Collaborative process automation systems in the steel industry

Steel consumption in the world, around 1000 MT in 2004, is expected to grow at a steady rate. The global steel market is presently highly influenced by the demand from the emerging economies of the world significantly from China both in terms of production and consumption. China produced a record 270 MT of Steel in 2004. Back home in India, the production was of the order of 38 MT and is expected to reach around 120 MT in the next decade. With exports growing and many large global manufacturers besides domestic players setting shop in India, the steel horizon is encouraging.

Process manufacturing is headed into a new era that will require a level of coordination and functional autonomy that current systems are not designed for and cannot effectively support. This situation is aggravated by the fact that approximately $65 billion worth of legacy process control systems worldwide are in use that are rapidly approaching the end of their traditional life-cycle of fifteen to twenty five years. This is also applicable to the Indian steel industry to an extent.

The need for process automation is acute. The process industry on an average is faced with manufacturing assets that make up 75 percent of their total capital assets, while raw material and conversion costs account for 65 percent of their total operating costs. Process automation systems are controlling these assets and if they are not performing effectively as an overall part of a company's business strategy then profits and competitiveness suffer. Process automation can deliver an extraordinary competitive advantage. This is precisely what the Indian manufacturers should plan for, given the extreme competitiveness that has been brought about by the Chinese influence in the world steel market. In the words of Lakshmi Mittal, the business model of the world steel industry; "firstly, global demand has entered a new growth era, largely driven by China's industrialization, and secondly, significant consolidation has occurred, leading to a stronger industry." Consolidation phase includes competitiveness not only in terms of cost, quality, and product mix but also in terms of global benchmarks of efficiency and productivity and it is pertinent that the Indian Steel Industry adopts such an approach.

Steven Wheelright states that the effectiveness of a manufacturing company operating at the highest level is directly correlated to it being "internally synchronized and supportive". This should also be the measure for process automation performance. The highest level is only achievable by information empowerment. The Information Revolution has delivered the highest level at the business level but unfortunately has by-passed process manufacturing.

Collaborative manufacturing era

The collaborative manufacturing era will increase attention on the need for process automation performance. As manufacturing objectives have grown progressively more dynamic and complex, process automation as a major contributing factor to the success of the enterprise has lost its performance focus. A fundamental change is required to align the functions of process automation systems with higher-level business objectives in order to achieve enterprise performance in a dynamic business environment.

The Collaborative Process Automation System (CPAS) provides a strategy on how to address the demands of Collaborative Process Manufacturing and insight into what users should expect from their Process Automation assets. CPAS is a platform for applications. It is grounded in the principle that, beyond considerations for health and safety, the primary function of manufacturing is to deliver maximum Return on Assets (ROA). As a platform for applications CPAS delivers mission critical robustness, has no barriers to functionality, imparts the benefits of structure by embracing internationally ratified standards, and utilizes internet-core technology to provide common data and infrastructure. CPAS also provides a foundation for the next generation of automation which we refer to as "Autonomous Automation". It is based on flawless operation and aligning manufacturing work processes based on best practices and a culture of continuous improvement.

Challenges that are well understood by process manufacturers include the familiar requirements for increased quality and throughput, faster turnaround, and reduced variability. These pressures are increasing. The second set of challenges, the ones that are not well understood, have to do with the realities of Supply Chain Management in context of collaborative manufacturing.

Manufacturing meets Information Revolution

In the late '80's and early '90's, many companies identified a disconnect between their company, their customers and their suppliers. This disconnect had become a barrier to commerce and was compromising performance and competitiveness. Ultimately, enormous amounts of capital were spent on re-engineering business processes and adding new technology. The information age was born.

The results have been impressive. Productivity has increased dramatically, barriers to information have been eliminated, best practices and continuous improvement have been instituted and commerce can be conducted at internet speed.

The changes made at the business level were made to improve business by eliminating barriers to information and responsiveness. This was to be true within manufacturing systems and between manufacturing and business systems.

Collaborative manufacturing realities

In the manufacturing era, the focus was on the plant and it operated relatively independently based on high level targets such as maximum tons per day. Process control was loosely connected to Production Management through proprietary bridges that provided point access at best. Business systems were seldom electronically tied to manufacturing. Collaboration was done on need basis, typically with person-to-person communication.

In the fast-evolving collaborative manufacturing era, things are considerably different. Collaborative Manufacturing Management (CMM) provides the overall structure. Process control is no longer independent or the focal point of manufacturing. The focus is on enterprise performance and as such, business systemsare the focal point and responsible for optimizing planning and scheduling while the manufacturing systems are responsible for responding optimally.

We are all familiar with the gap that has traditionally existed between businesses and manufacturing. The biggest difference has been that business was transaction based, primarily because MRP/ERP was transactional, while manufacturing has operated in realtime because the process runs in real-time. As a result, the boundary point at which people needed to react in real-time was much closer to manufacturing than business. In the collaborative manufacturing era, business systems are no longer schedule driven. Instead, they are real-time systems focused on the real business issues of capacity and product mix. They are driven by market opportunities and empowered with a view from suppliers to customers.

