A Different Plant Appears on the Horizon

Advances in a variety of areas will transform processing.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Adding to the impetus, vendors continue to expand their wireless offerings. For instance, Emerson Process Management, Austin, Texas, just added discrete switches plus vibration and pH transmitters to its Smart Wireless field starter kit (Figure 3). “This kit makes it very simple and low risk to try Smart Wireless,” notes Bob Karschnia, vice president of wireless technology. “Companies who’ve never used this technology before can quickly and easily begin to reap the same benefits gained by their peers who are already using Smart Wireless.”

More Collaboration
The future also will see greater collaboration between disciplines and within disciplines through increased leveraging of process engineering tools, notes David Tremblay, senior product manager at AspenTech, Burlington, Mass.

“Information will be stored in a shared database, accessed through light for-purpose interfaces served over the web. Audit tracking, case management and role-based security will be built in seamlessly with the underlying applications,” he says.

So, for instance, thermodynamics experts will have easy access to a wide range of public and proprietary physical property data. High quality predictions from molecular simulation will fill gaps in measured data. Next-generation equations of state will be able to represent a wider range of processes and process conditions.

At the same time, ongoing research will enable better characterization of complex materials, e.g., fluids such as petroleum and solids such as coal and biomass. This will provide a firm foundation for true “molecule management” from source to product.

“A common data model for equipment, materials, process streams and process economics will serve as the framework for the next-generation modeling tools. As the process design evolves, the data model will get populated with a richer and more complete set of information. This will enable increasingly accurate estimates of process capital and operating costs throughout the product lifecycle,” predicts Tremblay.

The scale of process models will continue to grow, he believes, until a single model captures an entire production site. “Many different engineers may collaborate to build individual sections of the model, perhaps at different levels of rigor,” he notes.

Security And Safety
Greater amount of data, increased collaboration among groups, and expanded communication between disparate information systems will ratchet up demands for cyber security and plant safety.

“Chemical facilities have traditionally been physically and electronically isolated from the outside world to ensure safe production and distribution of chemical products. Though there will always be a robust physical cyber-security posture to protect these potentially dangerous facilities, the need for real-time information and productivity efficiency gains are driving open connectivity to the chemical facility network,” says Todd Nicholson, chief marketing officer of Industrial Defender, Foxborough, Mass., a firm that’s completed more than 100 process control/SCADA cyber-security assessments around the world.

Convergence of information technology (IT) and plant operations spheres opens up formerly closed systems to a host of cyber risks and vulnerabilities that were never an issue when those systems were air-gapped, Nicholson notes. Plant-level devices now are enabled to support TCP/IP and IT-based technology platforms; employees and vendors require secure remote access for equipment monitoring and maintenance; and wireless LAN technologies are proliferating on sites. Internet access is a given.

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