Things a Process Automation Engineer Should Know!

Hi all! And a warm welcome to the second installment of our process automation article series. We’ve already discovered some exciting tech advancements. In this article, we’ll take a look at how little changes in the software, norms, and hardware make significant impacts! Spoiler alert: The article contains Intel on Industry 4.0’s next big targets. We’ll also discuss how the digital transformation is impacting future businesses.

Grab a seat, your smartphone, and a pencil, and scroll down to learn more!

How are tablets or smart devices chosen for industrial environments with extreme working conditions?

Smartphones and tablets are almost always present in the meeting of IoT and automation. They are used as a communication platform and an electronic diary. Now they’re used to supports factory automation software and applications for monitoring industrial equipment. Undeniably, the industrial environment can be an unforgiving place for equipment. Thus, only very few electronic devices remain intact.

The benefits of using smart devices in industry are endless. Consumer-type Android tablets are not suitable for industrial environments. They lack the ruggedness and environmental ratings that are typically required. Finding the computer hardware that can survive the factory floor and plant yard, while providing capabilities beyond consumer-grade devices, requires some forethought. Here are some top factors to be considered in choosing an industrial computing device. They are described by the Senior Sales Executive of Teguar Computers.

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Courtesy image of Endress+Hauser

1. The ability to withstand varying environmental conditions

In a processing facility, the purpose of the industrial tablet cannot be restricted to a single operation. It could go from a cold refrigerator to a hot warehouse several times a day. Also, outdoor conditions subject to heavy rainfall necessitate a waterproof device. So, it becomes necessary to find a tablet that is waterproof and able to handle wide temperature ranges and the humidity variations without losing its operability

2. Compatibility with varying operating systems

A manufacturing plant has an array of systems to choose from for management and maintenance functions. However, typical computing devices may not be able to interface with it. As time goes by, the kind of computer tablet you are using now will not dictate future system upgrades. But successful management involves getting the most from your devices, and they need the ability to handle a range of operating systems. So keep in mind that your device may have to be ready for Linux and POS systems and compatible with the latest I/O interfaces as well.

3. Display, touch-screen, and other add-ons

In an industrial environment, it becomes increasingly necessary for the device to have good readability and responsiveness. In areas that have poor lighting, units must offer high resolution, sunlight readable LCD lit screens, TFT screens, CCFL backlit, high brightness and wide viewing angle.

Readability is crucial because information must be viewed off the screen quickly. Any miscomprehension can lead to serious consequences. Many industrial operations, particularly maintenance, electrical wiring or wash downs require protected hands. The screens should be responsive to the touch with gloves.

4. Mobility and Portability

The mobility and device diagnostic aspects of this software are the basis for many new industrial automation infrastructure implementations. Additionally, these devices enable interface with ERP and WMS systems and with diagnostic and preventative maintenance programs. Also, it’s great if the tablet has shock and vibration resistance, like the on-board computers in forklifts. They can withstand the jolts in this high-movement environment.

What should an industrial engineer know about functional safety? What are some functional safety norms to be familiar with?

A good engineering system should have some essential features that determine its reliability. For instance, I expect my system to respond well to my commands (inputs), be responsive, and not lose accuracy over time. Most importantly, maintenance functions should not take up too much time. So, functional safety is part of the overall safety of a system or equipment. This aspect focuses on the equipment’s ability to respond correctly to inputs, refrain from hardware failures and go unaffected by environmental changes.

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Speaking of safety, there are several unified international safety guidelines and norms. Though this is a good thing, adoption rates of these safety norms are slow. This is because manufacturers choose one of several options that gives them a competitive advantage over others. Functional Safety is a compulsory term in systems design in Europe, with norms like EN ISO 13 849-1 and EN 62061. In the US, a different set of safety rules apply. To learn more, let’s explore some European Standards.

The European Commission machinery directive states that equipments should not have an unacceptable risk. Though there is no such thing as zero risk, the directive tries to avoid all those that might damage environmental safety. If safety depends on control systems like encoders and sensors,  these systems must be designed so that the probability of faults is negligible.

