The process industry user group keynote at Rockwell Automation Fair 2021 emphasized update to the company's PlantPAx 5.0 distributed control system (DCS), a plant-wide control system that uses a common automation platform to integrate process and discrete control functionalities with data drawn from across the enterprise. The system is reportedly designed to be scalable, modular, and capable of employing a diverse range of different architectures based on end-users’ individual needs.
Jim Winter, global process director at Rockwell Automation, pointed to four categories of needs and challenges Rockwell Automation sees among its process industry end users that can be addressed with PlantPAx:
- The changing workforce: With many baby boomers nearing retirement age and a looming skills gap among newer workers, many companies are hard-pressed to hire the talent they need, particularly as more sophisticated, digital technologies make their way into manufacturing. Moreover, many new workers learn differently than prior generations. With the rise of mobile devices, on-the-fly or “just-in-time” learning in the field is becoming more common.
- Increasing capital and operational costs: Rising input and overhead costs are leading many companies to move away from monitoring short-term financial and performance metrics and toward a lifecycle approach to bolster their bottom lines. The hope is that, when measured over multi-decade spans of time, even incredibly small gains in efficiency may yield a substantial return-on-investment.
- Disrupted supply chains and market volatility: Global material shortages, logistical difficulties, and uncertain demand have made it more difficult for manufacturers to plan ahead in recent years. As a result, technologies that facilitate advanced predictive capabilities or flexibility have become increasingly vital.
- The need for more sustainable operations: Customer preference, as well as governmental initiatives have put growing pressure on many manufacturers to enact sustainability initiatives and enhance the traceability of their products. In many cases, reaching these goals requires the deployment of new technologies.
How PlantPAx updates can help
Dave Rapini, PlantPAx business manager at Rockwell Automation, outlined three areas were PlantPAx’s features can address these challenges:
- Open technologies: Employing open standards has allowed PlantPAx users to integrate devices and content far more effectively, which has eased the adoption curve. In particular, PlantPAx’s use of OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) has made the integration of third-party applications and equipment possible. This can improve scalability, allowing for efficiency gains to more quickly spread throughout the broader enterprise.
- Low-code and no-code approaches: In the past, process control applications for simple machinery such as motors and pumps required developers to write their own proprietary code, which had to be learned by operators and maintenance personnel. In contrast, PlantPAx has standardized the code for these basic applications via its onboard library. The applications can also be displayed via Asana diagrams, rather than as lines of code, allowing for both consistency across deployments and ease of use.
- Digitization: Every PlantPAx installed in the field has its own unique system ID, which creates a digital fingerprint of all instrumentation, hardware, and software data associated with it. Once this data has been extracted, it is digitalized and pushed into the Rockwell cloud. From here, Rockwell can send customized messages to end users pertaining to upcoming part obsolesce, security issues, or software patches that need to be tended to. In addition, should end users need to contact technical support, their unique system ID can allow troubleshooting to proceed more easily, as issues do not need to be verbally described, but can be viewed in real-time instead.