Achieving Profitability in the Plant

Aug. 26, 2017
Schneider Electric announced new tools that link operations and maintenance and a new direction for the DCS, using real-time accounting to pull more profitability from the plant. There was also a glimpse into the future of how autonomous assets will impact business.

Every manufacturer, regardless of industry segment, is in business for one thing: To make money. While the focus of the operation may be on producing quality products that meet customer demands, the bottom line, literally, is that everything comes down to profitability.

That message was loud and clear to the attendees at Schneider Electric’s Foxboro user group meeting, held earlier this week at the company’s Foxborough, MA facilities. During the three-day event, Schneider Electric executives outlined some tactical shifts in both technology and the company’s own business model, as the Schneider Electric distributed control system (DCS) strategy morphs into a system for managing more intelligent assets as part of the plant process. And, moving forward, the focus is clearly on plant profitability.

The profitable plant concept was introduced this past February at the ARC conference in Orlando, when executives announced the Profit Engine—an umbrella term for a line of products built on EcoStruxure, the company’s Internet of Things (IoT) architecture. The EcoStructure platform incorporates mobility, sensing, cloud, analytics and cybersecurity, and acts as a digital backbone for everything from machines, the plant, IT and infrastructure. During the ARC event, Schneider Electric introduced Profit Advisor, a technology offering jointly developed with Seeq, a provider of big data analytics for process historians.

Profit Advisor is a diagnostic tool that analyzes assets using data from historians. Built on the Seeq analytics workbench based on time series data, the tool applies Schneider Electric’s patented real-time accounting (RTA) models into the Seeq analytics to find the golden batches or to find constraints that are difficult to discern without operational models.

In this industry specific “roll-up accounting” model, calculations are done for each value point in the process, which includes assets such as energy—and how much of it is consumed, for example, factoring in the real-time business impact. In February, the company also rolled out ExoStruxure Control Advisor, a decision-support tool that provides real-time operating data and predictive analytics capabilities giving plant personnel a way to monitor and adjust every control loop across multiple plants.

“We can detect a failure in a compressor system eight weeks before the failure,” said Peter Martin, Schneider’s vice president of business and innovation marketing. But rather than taking the compressor off line right away, the advisor tools can calculate a better option. “We could slow the speed of the compressor to increase the timeframe [before] failure.” Rather than eight weeks, Martin explained, a company could extend it to 16 weeks to better manage the mean time between failure (MTBF).

The tools make sure efficiency levels are running correctly. And this week, Schneider rolled out a few more offerings aimed at extending reliability and increasing plant profitability.

The company’s new EcoStruxure Maintenance Advisor software, announced this week, bridges the gap between operations and maintenance. It provides predictive maintenance and decision support forplant-wide assets, including Schneider’s EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS, EcoStruxure Hybrid DCS, intelligentfielddevices, drives and a range of other automation assets. The tool provides early insight into abnormal operating and asset conditions. It works on mobile devices and embeds workflow options to allow operators to respond quickly to conditions in the plant.

Another new product, EcoStruxure Condition Advisor for OPC DA enables real-time, automated condition monitoring of any OPC DA-compliant asset, such as intelligent electronic devices, motor starters and drives. This new capability complements existing Condition Advisors, which monitor the condition of Fieldbus Foundation, HART and Profibus process instruments.

Combining the offers to work with third-party control systems enables customers to monitor and diagnose the condition of a broad range of plant automation assets in real time, which can help maximize operational uptime, minimize operational and maintenance costs and increase workforce safety. Clear and concise alerts offer recommendations and context around the status of every asset and the criticality of the condition, to help improve response time.

In the key segments these new products serve, including chemical, oil & gas, water/wastewater and mining, manufacturers might focus on different things, like maximizing throughout vs. increasing efficiency and lowering cost. But, ultimately, they are trying to solve reliability challenges, Schneider executives said.

“We help customers to improve throughput by reducing the number of failures,” said Manoj Chandrasekharan, director of asset management at Schneider Electric. “We reduce maintenance costs by moving to predictive maintenance and improve safety [because] monitoring can happen from a remote location. Last, and most important, is efficiency in the operations. We work in silos, but the technology we developed with workflow improves coordination between organizations and response times between teams as it is easier to share information.”