In this picture, something has also changed in manufacturing. The luxury of shift-to-shift planning is gone, the real-time boundary has moved to the business systems and plants are asked to make capable-topromise and profitable-to-promise commitments in realtime to capture market opportunities for capacity and product mix.

In this scenario, Collaborative Process Automation Systems (CPAS) assumes a critical, supportive function that encompasses process control, field measurement, and actuation and production management functions. This level of collaboration places new emphasis on data and information access. Data needs to be accessible globally; information synchronization is required and revealed within the context of work processes both in manufacturing and business systems. Clearly fundamental changes are imminent and the barriers to performance need to be eliminated.

Legacy process automation systems are in place that have reached the logical end of their life cycle and were not designed to work in this type of collaborative environment. The biggest shortcoming in these systems is the ability to present a common view, common data and offer a common infrastructure for third party applications. Elimination of these barriers will force the replacement of these systems; however users need to make acquisition decisions based on a clear understanding of the need.

Operational excellence dictates CPAS requirements

Under the CPAS Guiding Principles, Operational Excellence is the first supporting layer to asset utilization and ROA. Operational excellence delivers measurable performance improvements with support from synchronization. Effectiveness, agility, and performance visualization are keys to operational excellence. Effectiveness and agility support the principle of flawless operation. Effectiveness is the result of combining the right decisions with the ability to profitably perform the revenue producing activity and relates to highly efficient execution during steady states of operation. Agility relates to periods where the plant or process needs to transition between states or make adjustments as opportunities present themselves. The objective of agility is to sustain as close to the same efficiency as steady state in these transitions.

Autonomous automation is what makes operational excellence work. The concept of autonomou automation offers a coordinated basis for using process automation to address the performance issues in process manufacturing. Best Practices are central to successful autonomous automation. Technology is becoming available in emerging CPAS systems that instantiates Best Practices in an environment of realtime contextual data.

  • From Unstructured work processes To Work Process Management

  • From Too much information to not in Information context

  • From Synchronization Implicit State Transitioning to Autonomous State Control

  • From Passive Operator Involvement to Proactive Operator Engagement

  • From Automation to Autonomous Automation

You need to be able to measure performance before you have any hope of improving it. The reality is that most plants have no performance feedback. Most plant managers don't know their profitability until it is too late to take action, condition and capacity of manufacturing assets is vague, and actual vs. optimal chemistry is a mystery. The resolution to these issues is clear: plant managers need activity based costing mechanisms for real-time feedback in time to take corrective action. The health and availability of manufacturing assets should be visible to operations in order to make "Capable to Promise" commitments, and reconciled process performance must be visible to make "Profitable to Promise" commitments.

Technology limitations are no longer an issue, the issue is how to revitalize lazy manufacturing assets to capture dormant productivity. CPAS is first and foremost platform for applications. It should use technology to eliminate any artificial barriers to business performance, at the same time support manufacturing and business work processes that optimize business performance.

CPAS delivers business performance

In order to deliver a true value proposition to process manufacturers, the next generation of process automation systems must clearly understand the requirements for operational excellence and translate them into an effective execution solution. Process manufacturing is under-performing and in many cases not returning its cost of capital, largely as a result of disconnected manufacturing and enterprise entities and the information depravation that creates. A collaborative environment of information empowerment built on proven technology can eliminate this disconnect and deliver a mutually supportive environment of synchronized, profitable operations. This is the vision of the Collaborative Process Automation System (CPAS).

CPAS is a scalable, high availability platform that facilitates a robust, data rich, and unbounded environment for control of the process. It is work process-centric where the work process is the manifestation of a commitment to achieving best practices. In process control terminology, CPAS provides the means to close the loop on business, plant, and process performance.

The scope of tomorrow's CPAS embraces production management (PM) applications as a core component as well as its traditional role of process control. This architecture reflects ARC's belief that process control and PM should be tightly bound into the same system. CPAS also facilitates the introduction of third party products from suppliers who possess a deep understanding of the process, plant, and operations. Likewise, continuous process improvement is also bound into the basic system to help improve integration of separate packages.

A unified communications structure lies at the heart of CPAS. This framework consists of two parts: a unified field framework (UFF) and a unified application framework (UAF). The UFF hosts sensors, actuators and logical devices in their primary functions and provides a standards-based distributed computing environment for field control. The UAF portion of the functional infrastructure provides synchronization. Structure and purpose are very important to CPAS's performance orientation, and are embodied in the concept of autonomous automation and associated standards. Consistency fosters clarity and standardization, therefore creation and use of formal standards will provide the required structure.

State logic control finds it's time

At its essence, process automation is state-based. As it is implemented today, the operator usually has the implicit responsibility to transition the plant between states. In the past, this has worked reasonably well where transitions to new states of operation were infrequent and within the operator's ability and time constraints to make the transition.

