07/01/2022 | Process Innovation
Modular production has been a major focus of research and development over the past decade. Recent German initiative ENPRO, funded by the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Actions, was able to show that modularisation and the accompanying digitalisation could cut energy consumption as much as 3 TWh just for the German process industry. Merck even announced a project to go modular with their project MPS. So why is so much effort going into implementing this and how can it help the process industry sustainable production goals? Modularity by itself does not lead to more efficient processes. But the flexibility it creates opens opportunities for implementation of new and efficient technologies without a complete redesign of a complex process - and scalability.
Firstly, the standard modules mean more flexible production. They can combine to suit the respective process and quickly integrate into the automation. Within the planning phase, as requirements are formulated, suitable modules are identified in a database comprising the module park, but may also contain available modules from suppliers.
If not all steps can be mapped using existing modules, a partially modular structure can still save a considerable amount of time in plant planning, construction and automation and thus shorten the time to market. Equipment re-use also brings cost advantages. A method for module selection has been developed in the ENPRO project, SkaMPi.
Modules in process development: the use of standard modules means correspondingly smaller, scalable and continuously operated equipment can be used in process development. Continuous processes tend to be far more efficient than just batch processes.
A pilot phase is necessary to transfer all the batch results from the laboratory to a continuous process, which is rather costly and, therefore, one that is often avoided resulting in the production processes being run in inefficient batch modes. With continuously operated laboratory equipment, this pilot phase can be either reduced or completely eliminated. New, efficient, and scalable process technologies are being developed in ENPRO projects.
How does it work? A printer driver for modules? Two essential aspects play together in modularisation. The process equipment must be subdivided into modules, and the automation technology needs a modular structure. This results in a paradigm shift in process development from unit operationbased engineering to services provided by modules. Instead of individually integrating the feed valves, the temperature control unit, the stirrer and the sensor technology into the automation of a stirred tank, there is a kind of printer driver for the module, the Module Type Package. The MTP interface provides the "mixing" service, which receives the parameters of the mixing process from the so-called process orchestration layer. The control of the individual components of the module is encapsulated in the service supplied by the module manufacturer.
The conductor for the modular process plant: This Process Orchestration Layer co-ordinates all of the interaction of individual modules and integrates them into the overall plant. So, new modules can be quickly integrated into an existing plant as only one element needs to be added to the automation system. Even the integration into the user interface is simplified by the MTP, as the elements to be displayed are included. The design of the visualisation is specified by the control system to achieve a uniform look and feel. For this to work, standardised data exchange formats are required, such as the XML-based DEXPI format for describing the module structure.
How to get the process data: Since the process steps are encapsulated in the services of the modules, the question arises how the process data can be made available for other Industry 4.0 applications, such as advanced analytics. The answer is the NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA), which makes this data available via a second channel, without affecting the process control.
Strategic decisions on costs: With modular systems, processes can be developed more quickly and the use of continuous apparatus ensures high efficiency. This results in a noticeable cost advantage - but only over the operating time of the equipment. The initial investment costs are higher than with conventional plant design. If the modules need to be reused, they cannot be designed for specific parameters, but must cover a larger parameter space. These costs are amortised by repeated use of the modules and the design can be reused as well. Investment costs, however, are credited to the current project and not to optional processes that may be possible later. This requires a strategic decision for the concept of the modular plants to enable the implementation independent of projects. Over time, even further cost advantages will arise: if a module park is gradually built, the production site will become more flexible.
On the automation level, it is more complex to define services for the MTP than to program a basic operation once. However, the services are provided by the module supplier. He can reuse them later for similar modules, which relativises the cost on his side. Nevertheless, there is a shift of the programming effort from operator to the supplier.
NAMUR - not to be confused with the capital of Wallonia in Belgium or a municipality in the Outaouais region of Quebec, Canada - is the acronym for the User Association of Automation Technology in Process Industries. Established in 1949 in Leverkusen, Germany, as an international association specifically for users of automation technology and digitisation in the process industries. Among its founders were some of the biggest names in the chemical industry at the time, working for companies such as Hüls, BASF and Bayer. To avoid further confusion, the initials actually come from its original name: the Normenarbeitsgemeinschaft für Mess- und Regeltechnik in der chemischen Industrie.
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