                                                                                 Attention on Assets

The other big deal at the user group meeting was the announcement that Schneider Electric is future-proofing it’s DCS and enabling 100 percent ROI in less than a year.

Historically, DCSs have been limited to controlling the efficiency and safety of the process, without being able to measure and control other critical operating variables—especially profitability—in real time. The EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS, which marks the evolution of the Foxboro Evo control system, changes that.

Using the real-time accounting models, which are now built in, the EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS not only allows the industrial workforce to evaluate the real-time financial performance of an industrial operation directly at the equipment asset level, it also allows them to easily identify the impact their actions and decisions have on the profitability of the operations they control.

“For the most part, by the time business managers receive their monthly updates from whatever enterprise resource planning systems they use, the information is no longer relevant to the operational business decisions they need to make, or should have made,” Martin said. “The EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS breaks the mold because our RTA models help control value asset to asset, all the way up the enterprise. By aligning process control with the hierarchy of the plant, we can provide far more visibility into the financial performance of every plant asset and asset set. That allows plant personnel to understand the impact their decisions have on the business and business leaders to understand the impact their decisions have on the operation, in real time.”

Along with the RTA models, the EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS features high-capacity, high-availability control processors; more powerful, fit-for-purpose I/O; intuitive, role-based engineering tools; and enterprise-wide analytical tools and capabilities. Additionally, its cybersecure design and secure integration with the company’s Triconex safety systems protect the facility’s critical assets and allow for continuous production. And, according to the company, its automated, enterprise-wide, real-time condition monitoring and predictive maintenance capabilities minimize unplanned shutdowns, maximize uptime and lower maintenance costs by 30 percent or more.

“With its embedded accounting models and other IIoT capabilities, the EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS has the potential to measure and control critical cost and value points in the industrial process,” said Craig Resnick, vice president at ARC Advisory Group. “That could open the door for end users to shift from managing their business month to month using traditional reporting structures and tools to actually controlling it in real time.”

The announcements that Schneider Electric have made this year seem to lay the groundwork for a new direction for the company as it responds to an industry outcry for open control architectures. Efforts are well underway at the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF), a group focused on developing a standards-based, open, secure and interoperable control architecture. Schneider Electric participates in this group, but is also working on ways to remain in front of the automation pack.

To that end, the company is moving toward embedding autonomous control into the assets by putting common core functionality (CCF) onto a chip to perform a few control instrumented functions like a PID loop.

To date, “we’ve forced control to be applied on the process, not in the process, it’s been an add-on or an appendage to the process,” said Don Clark, vice president of global application consulting at Schneider Electric. “New technology is going to shift that old paradigm so control will be performed in the process. If you embed autonomous control within the process itself so it is no longer stuck on, it allows you to think in new ways and to go back to the roots of the fundamental control loop of one.”

Schneider’s new way of thinking involves cyber-physical systems (CPS) in which intelligence, I/O and communication are happening between assets in a low-level mesh network, which picks up the power it needs from the surroundings. In this autonomous environment where devices and instruments are self-operating and self-optimizing, the implementation of standards, like MIMOSA, ISA-95, OPC UA and others will also be important, Clark said, as the intelligent assets need to belong to the larger infrastructure.

“There will be more measurement, monitoring, reporting and not a lot of control,” Clark said. “At that level, there’s a lot of data that doesn’t need to go through the conventional DCS, but has to fit into the system architecture, so the notion of system-ness and standards are critical.”

In the future process plant, there will in two basic domains. One is highly interactive and mission critical, dealing with the rigor of routine process control and how assets are working. The other is a broader view of the plant. “A God-like view in a control room that is in the cloud,” Clark said.

There will be systems within systems and everything has to work together reliably. So, what does this mean to a control system vendor like Schneider? A new business model will likely emerge that hinges on the sale of CPSs to equipment and device manufacturers, and figuring out how to make it all work together seamlessly.

That could mean a very different business model for Schneider Electric in the future. “We could evolve into being a global systems integrator,” Clark said.

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