Reducing Validation and Execution Efforts by Standardizing

Before development of a project begins, it’s important to have a full understanding of the best practices and standards associated with the system to avoid building from the ground up and to save time and money.

Timothy S. Matheny, P.E., president, ECS Solutions
Timothy S. Matheny, P.E., president, ECS Solutions

We can greatly benefit from understanding what others have done, standards encapsulate the current best approach as seen by an individual or team. For end-users, these automation standards can be defined by associations, and range from homegrown to corporate-driven.

The International Society of Automation (ISA) is well established by providing best practices from expert experiences and can be used to avoid starting projects from the ground up. These standards provide a reference point for communication between all team members and can be used to clearly define expectations.

As automation professionals, we find it interesting how these standards are not fully understood. Systems are implemented by individuals that do not completely understand these standards, yet, think they do. Their implementations fall short of the potential, leaving end-user with a sub-optimal system. It is like listening to a kid tell the world that he knows how to ride a bicycle, and, in his mind, he does.

We all understand things to different degrees, and just as the kid, we see the same in the implementation of batch projects. Some end-users and system integrators truly have a grasp on these standards, others learn about them for the first time during the implementation of an ongoing project.

Our advice is to understand the fundamental concepts of the standards before development of the system begins and, if necessary, learn the standards or have someone spend time transferring the knowledge necessary to developing a system to be proud of.

Among the common standards to be understood are ISA-88 and ISA-95. With these, we often hear people say that they are implementing one vs. the other, when, truly, these two complement each other. Functionally, ISA-88 and ISA-95 can be superimposed, but the user needs to keep in mind what each standard’s main focus is intended for.

ISA-95’s focus is on how data or information moves between the different functional areas of a plant. ISA-88 focuses on best practices and terminologies of a batch or procedural management system. Each of these can be further detailed as the different layers are exposed and understanding these layers and their functionality brings together a functional ecosystem.

ISA standards have been developed with input from end-users, software and hardware providers, and system integrators. By applying these standards, the end-user benefits, allowing the system to be optimized and provide improved system performance, maintainability, and operability, all while lowering the overall cost of ownership. Invest time to understand standards, and the payback will reward both the end-user as well as the community of automation engineers.

Timothy S. Matheny, P.E., is president of ECS Solutions, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). He is also author of a paper on model-based control, presented to the ISA Food and Pharmaceutical Industry Division in 2014. To obtain a copy of Matheny’s paper, or for more information about ECS Solutions, visit its profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.