If this is not possible, any errors that do occur should not lead to the loss of the safety function. Currently, the core Functional Safety standard is IEC/EN61508. This includes several detailed rules relating to specific areas of design and manufacturing technology, most notably EN ISO 13849 and IEC/EN 62061.

1.   EN ISO 13849-1: In reference to equipment safety, this standard applies to control systems and the parts to handle safely. These parts include relays, valves, position switches, PLCs, motor control units, and pressure sensors. The term Performance Level (PL) describes the level of safety, with a safety rating categorized between the lowest (a) and highest rating (e).

2.   IEC/EN 62061: In reference to electrical/electronic components’ safety, this standard defines the requirements for the design, integration, and certification of electrical, electronic and programmable control systems for machinery. The term Safety Integrity Level (SIL) describes the performance of a safety function, categorized between 1 and 4, where ‘4’ is for the most complex, plant-level systems in the riskiest environments.

What are cobots? How it is different from a robot or what does the term signify?

If you encounter the term “cobot,” you might check to see if it is a typo. With the emergence of robotic process automation with IoT, we rely on machines more than ever. In the beginning, robots replaced humans in monotonous tasks that required several hours of consistency. But now, robots are even capable of performing surgeries.

Enter the Cobot- an intricate collaborative machine relieving robots of their confinements and letting humans to work alongside their robot counterparts. Instead of working in a caged-off area, these cobots collaborate with human workers and enhance rather than replace their work.

For instance, in the automation industry, the cobot tightens the bolts while the human worker places tools in front of it. In a biscuit factory, the cobot packages the biscuits while the worker eliminates the burnt ones. In small-scale industry, the cobots do drilling job while the worker performs a quality check.

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General manager of engineering (robotics and automation) for Bajaj Auto (which deploys nearly 150 cobots) mentioned that the key benefits of cobots were their compactness, low payback period, lightweight nature, flexibility, cost-effectiveness, accuracy, and safety. He also added that the other benefits include zero annual maintenance costs, reduced power consumption and retention of IP within the company.

Cobots eliminiate an estimated 80% of downtime. In other words, the productivity gains are significant. To our surprise, even SMEs have now begun to prefer cobots in crucial functions and use human labor to feed in information and get the essential work done.

Where do I implement the cobots for best productivity and efficiency in the industry? Do I have to fear replacing human workers in the automation sector?

Implementing cobots comes with a wide range of benefits. These include streamlining your processes, achieving accurate results even for monotonous tasks, and reliability and endurance. So, let’s take a look at some of the collaborative operations of cobots, described by an senior engineer of DO Supply Inc.

1. Safety monitored stopping: The cobot is equipped with sensors that make it aware of its surroundings and the proximity of human workers nearby. It will shut down immediately under any obstruction in its pathway. For instance, in an operation that requires removing a component from a chuck, the cobot ceases its activity since a human hand is in its proximity.

2. Speed monitoring: This option is an extension of the safety monitored stopping. In this case, sensors detect human immediacy and reduce operating speeds instead of stopping.

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3. Power limiting: Typical with today’s cobots, these limitations let the cobot know how much power and force a human can withstand. They instantly cease activity if an obstacle is encountered. The energy of any collision is kept below maximum levels as defined by ISO.  

4.  Guidance and navigation: Hand-guiding enabled Cobots have an end-of-arm device that is sensitive to pressure. This allows the cobot to learn how to hold an object and how fast to move it so it can be operated, or moved without damage. Hand-guided cobots are ideal for use in delicate production lines.

Cobots enable further automation within manufacturing in such a way that human workers aren’t replaced. Instead, they are freed to perform more intricate and exciting roles within the organization. 

How has SCADA redefined data acquisition and control in the field of digital manufacturing? 

With the arrival of game-changing techs such as IoT and RPA, anything is possible in a system in accord with IoT. As more of these smart devices pop up across manufacturing and field sites, formerly “dumb” devices now connect through IoT and begin to add to the data stream. These data elements now flow into a giant pool of data. This turns into useful information that aids in decision-making processes. Ultimately, this results in higher productivity.

