Business continues to push for higher output, higher quality, greater consistency, more granular traceability, higher efficiencies and lower cost of goods manufactured — all while meeting regulatory compliance. In many companies, Plant, Corporate Engineering, IT and their partner integrators are pitching in to do their part to achieve success in meeting their business objectives.
The techies are helping production and compliance in many ways by using the most current technologies for computers, process controls, software, networking and security. These platforms are being integrated into comprehensive systems providing new levels of efficient and effective process controls, data capture and real-time information analysis.
Let’s explore the tools making automation in manufacturing contribute more to the bottom line than ever before. Note the following technologies and platforms are currently being used in validated environments by various manufacturers in the pharmaceutical and bio-pharmaceutical industries.
An efficient manufacturing automation system makes optimal use of available components in five synchronized areas:
1. Process Controls Platform, such as PLC, PAC or DCS
2. HMI (Human Machine Interface)
3. Server Infrastructure
4. Historian and Relational Databases for Process Data and Events
5. Network and Access Security.
A typical manufacturing automation system using today’s advances in hardware and software platforms would look something like what’s depicted in Figure 1. Let’s examine each primary area of this validated automation system.
HEART AND SOUL
The heart and soul of any robust manufacturing automation system remains the Process Control platform. PLC-based systems have evolved to be at least on par with traditional DCS systems. Both control platforms offer features attractive to users from different perspectives and preferences. The common attributes of both platforms are:
• Ability to handle a variety of field devices found in today’s manufacturing environment.
• Ability to interface to multiple device communication networks such as EtherNet/IP, ControlNet, DeviceNet, Profibus, AS-i Bus, Foundation FieldBus.
• Programming structure based on ISA S-88 for Batch Processes.
• ISA-95 Model guidelines for the automated integration of enterprise and control systems.
• Closer integration with the HMIs and data historians, event archivers and relational databases.
Process controllers no longer live on the plant floor as separate “islands” of automation. Rather, they closely work together. Controllers are tightly integrated for bulk ingredient storage, compounding, purified water, CIP and SIP, finished product storage, even building automation systems. For high-availability and high-criticality applications, several process controller manufacturers offer redundant “hot-backup” configurations addressing the concerns over “single-point” hardware failure.
The user interface between the operator and the process, commonly referred to as the HMI (Human Machine Interface) continues to be mostly software-based graphics. The traditional HMI hardware platform was a Windows-based computer tied to either a proprietary bus or an Ethernet network. The preference in hardware platforms for HMIs is rapidly changing in manufacturing. Thin Clients and Terminal Servers are being used in both new applications and upgrades to legacy Process Control Systems. The diagram shown in Figure 2 reveals the typical configuration of a Thin Client/Terminal Services HMI application.
Thin Clients are diskless processors that interface over an Ethernet network to a server where HMI software and application files reside. Thin Client hardware requires minimal configuration compared to Thick Clients (traditional desktop computers). Many current implementations of Thin Clients use Microsoft Windows Terminal Services, now known as Remote Desktop Services (RDS), for connectivity. Using commercially available Thin Client management software on the host server allows for multiple, simultaneous HMI client sessions. So from one server, operators at different HMI workstations (Thin Clients) can independently and simultaneously view different process screens.
Plant operations have seen savings using Terminal Services and Thin Client technologies. Pharmaceutical manufacturers have also experienced:
• 33% savings in PC costs for operator workstations
• 55% reduction in power consumption by the operator workstations
• Reduction from four hours to less than one hour for a technician to replace an operator workstation.
Applications for HMI, S-88 batch processes, historians and relational databases are commonly run on server-class computers. Recent advances in optimizing the use of computer processing power have been made with the use of virtual machines, commonly referred to as virtualization. Software platforms are developed whereby multiple applications can be independently run on the same computer hardware platform. Separate operating systems are allowed to run simultaneously on the same computer hardware. Hardware virtualized servers remove the dependency of the hardware from the operating system and allow multiple, separate operating systems to share common hardware. Interfacing between operating systems and the physical server hardware is handled through the Hypervisor.