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The information systems used in the process industries, including water and wastewater processing, are largely roles-based, with one being for plant design, another for operations execution and others for process control, maintenance and so on. In addition, most enterprise, or ERP systems, were in their origins meant to support discrete manufacturing, not batch or continuous production.
The result is complexity when managers want to share information or glean data in systems to which they don’t have access. Companies remain overly reliant on spreadsheets and email when collaborating on complex projects.
To combat these challenges, corporations are committing to platforms that allow “object-based” access to information gleaned from multiple systems. Leaving talk about brilliant database technology to the side, what it means is, if you’re interested in a pump, then you go look for that pump in the 3-D model or other type interface, and drill from there to a wealth of information about it. The object-based platform combines both data and document management to be the “go-to” information source, from plant design through operations and maintenance.
Further to this point, product managers from automation vendor Siemens were in Boston recently to talk about Siemens Comos, its “asset lifecycle management software for process industries.” For the capital-intensive process industries, organizing information around those vital assets is as intuitive as it gets.
Siemens says Comos has application in the water and wastewater industries. PWT GmbH, headquartered in Zwingenberg, Germany, is an engineering company for water and wastewater treatment plants and it is using Comos to integrate process engineering and Siemens Simatic automation technology.
Finally, Siemens is taking a number of steps to augment Comos with additional capabilities. And too, other automation suppliers, as well as major enterprise and other independent software vendors are also furiously building out platforms that they hope will command significant attention, and market share, as industrial enterprises strive for holistic information management.
The cart and the horse
Achim Ewig, head of plant engineering at PWT, has discussed its use of Comos with Siemens in the design and construction of water and wastewater treatment plants.
“On the one hand,” Ewig says, “the instrumentation and control team would like to begin as early as possible in order to be able to manage the project well and on schedule. On the other hand, this approach carries the risk that changes in the process technology have to be integrated into the automation solution, which takes quite some time. Previously there was no automatic data exchange and data mapping between the process design and the automation.”
Use of the platform begins during plant design and can be the means for a sure handover of as-built documentation following construction. Deep integration with Siemens automation products brings further benefits, but interfaces to many systems are available.
“For us, Comos is the data hub for design… Whenever we can specify the automation technology ourselves, either Simatic S7 controllers or the Simatic PCS 7 process control systems are used. We also have to provide downward scalability. The classic variants of automation with PLC and SCADA are still indispensible in the water market… and we can also integrate distributed systems and small plants such as pump stations into a consistent automation architecture.”
Comos is used at PWT as engineering software, allowing access to data from multiple design systems. Ewig looks forward to the day that PWT clients use Comos as a platform in support of maintenance and operations.
“Today, operating staff often know their plant inside out and have the skill to notice emerging problems — they can tell when something literally doesn’t sound right. But what happens when these experienced experts retire? There is a distinct trend toward centralization of water plants.”
Integrated operations can lead to a rationalization of applications used in the enterprise. A major benefit of a correctly implemented system should be that information no longer need reside in multiple systems and users securely access current revisions.
Rapidly consolidating functions
The Boston talk took place in the wake of a Siemens’ acquisition in September of VRcontext International S.A., Brussels, Belgium. In consequence, Comos is being equipped with 3-D simulation walk-through capabilities. Users will segue seamlessly, Siemens says, from this 3-D simulated world to the more familiar landscape of P&ID diagrams, 2-D drawings and other information sources.
VRcontext’s Walkinside 3-D visualization software is already used in more than 200 companies. VRcontext has specialized in remote offshore installations for the oil and gas industry. With Walkinside, Siemens says the company has created a standard for 3-D visualization in the process industries.
The chemical, pharmaceutical, oil & gas, power & energy and hybrid industries need more than pretty pictures, Andreas Geiss, VP, Comos Industry Solutions, says. “The P&ID [process and instrumentation diagram] is the bible, containing all definitions of equipment and instrumentation. And that’s where we really get going.”
The latest version, Comos 10, includes a new interface that ensures consistent, bidirectional exchange of information between Comos and the Siemens automation. Other new functions allow project teams to collaborate across systems and locations, enabling parallel processing of different work packages.
A more general trend
As mentioned, integration platforms, similar to Comos at least in intent, are appearing at several enterprise levels. Automation vendors have introduced platforms that aggregate information at the execution layer, e.g., Archestra from Invensys Wonderware or FactoryTalk from Rockwell Automation. Enterprise vendors like SAP and Oracle have bought up a half a zillion independent software vendors so as to stake their claim as chief data aggregator.
Other initiatives are more specific to process industries. There’s Huntsville, Ala.-based Intergraph with its SmartPlant and SmartPlant Enterprise for Owner-Operators. Houston-based Aveva says it provides engineering and design software for the process plant, power generation and offshore industries. In addition, ERP vendor IFS, which originally came out of the asset-intensive industries, believes in a single suite of products across the enterprise, including for engineering, operations and resources planning.
Geiss concluded his remarks by pointing out that “while there’s a considerable gap between growth and investment rates in developed countries and those in the developing world, growth in these kinds of software is much more even across global regions. Project execution is changing everywhere. The workforce is changing everywhere. More planning flexibility is needed.”
The world of television commercials is chock full of integrated enterprises, but not so ours. Yet there is no doubt progress is being made toward a kind of roles-based, application-driven integration that will further streamline coordination of complex process-industry supply chains, and that promises continuing productivity growth in the 21st century.