But what does SCADA have to do with all that?  WinCC Marketing Manager of Siemens Industry answers this. It does not happen automatically and requires some sophisticated tech. As such, the upside for manufacturers is that operators are already familiar with the core tools that provide this data analysis and capture service.

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These systems are termed Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Systems. Smart devices throughout the plant become part of the SCADA network, facilitating data flow. To understand better, we have taken an example of a SCADA system- Siemens WinCC to explore five core areas where SCADA has proved its expertise.  

1. Information management— In areas of Information tech, data needs to translate into production information so it can help optimize manufacturing. WinCC’s Information Server tool provides real-time displays in its dashboards and visibility for planting operations. Operators can access these dashboards even remotely, to generate automated reports. These reports contain data that monitor critical process elements across any desired time interval.

2. Data management— Each field device generates its data, and the complication is that there are enormous varieties of field devices. To make this data useful, the data formats need to be standardized. A system such as WinCC presents data in real time and also archives it for subsequent analysis. Additionally, the system can then identify trends or engage in troubleshooting.

3. Diagnostics management— Using the tools provided in WinCC,  this allows users to check diagnostic information easily. This quickens the process of troubleshooting and repair. One can quickly address, identify, and solve normal issues like identifying wire breakage, shorts, missing voltage load, or limit violations. An Integrated Automation Portal (TIA Portal) provides a consistent look and feel as users navigate across plant functionality areas including process and component diagnostics.

4. Energy management— Much more than just a regulatory process, this has become more of a cost control issue over time. Responding to norms such as ISO50001, it helps to conserve resources, tackle climate change and lower electricity, gas and water costs. The WinCC captures energy consumption data from devices such as meters, transformers, circuit breakers and motor drives—all places where one can measure power consumption.

5. Open communication—Digitalization is driving a merger of automation systems with the IT world. As such, more systems, even those traditionally considered incompatible, are interconnected. A system such as WinCC serves as a data bridge between the core Operations Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT).

What next in the line of sight of Industry 4.0? What are some notable recent events?

While Industry 4.0 may not be a new concept, the long lifespan of industrial machinery and the high costs associated with purchasing smart technologies means manufacturers may still be reluctant to take advantage of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Typically, implementing Industry 4.0 is not only expensive, but also unfamiliar. Nick Boughton, the Sales Manager of Boulting Technology describes a recent notable event in IIOT.  Combining technologies such as Augmented Reality, Virtual reality, big data and machine learning can save large businesses a lot of capital. One such area, which is now gaining momentum, is the Plug and Play tech.

One motive for Industry 4.0 is to make the devices, systems, and the factory smarter. This includes implementing techs such as remote monitoring, predictive maintenance, reduced losses and efficient productivity. Applying plug-play devices is one way of maximizing compatibility between new products and existing systems. This can ensure achieving all the traits mentioned above.

A plug and play device or computer bus allows connections to the hardware component without the need for any physical device configuration or user intervention. IoT produces many innovative functions to apply using the plug and play tech. A typical example is applying sensors that allow for digital condition monitoring for all sorts of machinery.

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With a direct physical connection they can take measurements, such as vibration and temperature. This facilitates maintenance actions without any compatibility issues. Since many manufacturers and developers of industrial automation and process automation equipment are developing their patented devices to market, it can be challenging to choose the right and the best solution for their plant and application.

Consequently, industries are being continually upgrading and updating their technology. The choices of products, services, software, and hardware are growing. Retrofitting conventional systems with new tech in sensors and communication software is gaining more momentum each year, as it is often a far economical solution.

What should instrumentation engineers know about the most common sources of inaccuracies in sensor measurements?

Being in the metrology and measurement arena requires technical expertise. There are a wide range of sensors to choose from for a single operation. Each sensor reacts to the input in certain way to produce a unique required output. For instance, take an example of a thermocouple (a temperature transmitter sensor). Electromagnetic signal interference and many other factors can combine to negatively affect measurement accuracy, or possibly even damage the equipment. So, you should understand these factors to arrive at some capable, reliable, and tangible instruments. CAS DataLoggers list the top four concerns in the area of sensor measurement.

