Modular process automation


Modular automation of process systems

A match for every requirement.

Time to market is rarely as crucial for other products as it is for vaccines. On the cutoff date, e.g., shortly before the start of the flu season, there must be sufficient quantities of the drug available within a window of just a few weeks. This means the task is to bring a complex chemical product from the laboratory into production quickly. The output must be able to be scaled flexibly depending on the demand – and faster than the competition.

What is the challenge with current systems?

Modular automation in the process industry  

Modular automation in the process industry

Today, systems are centrally automated in many parts of the process industry. When it comes to world-scale systems in particular, this is the most efficient and most available type of production. All the actuators and sensors are directly connected to the central control system. However, in the fine chemicals and pharmaceutical industries it is a different story: depending on the end product required, the system undergoes a conversion so that other formulations can be produced.

In the case of flavor additives, active ingredients, colorings or enzymes, companies must respond innovatively, and above all quickly to meet new market requirements. Therefore, new products are constantly being developed, which must be made available to end users promptly. Every time there is a new formulation which involves a change to the system piping, the system must be adjusted both mechanically and in terms of its software. If new instruments such as complex separators or filtration modules are added, with independent functions which need to be integrated into the overall process, this adjustment can take several weeks.

The solution: Industrie 4.0 or the NAMUR recommendation NE 148

Process analysis center  

Process analysis center

If it is about time-to-market optimization through digitalization of machines and value added chains, then it concerns Industrie 4.0, and NE 148 can also be regarded as an Industrie 4.0 use case:

The NAMUR recommendation NE 148 describes a modular system in which the modules contain a standard description with all of its functions, which can be read by the higher-level engineering and control system.
In a corresponding whitepaper by the ZVEI (German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association – see the link in the right-hand column), automation companies describe one possible implementation of the NE 148: a Module Type Package (or MTP for short), which acts as a driver for an entire module, as is the case with an office printer. This defines the type of module, which services the module provides, and how it is operated on-site and remotely.
If the system is composed of devices that have this MTP, and the system is equipped with a control system that can interpret these MTPs, then what would have been a week-long module integration process becomes simple parameterization of the new formulation.

This means that the product can be launched onto the market much faster and can fully exploit the potential competitive advantages.


Even world-scale systems can benefit from MTP

Even though the core process is centrally automated here, secondary processes (compactors, compressors, water treatment, etc.) have long been provided by decentralized automated package units. Today, this results in a similar level of complexity with regard to integration. Thanks to the description of the functions and services in an MTP, all the advantages that modularity brings to production can be fully exploited, thereby providing end-to-end engineering.

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