Fourth Industrial Revolution Gets Digitalization Push From Siemens COMOS

COMOS Walkinside, a Siemens software package designed to manage the entire lifecycle of a plant, is helping to usher in the fourth industrial revolution, according to Doug Child, director of the company’s chemical and glass vertical in the United States.

The latest industrial revolution – also known as “Industry 4.0” or the Internet of Things – is creating smart factories where machines communicate with each other and with humans, Child said. Steam and water powered the first industrial revolution, electricity brought the second, and electronics and IT combined to automate the third, he noted.

COMOS produces a 3D digital representation plant, or digital twin, that facilitates front-end engineering and design, basic and detailed engineering, commissioning, and lifecycle management, Child said. Companies can use it to test changes in the virtual version of a plant before making the change for real.

Companies can also use COMOS to train employees without risking damage to the factory, said Don Mack, industry manager with the Siemens chemical industry group. In the virtual plant, a trainee can walk around, opening valves or turning on pumps, he said, noting that the user immediately sees the results of those actions.

For added realism, employees can designate the height and weight of the avatar they use to navigate the virtual plant, turning off valves and taking other actions, Mack said, comparing the experience to playing a video game. The model can even introduce an element of true reality by relying on live data from the plant, he noted.

A companion piece to COMOS, called SIMIT virtual commissioning, creates virtual chemical-plant processes that enable tests of control systems and operator training systems, Child said. “You can build in scenarios of what might go wrong,” he said, “before your operators ever go into the real plant.” He likened SIMIT’s usefulness for teaching novices to trouble-shoot problems to using a flight simulator for pilot training.

COMOS can also ensure that everyone with a stake in a project is working with the latest information, assuring the greatest degree of collaboration, Mack said, adding that the term “common data model” applies. The virtual model replaces the often out-of-date spread sheets and Word documents formerly associated with design and production, he noted.

Siemens also showcased SIMATIC PCS7, its core automation platform for both the process and discrete industries, at eChem Expo, Mack said. It’s a distributive control system for the process industries, he said.

The company tightly integrates analytics, instrumentation and motor control portfolios, Mack said. “We call it totally integrated automation,” he noted. It’s all part of digitalization designed to reduce time to market with shorter innovation cycles, produce more complex products, manage larger volumes of data and integrate both the product and production.

Digitalization also enhances flexibility by individualizing mass production, sustaining business during volatile markets, increasing productivity and reliability, and providing flexibility, the executives said. It improves quality through closed-loop quality processes, traceability and integrated genealogy, while offering full process transparency. At the same time, it increases efficiency through energy and resource management and optimization of production resources.

In addition, digitalization prevents errors by reducing the number of interfaces required between different disciplines. That improves quality at every step of the engineering workflow and shortens the time to market by enabling parallel work processes. Tasks such as process engineering or electro-technical planning, for example, run alongside automation engineering.

Digitalization enables integration not only horizontally across the entire plant lifecycle but also vertically, from the office world (for instance ERP systems) down to the field level. That allows for integrating innovative process instrumentation, such as high-precision SITRANS Coriolis transmitters. The integration process is further simplified by using established technology platforms such as Totally Integrated Automation (TIA), Totally Integrated Power (TIP) and Integrated Drive Systems (IDS).

The infrastructure backing the digital strategy operates in 119 countries and employs 343,000 employees. Siemens operates 75 manufacturing sites in the U.S. and has invested about $35 billion in America in the past 15 years.

Siemens invests more than $1 billion in research and development annually. For example, the Siemens TIA Portal, the backbone of the company’s integrated automation, handles all engineering tasks, all based on PROFINET, including controllers, human-machine interface, networking such as Profibus and PROFINET, motors and drives, motion control and CNC. Siemens spent five years developing TIA Portal, and it positions R&D facilities near manufacturing plants to reduce time to market.

Besides telling the Siemens digitalization story at eChem Expo, the company also devoted two of its three conference sessions to safety, a new focus area for the Expo this year. It addressed burner management systems in one session, explaining how they have changed over the years and how NFPA standards apply, Mack said. “We, as a company, are pretty heavily involved in standards efforts,” he noted.

Another Siemens session devoted to safety was on reducing human error with the help of safety instrumented systems, Mack said. It covered the safety lifecycle, identifying hazards in a plant and determining ways to protect a plant. It featured the safety matrix, which comes from cause and effect matrix programing and can now be programmed into the control system, he noted. The matrix might dictate, for example, that when at a certain temperature, specific pumps should shut off and particular valves should close, he said.

Responding to eChem Expo’s Vision 20/20 program, which the Expo organizers use to try to predict quantum leaps forward, Siemens executives said they anticipate remaining on the journey toward digitalization and connectivity. “More plug-and-play components will be available with more automated self-configuration and more bandwidth and more robust communications will enable us to build on the digitalization story we have today,” said Mack.

Integration of hardware, software and services will continue. Use of cloud-based data analysis will continue to increase, the executives said. Modules and standardization will gain importance. Virtualization will increase in HMI, commissioning and immersive training. Digital twins will keep increasing efficiency. Meanwhile, cyber security will be built in instead of added as an afterthought. “Those are the things we see marching on over the next four to five years,” Mack noted.

Digitalization won’t necessarily help vendors hold customers hostage through monopoly control. Components in the digital twin will come from multiple suppliers, for example, Mack said.  “Who knows what tools are going to be available in years to come?” he asked.


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