1. Signal Noise

Signal noise or signal interference is one of the prime causes of inaccuracies in sensor measurement. This may be due to multiplexers in PC-based data acquisition systems, allowing cross-channel interference due to their capacitance. The multiplexer inputs store a charge (value) proportional to their measurement system’s sample rate (i.e., the rate at which data collection occurs). So, this corresponds to a high sample rate, and the resultant data exchange can dramatically increase signal noise.

2. Damaging Voltage

High voltage can cause severe damage to PC-based data acquisition systems and to data loggers. If you think that equipment inside enclosures are safe- they aren’t. If there were any installation mistakes or faulty wiring, then the housing can’t protect the equipment either. Even a tiny bit of excessive voltage can cause your systems’ channels to produce data errors.

3. Common Mode Voltage (CMV) Inaccuracy

The CMW is a voltage offset that is common to both the inverting and non-inverting (i.e., positive and negative) instrumentation amplifier inputs. Since an instrumentation amplifier is a difference amplifier, it measures the difference between these two inputs. Thus, it rejects any voltage that is common to the two.

When a data acquisition system takes measurements in the presence of a Common-Mode Voltage (CMV), its measurement accuracy will suffer. This is due to minute voltage differences. You can learn of the extent of inaccuracy by taking a look at the system’s Common Mode Rejection (CMR) specification.

In contrast, CMR is a noise-reducing phenomenon that occurs when a signal common to two lines opposed in polarity is cancelled at the reception end. CMR is usually represented as a ratio (CMRR) and expressed in decibels, with higher ratings being more active. This CMRR rating will define the extent to which the CMV signal will affect the measurement accuracy of your system.

4. Measurement Range Inefficiency

When working in an industrial context, or task requiring your sensor to be effective at wide process condition ranges, your measurement system may be at risk if it doesn’t have adequate input protection. For instance, one common fault is measuring high voltages while the system is set for lower ranges. This causes the system to exceed its max range value.

At this point, if there is no input protection, this not only causes inaccuracies in measurements but also permanently damages the system. Though there are many kinds of devices available that protect your system’s inputs, none of them are perfect. They only help ensure that your device will be safer at a higher voltage. Depending on your application, you may also select products that protect against high common-mode voltages or transient events.

There’s a lot of buzz about digital transformation and how it can impact future businesses. How can I keep up with this advanced tech?

As more smart devices come into existence, the need arises for a connected enterprise that embraces digital transformation. In this era of IIoT, digital conversion in data acquisition could result in new levels of collaboration, agility, productivity, and profitability.

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Living in a connected world, understanding and monitoring what is occurring on the network gives operators insight into what is happening. With the move towards digitization, users will need more data granularity, as well as a near real-time measurement of how applications are running, to provide greater insight into overall performance.

From an IT perspective, digitization has been happening for years. In the IT space, everything needs to drive data into the cloud. A user has to be able to monitor processes and effectively manage a solution. Users are scrutinizing their operations more frequently than ever. As technology keeps developing, ideas must be scalable and cannot be dead in the water.

Instead, a user needs the latest technology that can profit the business. For example, let’s take an example of cloud computing. The Cloud computing-based tools allow manufacturers and suppliers to collaborate effectively and even quickly. As this type of information sharing and transparency reduces the labor required to manage design changes, it also reduces the risk of fluctuating data speeds and data losses across the supply network.

Manufacturers and developers are beginning to apply data analytics to improve factory operations and product quality. They are boosting equipment utilization while ensuring moderate energy consumption. With new supply-network management tools, factory managers have an unobstructed view of raw materials and parts flowing through a network. This can help them schedule factory operations and product deliveries to cut costs and improve efficiency.

In conclusion, instead of working with the conventional ideas, we make changes to optimize the system. How can we prepare for the transformation brought by game-changing tech? This is the new digital mindset. This all adds up to a smart and connected organization that will flourish and profit from the digital transformation.


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