by Matt Migliore

Intelligent systems abound in modern-day fluid handling applications – and for good reason. Whereas the business environment of previous generations allowed a certain margin for error, today’s globally competitive landscape has manufacturers struggling to up the efficiency of their processes percentage point by percentage point. And in this constant drive toward more efficient, sustainable, and, ultimately, profitable manufacturing, end-users are increasingly looking to leverage real-time application and business data to effectively optimize their processes.

Managing the Process in Real-Time
Brian Dickson, vice president and general manager of field devices for Invensys Operations Management (, cites energy efficiency as a good example of the necessity of real-time information in industry today. He says while energy contracts in the past provided a flat usage rate for months at a time, today’s large end-users have energy plans where prices may vary more than 15 times per day. As such, he says it is important for end-users to have an operations management system in place that can effectively determine the energy costs of performing certain processes hour by hour. Dickson says an application that employs a heat exchanger, for instance, could benefit from scheduling routine cleaning during times of peak energy cost because the energy required to clean a heat exchanger is somewhat less than the energy required to operate a heat exchanger. “Your whole operations structure can be tailored to maximize energy and profits,” he says. “All of these little things can add up to huge differences.”

Dickson says materials efficiency is another area that can benefit from modern-day automation systems and real-time information. For example, he says the methanol manufacturing process involves 15 different material components. With today’s modelling and process analysis technology, Dickson says the setpoints for each of these components can be adjusted in real-time based on manufacturing requirements and the cost of materials to maximize the efficiency of the blend.

According to Dickson, automation systems are a key enabling technology for companies seeking to integrate their operations from materials purchases through operations and product delivery.

A Unified Approach

Here Daniel ultrasonic flowmeter diagnostic values are presented via Emerson’s AMS suite predictive maintenance software. AMS uses enhanced EDDL functionality to improve ease of use and give a consistent, graphical presentation of information across Emerson’s intelligent field devices.

Ultimately, the aim of any automation strategy is to coordinate the people, systems and work processes involved in the production cycle. And, perhaps more importantly, automation systems should effectively show how changes in one process area affect other process areas.

“Having the diagnostics is one thing, but having the ability to deliver the diagnostics to a common center is key,” says Donald Day, senior vice president of Advanced Technologies for Emerson’s Daniel Measurement and Control (, a provider of oil and gas custody-transfer solutions.“Having individual components with diagnostics is good – and it’s certainly an improvement over what we had 15 or even 10 years ago – but users really need to be thinking about the overall system.”

For example, Day says an effective flow measurement system should not only be looking at flow, but also pressure and temperature variables. “To look at one or two or three devices without considering the entire throughput is something we see end-users doing time and time again,” says Day. “The best diagnostics in the world aren’t really all that helpful unless the process information is tied together. I think we’re on the cusp of coming to that, but I still see more often than not each component diagnostic being implemented on a piece-by-piece basis.”

Dickson acknowledges the drive to automate and interrelate all of the systems involved in a production environment can get complicated, particularly when you’re dealing with an operation where many facilities are involved. Nevertheless, he says users should not be intimidated by what may seem to be an inevitable IT quagmire, but rather proceed with a keen aim on providing visibility on how process changes impact each other as well as the overall profitability of the business. Dickson says an effective automation system should provide users a dashboard that shows how changes in one process are going to affect the efficiency and profitability of the whole operation.

An effective automation system should provide a dashboard that enables users to see in real-time how changes in one process affect the efficiency and profitability of the whole operation. This dashboard, which is similar to one now used by Invensys Sasol Infrachem, illustrates how key dynamic performance measures (DPMs) on energy-use impact decision at every level of the enterprise.

Why Automate?
As environmental regulations tighten and sustainable business practices become more prominent in industry today, Day says automation is becoming more critical. He says some of the core goals of automation strategies today include the reduction of pumping losses, backpressure control, increased process safety, and measurement accuracy. Regarding measurement specifically, Day says automation systems provide the level of auditability required by many modern-day applications. “As the price per unit of the product goes up, auditability becomes more and more important,” says Day. In addition, Day says a well-formed automation strategy also yields benefits such as accuracy and repeatability. “To get consistent results, you have to have consistent processes and procedures,” says Day.

According to Dickson, an effective automation strategy applies process control to business control to minimize input cost and maximize production. Standardization and simplification across the entire organization are key enablers of automation along this line, says Dickson. For example, he says Invensys currently has a client that has mandated standardization of their systems across 60 plants. “If you are able to standardize across 60 plants, that gives you flexibility and capability that you just didn’t have before,” says Dickson.

The Future
Going forward, Day says he sees automation systems, specifically in the flow measurement segment, driving higher and higher levels of accuracy, regardless of changes in the flow regime. In addition, he sees automated systems showing a marked impact on uptime. “When you start putting more predictive and knowledge-based technology on the measurement station, you can reduce maintenance and increase reliability,” says Day.

Day also believes end-user education on the concept of intelligent automation will grow in the years to come. Currently, he says many end-users are working to leverage the inherent diagnostic capabilities of modern field devices, but they generally do not have a solid understanding of how such diagnostics can be used to benefit the production cycle as a whole. “If you have the alerts and diagnostics, but they can’t be reacted to in the timely manner to manage the throughput, then your uncertainty increases and the overall throughput of the system decreases,” says Day.

To truly benefit from automation, Day says users should strive to reduce overall uncertainty using diagnostics. “The users need to be thinking about the overall system, rather than just about what’s going on between the flanges of the flowmeter,” he says.

Day says end-users must move beyond merely downloading information to a distributed control system (DCS) to focus their automation strategy on developing core information displays. He says such information centers would, for example, tie the pumps and the metering and the tankage into a total package.
From his perspective, Dickson sees wireless technology as a key enabler of more robust automation systems. He says wireless will allow users to cost effectively tap into additional measurements that would have been too expensive in a wired world. Dickson says most plant designs typically eliminate up to 25 percent of their possible measurement points due to cost. With wireless, Dickson estimates up to 60 percent of those scrapped measurement points could be cost-effectively plugged into the operations management system.

For example, Dickson says while a typical plant design would probably provide some level of condition monitoring on a 750-HP pump, a three-inch by two-inch ANSI pump would probably be left without any monitoring. However, with wireless, Dickson says the cost-benefit of outfitting that ANSI pump with some temperature and vibration sensors might be advantageous.

“In the future we will be able to automate even more manual processes, resulting in safer plants and less environmental impact,” says Dickson. “Manufacturers will be able to fulfill orders from any plant in the world and know that they have done so with the lowest input costs and the greatest profitability. These hallmarks of sustainability will continue to gain importance.”

Matt Migliore is the editor of Flow Control magazine. He can be reached at or 610.828.1711.