Data Defines the Future of Control

We hear so much today about digital transformation, but, as Emerson’s Claudio Fayad explains in his recent article in Processing magazine, digital transformation has been happening for far longer than we all imagine. In fact,

“The modern distributed control system (DCS) has been digitally transforming operational technology (OT) for well over 20 years now.”

What has this meant for operations teams? It has resulted in the DCS becoming the hub of a plant’s information exchange. The control system ties together all the equipment and software the plant uses for performance, safety, and reliability. But containing that information in the DCS isn’t enough. To drive real benefits from all that data, process manufacturers need to get data out of the DCS and into the enterprise, without stripping it of the critical contextual information it gains from the control system. To do that, many plants are beginning to move away from the self-contained control system architecture that has dominated the last few decades.

Support for REST API, MQTT, and modern IIoT protocols will help bring data from the edge to the enterprise.

Recentering on data

Claudio suggests that the future of automation is no longer controller-centric, but rather data-centric. Industry 4.0 is breaking down the established barriers of the Purdue Model, with project teams now more likely to start design with considerations of IIoT connectivity than with basic process control and automation.  Today, they’re far more focused on finding ways of,

“managing critical data from devices and control systems at the edge—and then moving that data to the enterprise for analysis, trending, forecasting and performance evaluation.”

But this new methodology requires strong collaboration between information technology (IT) and OT. After all, regardless of where the data is going, it will still need to pass through the edge compute nodes of the DCS. But we’re no longer stuck with architectures where data connected to the DCS will have to pass through controllers. Claudio explains,

“Solutions designed for rapid, intuitive connectivity, such as Ethernet I/O cards, are making it easier for teams to bring data from a multitude of devices into the DCS software without going through controllers. Modular and redundant, these cards easily connect to Ethernet devices for better visibility of plant performance using flexible, modular, modern and cost-effective networking technology familiar to both OT and IT users.”

A more connected world

Much of this change comes from the fact that most people have become accustomed to constant connectivity to their critical data. Our banks, home automation systems, vehicles, and more are connected to the cloud 24×7, and today’s digital workers expect that connectivity in their jobs. The lines between IT and OT have begun to blur, as more OT personnel have a wider understanding of programming and networking, and more IT personnel have a clearer grasp of process control and automation.

New technologies will help push critical, contextualized data from the DCS into the enterprise for use by cross-functional teams of innovators.

Taking advantage of these new skills is another key catalyst for the changing control system. Claudio shares,

“The new industrial innovators are not considering how they can distance the control system from the cloud, but instead how they can leverage the DCS’s edge infrastructure to build cloud-connected plants ready to reap the benefits of Industry 4.0.”

The DCS is expanding to securely meet this new frontier with a host of new technologies including one-way data diodes, and support for REST API, MQTT, and modern IIoT protocols.

Meeting the future of control head on

Claudio shares that Emerson is not waiting in the wings for the control architectures of the future to arrive. Emerson’s newly released DeltaVTm DCS version 15 already incorporates many of the technologies that will build the foundation of this vision. Moreover, Claudio explores some of the innovative new technologies the DeltaV team is preparing for Emerson’s future of Boundless Automation, including extensible sandbox environments in which users can create custom apps to meet their specific manufacturing needs.

To learn more about how the future of control is changing and to see more of the technologies under the hood, be sure to read Claudio’s article in its entirety at Processing magazine. And I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on the trajectory of modern control. Are there any new technologies you hope or expect to see on the horizon? If so, comment below and let me know!


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