ARC believes the operator has a more important role to play in the future. To achieve the goals of collaborative manufacturing, the operator must have the responsibility to supervise plant performance, intercede when alternative action is required, and participate in work processes defined by best practices. This is what the operator does best. The automation system is best at performing repetitive processes and it should be empowered to do so. Thinking of the operator as a knowledge worker is a step in the right direction and towards autonomous automation.

In the new collaborative manufacturing era, these state transitions will occur more frequently. The answer lies in the ability of the process automation system to be able to handle the majority of the transitions autonomously, with the knowledge worker (operator) having the time and information required to make more strategic decisions.

CPAS is a platform for applications

The value of CPAS comes from the applications it supports. In the context of operational excellence, we have developed an industry generic application strategy that embodies the approaches to process automation that have been discussed up to this point. This strategy discusses those applications that are generic across industries, it does not discuss applications such as material management that exist in all industries but tend to be unique in each industry. The strategy is split into process management & control and production management.

Process Management and Control

This is the domain of the operator recast as the Performance Supervisor. As we mentioned earlier, the operator has quite a different role to play with respect to collaborative manufacturing. The operator is no longer implicitly the center of control execution, the CPAS has explicitly assumed the responsibility for control of each state and transitioning the process between states all within the context of "best practices". CPAS also performs performance monitoring and provides a visual "Operational Perspective" (OP) of unit or plant operations.

OP is a good example of how things will change. Based on a finite number of plant parameters, most of which are dictated by production assets, it is possible to determine where the plant is operating in relation to its present capacity. This is possible in a real-time context including all health, environmental and maintenance considerations. When this perspective is reduced to a single display, the operator has a very powerful tool in the new role of Process Supervisor. This tool would provide critical insight to plant management.

Event monitoring and logging is also performed at this level. In the new role, the operator has the responsibility for troubleshooting and correction assisted by new CPAS facilities. Finally, progress and performance data are collected, presented to the operator in relation to his KPIs, and then passed up to Production Management.

Production Management

The second part of the strategy is the Production Management level. The level is not real-time but has a near real-time focus on five primary functions. The first function is Performance Management and it is centered on the view of performance: business, plant asset and process performance. It also utilizes input from maintenance, quality and history. The Work Process Management Facility accepts targets from the business systems and is responsible for aligning automation and in turn manufacturing assets to execute to targets.

Critical Situation Management provides surveillance of manufacturing assets to determine abnormal situations and in that event provides guidance on how to maintain manufacturing assets in a safe state. 'Manufacturing Strategy Benchmarking' relates performance trending to targets, then typically delivers that perspective to Balanced Scorecard programs residing in the business systems. Operator training and Six-Sigma tools are offline quality facilities.

CPAS logical view

CPAS focuses on Process Control and Logical Control separately to leverage the richest functionality of each. Process control utilizes the functionality of Foundation Fieldbus to provide process control anywhere. It takes full advantage of the common function block structure and Foundation Fieldbus services which are optimized around process control. It also uses the publish/ subscribe facility of FF to support peer to peer and peer to host communications.

CPAS Platform Requirements

Another principle of CPAS is "the best automation system is one that is invisible". Automation should be a performance enabler, not something that exists for itself. The value of technology lies in its ability to eliminate barriers.

The functional architecture should not be encumbered in any way by the physical architecture. Current Process Automation System (PAS) architectures continue to have an element of restriction in the way functions can be deployed. For example, typically anything more advanced than regulatory control strategies needs to be deployed in computer hardware added to the PAS. Current physical architectures require resulting applications to pass through at least two layers of technology to reach the intended target-the plant floor.

From a functional view, there should be no barriers to data or information. ARC uses the term synchronization, and defines it as having the information when you need it to perform your function and satisfy your customer. We feel this is the essence of information empowerment and key to Collaborative Manufacturing. From a logical view, the system should not require bridges, gateways, and proprietary interfaces. It should be built on standards and benefit from the clarity and efficiencies inherent in being concise.

The physical architecture should result from the requirements of the functional architecture. Decisions as to where to place a functional component will be the result of answering the question, "where is the most effective location for this function," rather than "what component in the system has sufficient computing power and communication bandwidth to adequately execute this function." In this sense, the physical architecture will become amorphous.


The Collaborative Manufacturing era will offer many opportunities to those that get there fast and get it right. To be able to seize the opportunities, manufacturers must have a vision where they want to be and how to get there. Beginning with this vision, they must put in place supportive strategies to take them in the right direction. Just as manufacturers now have process automation systems that are at the end of their life, the next system purchase will some day become a legacy. Whether that legacy will become a dead end in 15 years or more, as many of these systems have, is dependent on how well they have developed their current vision and strategies.

We believe, manufacturing will have a collaborative future. The challenges will not be technical; the technology is available and proven. The challenges will be how to use technology to enhance business performance by implementing unified business and manufacturing Best Practices flawlessly. This will require common information, common business objectives, a common view of business performance and individual KPIs and flawless execution. Above all, assets must be aligned toward maximizing enterprise ROA.

S.R.V Venkatapathy enkatapathy and Rajshekar Uchil

ARC Advisory Group

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