tools to better integrate the software and control systems in an industrial operation. Can we achieve agile operations with zero engineering for the next era of automation?
Harnessing emerging technologies
Zero engineering sounds ambitious in its aim to reduce design and commissioning time and increase the agility of industrial businesses. Fortunately, several ingredients for making this possible already exist.
We already use digital assets during the design phase to simulate an entire plant in the virtual world (digital twin). Then again later during the operational phase to evaluate their impact before making any process changes in the real world. So why not attach design information with these assets in the virtual world?
Assembling these digital assets along with their electrical control and mechanical features in the virtual world allows the emulation of a complete plant control system. Then all you would need to do is drag and drop objects from a library and allow the system to automatically connect and configure them.
Once running, you can return to the virtual domain in the form of the digital twin. This would allow you to simulate any changes in a virtual world. This allows you to make effectiveness and ROI comparisons before committing to them.
Moving closer towards zero engineering
Schneider Electric is making progress by building more integration into control and software solutions but is not there yet. Integrated Modicon and AVEVA solutions form a key step towards bringing large benefits to industries with control and supervisory systems.
Here, the linking of control and supervisory objects occurs early in the design phase, and the simultaneous deployment of both occurs when adding a new asset. This linking takes place during the design and this linkage remains throughout the lifespan of the system. This makes it faster and simpler to design new control schemes, and with fewer mistakes. Moreover, late changes are faster and more accurate.
With object-based engineering and the digital twin already in use, the reality of digital assets is advancing, and with it the goal of zero engineering. EcoStruxure Control Expert – Asset Link makes this important connection between control and supervision. And Schneider integration solutions already support a higher level of flexibility and efficiency for industrial operations.
Find out more in this whitepaper from Frost & Sullivan.
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