PAM: I have a Ferrari that I’m driving like a Toyota!
How many of you read the title of this article and said, “Yeah, that’s me”? Of course, I’m not talking literally about cars. I’ll bet a bunch of you have Ferraris in your processes but drive them like Toyotas.
So many companies around the world have smart devices in the field that never realize their full potential. Why invest all that money to have advanced diagnostics and more, then stick to analog for your connection? Yeah, yeah, wave your handhelds at me all you like. If you want to go out to the field every time you need a diagnostic, then knock yourself out. Maybe some of you want the exercise.
But what about real-time condition monitoring? Some of you have heard me say this before, but you could avoid unscheduled downtime if your devices could send data to your control system to flag or predict problems. Then you could take that money you saved and start going to the gym instead. Just a thought.
Nowadays, everyone in automation has heard of – and said things about, I’m sure – the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). But getting on board the IIoT train can revolutionize your plant asset management (PAM).
So how can you upgrade your system without spending a lot of money? I have three suggestions, organized from weakest to strongest, in my humble opinion.
Could be in the cards for you
You already have a complex structure in your plant to read your analog signal and control your processes. As your first alternative, you could change your system card to read process variables through the HART protocol, even as analog.
Sadly, this choice takes a little more work than just swapping cards. Most of the time, you have to re-engineer your system and schedule downtime for the migration. And this option may cost more than the other possibilities listed, once you start pricing out parts and labor.
You can get a rough idea of the cost now, at least. First, divide the cost of the card per channel. Then, estimate the service time per channel to find the channel’s value. If you have additional structures, then you should factor those in too.
In my opinion, you should consider this alternative last. You can do this monitoring in other ways without using the control system. Let’s keep the control system focused on control and manage the plant assets on a different platform.
Good old multiplexer
Yep, most multiplexer vendors will hate the title, but the truth can sometimes hurt. Make no mistake; multiplexers can help a lot of different applications. The problem lies in the implementation.
You need to install the multiplexer between your control system and your devices. If you have a new system, you can probably add it easily. However, if you want to add a multiplexer to an old installation that has never had one before, you have your work cut out for you.
That’s because you’ll need not only a migration but also a field service, and you would have to wait until a scheduled downtime to do so. On the plus side, you’ll run the diagnostics out of the control system, and you can use a different platform to read the data coming from the field.
You may also run into reliability issues before the system runs properly. I had an experience where the control system began to choke as soon as the PAM system started up. We had to install an analog input barrier between the control system and the multiplexer to get them to run together. And finding that solution took a ridiculous amount of grunt work, so plan carefully if you go this route.
Cut the cords with wireless
No, you don’t have to go completely cable-free. However, you can send data through a wireless system with little effort. You just need an adapter in your field device and a gateway to reading all your HART information.
Even better, the solution will run out of the control system, and you can use different platforms for your PAM. Best of all, most wireless devices don’t need scheduled downtime to begin the installation.
But be careful, because you need to get the right adapter for your process. Many use loop power and you need to have that power supply available. You might get voltage drop and compromise your control. Before you buy your adapter, check this information or use an adapter with its own battery supply.
Today, wireless solutions offer some of the best alternatives for IIoT process monitoring. The simple installation can save you money and time compared to cable solutions.
So stop driving your Ferraris like Toyotas. I’ve given you three options and you could probably find more.
You may need to change some mindsets too. The system can’t run itself (although it almost does). You or your crew may need training to understand and maintain your new goodies. On the other hand, you could hire experts to monitor your system remotely. Some companies provide that service if you want to look into that.
Either way, getting your new system running will let you finally drive your Ferrari properly. Enjoy!
Have you found the error in the cover image?