A recent trend in industrial plant control is the integration of information and control assets. This allows a more efficient use of resources and equipment. To realize this, there must be an integration platform that brings it all together.
With the extension of Ethernet and TCP/IP to various plant control devices, it's becoming easier to effect this integration. Systems that provide a high level, object-oriented system view can bridge the gap and bust up the usual silos of information.
Companies such as ABB are providing tools to realize this vision. ABB’s Extended Automation System 800xA Release 5.1 includes powerful object-oriented tools to model and integrate the whole life cycle of plant and product. Using a concept called Aspect Object, entities in the plant are modeled, and all the information is kept in one place. This can include real-time data, design data, safety, quality, and control information. That this framework resides on an industry standard Microsoft Windows platform makes it easy to implement and operate.
This is an interesting application of the idea of product life cycle management (PLM), and the integration of business and industrial control applications. Many years ago, I was working with large utility customers. At that time, systems that melded ERP systems with geographic mapping (GIS) and design applications were just being used to provide a real-time Available-to-Promise (ATP) functionality. The engineer could, in real time, sit down at a workstation while talking to a customer about a new service, and in minutes, come up with an ATP date.
A system like ABB’s extends this capability quite a bit further, and includes operational plant equipment, as well as the products themselves. Functions including plant design engineering, maintenance, operations, and business functions each have their own unique view of the information required.
While this is not specifically a PLM solution, it operates as an integration tool for PLM solutions and other systems. This is an important quality that any system should have, since implementing a single large application in this environment would be prohibitively expensive and time consuming.