BRIEF: Modular Approach to Water Processing Control & Automation

"Lego" inspired control concept from Festo creates a better fitting, economical method to automate this critical utility

By Steven E. Kuehn, Editor in Chief

Editor's note: this is a 60-second version of the original article. To read the full length feature, click the link at the end of the brief.

Almost anyone can recognize the practicality associated with the concept of modularity. To the many engineers who busy themselves designing, engineering and constructing complex pharma processing systems, the idea of managing such complexity by breaking it down into standardized subsystems and components is a well understood and pragmatic approach to system design.

Modular systems, according to Festo, speed up the design and configuration of automated processes, lower overall costs, and make a process like water filtration more flexible and therefore better at adapting to new operational requirements and responsive to market demands.

According to Festo, the design and engineering of a given process is precisely tailored to the respective task, whether for producing a specific product in X units per time unit or to generate the throughput of a specific substance in X quantity per time unit. As a whole, the mechanical design of the plant is geared toward meeting specifications and assuring the required performance data over its projected lifecycle.

Markets are increasingly demanding shorter product development cycles, prompting a fundamental shift in the design and engineering requirements for process plants of all types including water filtration. The necessary flexibility is something that is available now and achieved through consistent modularization, that is dividing a complete plant into its functional units.

The ability to temporarily sideline production modules from the current production process, notes Festo, is another aspect of the concept's inherent flexibility that will have a positive impact on operations and managing maintenance, equipment change-outs and other similar tasks.

Most water filtration plant designs include pipes, pumps, valves, tanks, filter modules and sensors. The required components for actuating the field devices are installed in a control cabinet. Valve terminals, such as a remote I/O system with integrated pneumatic section, are connected to a central controller with visualization (management system) via a fieldbus. Plants of this typec an be easily modularized by breaking down the process into subprocesses and defining a module for each sub-process with all the mechanical and automation components required for stand alone operation. 

"In the context of 'Internet of Things'" and based on the NAMUR recommendation NE 148," says Craig Correia, head of Process Automation at Festo, "modular automation will effect a fundamental shift in the design and engineering of process plants." Modularization will not be possible to the same extent for all industry segments or every process, Correa explains, "However, the technical design process for each plant should include a review and assessment of whether modular concepts can be applied so both the plant operator and plant manufacturer can benefit from the associated advantages."

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