#pAutomator: Ian Verhappen, CIMA+
Our #pAutomator for today is Ian Verhappen, Senior Project Manager, Process Fields Network, CIMA+ from Canada. Verhappen has extensive experience meeting industrial networking and other automation project needs. He specializes in Industrial Networks, including Foundation Fieldbus technology, Control System Migrations/Upgrades, Process Analyzers and Sample Systems. Excerpts from the interview below…
If you have a similar story you’d like to share, write to us and we’ll get in touch!
How do you oversee the entire scenario of control systems?
There has been system modernization over the years, so there are lots of old control systems that need replacement. The older control systems are using more and more off-the-shelf technology and the refresh cycle also has got to be shorter. That gives us more work.
More and more when we see that it concerns the status, they start to get worried about health. Not many people have yet figured out how to integrate diagnostics into their systems, though.
Who is pushing for this: instrumentation people, builders or manufacturers of the sensors or the plant?
Actually, I think it’s the end users, including companies like Shell and ExxonMobil with their open automation. They are realizing that by using the status, you don’t want to be running a process plant or a signal that is not valid. That is why they want the minimum of that status information.
By status do you mean only the health of the sensor, or also the quality of measurement?
Yes, that’s right. The status will affect how much control you have. If you have a bad input, you will have “garbage in and garbage out” system. So, if you have a bad signal in, you will not be able to control your output, because you do not have the input to control it.
Concerning end users, at which stage of the designing process do they involve manufacturers or experts?
Well, fortunately most EPCs would know this. Many times, companies decide right from the start who they are going to use for the control system. So, they use a MAC (Main Automation Contractor). Then this person, who is typically the DCS buyer, is responsible for all the network in DCS.
This was done by IBM way back in the 80s, and they still do it. Every time you make a decision at a different phase of engineering, you get it and you need to recycle it and do over. It is an order of magnitude. You get the basic design when you do the concept. Then comes the feed, and then from the front-end design, you get to the basic design. After this you get to the construction and lastly, to the field. For each of the mistakes you make, that multiplies 10 times you need to fix it. So, if its a 1-dollar decision at the front end, and you change it towards the backend, that is a thousand dollars to fix it!
Digital communications have come a long way. Let’s imagine a process engineer in the Bahamas with an iPad shutting down a control valve. What is your take on this?
All of us are familiar with digital communication with our mobile phones and computers. But generally, field level digital network is usually from the sensor to the IO card. This is what people typically refer to as a Fieldbus network.
In the process industry, 95% are still relying on 4 to 20mA. That´s because the Fieldbus was mostly used in Greenfield. When Fieldbus was introduced, the challenge was to replace the field sensor as well as the control system. This was a huge investment and because of this, most of the Fieldbus installations was in greenfield plants that have been installed in the last 20 years.
What role does IIoT play in this?
IIoT is where we are extending the digital network to incorporate the business system. The intent is to have an end-to-end digital system. IIoT will enable remote support and, in turn, better integration with your business. In the end, it will help you with automation in improving profitability, and hopefully, end-to-end configuration.
This means I will only have to configure a point once, and it will be propagated right from there. So if I say a transmitter or tag number has characteristics that will propagate right up to the business system, we will know all that. When I need to know that this plant will need a flowmeter, it will go right after the business system and will say “plant total flow” or “plant production.” In a business system, it will say plant production, on the dcs, it will say – TAG number, plant outlet type of thing. That will be seamless so that as an engineer, all I have to do is to type once and everything else will propagate. Well, this is a vision.
Right now, it’s going to be a stand-alone thing, but we are will adopt cloud pretty soon, probably within 5 years. This is fast because we are using virtual machines for everything. A lot of manufacturers are working with the cloud, particularly Honeywell.
According to you, which connection is better: Ethernet or wireless? When you go to the field what is the tool you cannot leave behind?
I believe both are important. In fact, you need IP and you always need to be aware of grounding, no matter which system you have been using. Grounding is critical to any communication system, so you need to make sure that you get the grounding right. In my opinion, this will probably be the biggest lesson we learn.
For me, I cannot forget my multimeter and network tester. Remember I said grounding. It still comes down to this physical signal!
Can you share with us one of the weirdest queries you have received from a customer?
When I was in Colombia at a conference, a man came up to me and asked: “Why does my Fieldbus network periodically fail?” I asked him which power supply was he using. He was using a 24-volt power supply, rather than a field power supply and the system still worked. It would still work, but intermittently it would fail. I told him to change it, and I never heard back from him after that.
I am also a process analyze engineer. Once, a General Manager of an oil plant told me that it was really difficult to measure things there. He asked, “Ian, can you measure this?” I said, “Yes, but you forgot the other two questions – how much and when?” You can do anything, it is just the matter of time and money!
Which is the biggest network you have seen? How many instruments were there?
The biggest refinery I saw was in Jamnagar, India. it is the biggest Fieldbus network in the world at 50 thousand points.
Well, thanks Ian for all your inputs. It has really been great to feature you. We are sure your insights will be enriching for our readers and help to better integrate in the future.