Is the ability to differentiate yourself in the marketplace a challenge? Do you struggle to provide cost-effective equipment that meets end-user design requirements, while also trying to improve time-to-market?
One way to distinguish your skids is to make them easier to integrate into an end user’s facility. According to input from global-customer members of the Rockwell Automation Process Advisory Council, skid integration can consume a large percent of a project budget, making it a prime target for improvement. However, streamlining the integration process can be quite challenging, as skid builders typically use commands, data and alarms in languages unique to their company. End users want a skid builder that defines how to communicate and tie skid commands, data and alarms together.
End users also want equipment that seamlessly bridges the gap between the plant floor and the enterprise. Skid builders can accomplish this goal by using the EtherNet/IP™ network to simplify the network infrastructure. Replacing a multitiered networking strategy with one standard network also helps reduce engineering time and integration risks.
This issue of What Matters explores the top four steps our end users identified for simplifying their skid integration. Following these guidelines and using the right process automation technology can help you truly differentiate your equipment by making it easier to integrate without customization.
1. Quality by Design
The ANSI/ISA-88 (S88) design standard for batch process control has become the default standard in North America and Europe – and is rapidly gaining acceptance in Asia – within the food, beverage, water/wastewater, pharmaceutical and life-sciences industries. Skid-based batch equipment that complies with the S88 standard provides many benefits for end users, enabling them to:
- Bring conformity to the naming procedure and help expose necessary data.
- Isolate their equipment from recipes for easier maintenance.
- Recover from abnormal events using set guidelines and a standard set of states.
- Simplify the collection and communication of customer requirements using common terminology and models.
- Validate procedures and equipment independently for faster startups.
- Reuse recipes and equipment phases to reduce costs.
Track historical data. End users consistently stress the importance of access to all process parameter data in order to create a blueprint of what is going on in the production process. Many skid builders provide only the product code and batch number with their skids, which is only as helpful as having a corner of a map. The manufacturing order, the campaign lot number and a lot of other product-context information is just as important to the production process. When not provided, users must add, modify or clear out codes to integrate the skids.
When you follow S88 standards, your customers benefit from immediate access to valuable product context information, such as remote commands and process tracking data. In addition, helpful status parameters such as skid performance, clean-mode status, or sterilization, can also be easily addressed.
Product context information helps create a shared framework between skids and the rest of the production process. This programmed relationship is extremely valuable for troubleshooting purposes, since quickly resolving or avoiding production issues can save an end user substantial amounts of money, and in some cases, such as with high-value batches, could save several million dollars.
2. Key Process Parameters
You can further ease skid-integration pains by identifying all process phases or key process parameters in the unit before your skid is shipped. This helps users define the proper commands and important values in each phase. When skid builders do not identify all key process parameters, users can spend many hours digging into the skid code to identify which code coordinates with which phase.
Whether it is heating up, cooling down, wrapping or cleaning, identification of these essential phases helps end users identify the codes and easily integrate them with the process system. Rather than having to reconfigure the overarching control system that drives the skids, users suggest templates to distinguish specific phases that will help the integration structure.
Consider the following guidelines when defining key process parameters:
- Each phase should check the status of all pertinent equipment and ensure it is ready for use.
- Material-adds should include system-learned, pre-act values to improve consistency.
- Phases should not automatically change the mode from “operator” to “program.”
- Only use shared phases to minimize arbitration requirements.
- Take advantage of material track to find materials and automatically adjust amounts.
3. Alarm Segmentation
To avoid alarm-programming challenges, end users recommend configuring skids so that alarm notifications are only delivered during active phases. Skids typically arrive at an end user’s plant with all maintenance and operational alarms active during all phases. Failing to segregate these two types of alarms creates an influx of nuisance alarms, which can diminish awareness to real issues. End users then have to clean up or add code to filter out the nuisance alarms that come through, increasing the integration burden.
For example, if a clean-in-place skid is inactive, and an alarm sounds when it is waiting for a command for acid or base, it is obvious to the operator that a nuisance alarm is alerting a change in pressure or temperature. It is important to note that maintenance engineers might care about alarms during standby mode, but from an operational standpoint, users may not want to see them unless the equipment is active.
4. Reporting Parameters
To further reduce reconfiguring time, all data for process tracking and reporting should be readily available to the end user, including fundamental information, such as what the skid does and what value it provides to the process. It can also include specific data, such as total energy consumed and trending data for many other parameters.
While some skid builders may worry that standardizing their skids could compromise their freedom to innovate and differentiate themselves in the marketplace, it is important to remember that following these four steps does not negate the solution side of your business. Rather, this type of standardizing is like creating a common phone charger for end users, while leaving the actual phone free to be customized.
‘Ease of integration’ is typically one of the top buyer criteria for selection of new process skid equipment. End users will select skid builders that follow these four steps, as their integration costs can be considerably reduced if you provide pre-engineered skid equipment using quality by design principles, access to all process parameters, alarm segmentation, and visibility into real-time reporting data that can help users make informed business decisions.