How did modularisation start?
- __ Nils Weber: The first major initiative in Germany/Europe was the F3 Factory project – lexible fast and future factory. The EU funded the project for four years starting in 2009, and all the important global players were already on board: Bayer, BASF, Evonik, Ehrfeld Mikrotechnik, Buss-SMS-Canzler and many more. The INVITE research company then built a technology centre as part of the project. Small modular plants on a container scale were developed – these were the very first forerunners. The concepts are now further advanced, and first industrial prototypes are already available. This has led to the concept of Module Type Package, which is now the focus of much attention.
What role does NAMUR play?
- __ Nils Weber: We have represented the interests of the process industry in the field of automation technology since 1949. For some years now, we have been working together on the modularisation of automation with ZVEI, the VDMA trade association VtMA, BioPhorum and the ProcessNet initiative of DECHEMA and VDI. We are very concerned about open standards instead of proprietary interfaces as this is the prerequisite for the user to combine modules from different manufacturers.
How is modularisation viewed outside Europe?
- __ Nils Weber: China and India are white spots on the map, as far as I know. Some developments in the US have come to my attention, like the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF), but not in the sense of a module with defined interfaces, open standards and interoperability. We are far ahead of the field in Germany and Europe. The potential has been recognized here, and a large number of companies and manufacturers are working on the topic – many more than elsewhere. If you look at different industrial sectors, biotechnology is way ahead in terms of modularisation. Single-use units for fermentation and downstream processing can be purchased ready-configured, but unfortunately not with open interfaces.
When will I be able to approach a manufacturer and order a modular chemical plant?
- __ Nils Weber: This is a very good question – maybe in ten or fifteen years? Both parties, manufacturers as well as users, need to be enthusiastic about new technologies. Both sides need to have a common understanding of “we want to move this topic forward together”. Perhaps some people are still hesitating because certain standards are missing. Internationally valid standards are often drivers that manufacturers wait for because only then do they have a reasonable basis for their development. I believe that a lot more needs to happen in people’s minds. We should take the IT industry as an example; it has shown a path forward on how openness can be a benefit for all instead of thinking in silos.