Emerging Technology Benchmarking | Automation.com

Emerging Technology Benchmarking

February 032012
Emerging Technology Benchmarking
Automation.com Exclusive - Part 1 from Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable (PAR) 2011
February 2012
By Bill Lydon, Editor
This is the first article in a series covering the recent annual Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable (PAR). The individual PAR group members have a wealth of practical knowledge and knowhow to share with other participants, truly learning from each other.
I had the privilege of attending the Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable as an observer in November 2011. This PAR was hosted by Johnson & Johnson in Spring House, PA, with Dave Stauffer, Terry Murphy, and Joel Hanson of Johnson & Johnson participating.
Lead automation engineers from various parts of the world attended the invitation-only, two-day event. This is the most knowledgeable group of automation professionals gathered in one place at any one time focused on discussing automation issues.  A range of companies participated including Abbott, Amgen, Biogen Idec, BMS, Genentech, Genzyme, Glaxo, Imclone, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Lonza, NNE Pharmaplan, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, and Sanofi-Aventis.
The PAR was founded about 15 years ago by Dave Adler and John Krenzke, both with Eli Lilly and Company at the time, as a means of benchmarking and sharing best practices for automation groups among peer pharmaceutical companies. The group specifically does not discuss confidential or proprietary information, cost or price of products, price or other terms of supply contracts, or plans to do business or not do business with specific suppliers, contractors, or other companies.
Dave Adler ([email protected]) conducted and presented the results of the PAR Emerging Technology Benchmarking Survey completed by the group prior to the PAR meeting. These are my notes on his presentation:
The survey results indicated that the overall total cost of ownership is lower when using a DCS for process applications compared to using PLCs. In addition, respondents indicated that implementing MES with PLCs is also more costly than with DCS.
Group discussion points:
  • DCSes are more efficient at aggregating and making process data available.
  • There was discussion that PLCs may be better in packaging and other simple applications.
Fieldbus Technology
Fieldbus in this context means all types of sensor/actuator buses (Examples: Modbus, DeviceNet, Profibus, ASi, Foundation Fieldbus; etc.). The survey results indicates the installed cost of bus technology is about equal to conventional wired points but there is greater annual benefit of using bus technology. 
Group discussion points:
  • Using fieldbus makes it easier to get information into systems for asset management and other functions.
  • Ethernet I/O is highly accepted by users.
  • ASi is being used by some since it is easy to apply and reliable.
  • Some noted that an issue using fieldbus technology is it adds complexity so trained staff is needed to implement properly. It was also expressed that this investment pays off with the benefits gained from using fieldbus technology.
Smart Devices
Smart devices are growing in use. Companies are leveraging them to integrate with asset management systems and using the local configuration for on-the-spot re-ranging and calibration. Very few are using built-in capability to do process control. The major issues regarding smart devices are they are not needed to meet operational requirements, the lack of skilled engineering design personnel, and commissioning & validation difficulties.
Group discussion points:
  • The additional cost of smart devices can be difficult to justify. The project return on investment generally does not incorporate overall operational and maintenance savings in the return on investment analysis.
Variable Speed Drives
The majority of respondents view the use of variable speed motors for control as mature or state of the art for applications.
PAT (Process Analytical Technology)
Less than 50% are using PAT with some major issues including it requires new business practices, it’s not needed to meet operational requirements, and price is considered too high. A small number responded that their QC allows real-time production lot release based on PAT information. 
Group discussion points:
  • The project return on investment generally does not incorporate overall operational and maintenance savings in the return on investment analysis to justify these systems.
Wireless Sensors Networks
Wireless peripherals and Wi-Fi (802.11) are the most used with wireless sensors considered emerging technologies with limited use. The survey indicated that the greatest use of the Wireless LAN (Wi-Fi) is for maintenance data, followed by calibrations, and then data entry for electronic batch records and MES data. The major use of wireless sensor networks is for measurement where no control system is available followed by difficult to wire areas and portable equipment.   Wireless was used about equally for connection of analog and digital inputs. 
Group discussion points:
  • There seems to be some growing use in Europe of cell phones for alarm notifications as a secondary alerting device. An issue with cell phones was discussed noting there is not a mechanism that guarantees messages are delivered. Also most believe cell phones are superior to pagers.
  • The management of wireless is primarily done by IT. The IT group in most plants requires a wireless survey and checks for interference issues and there is a governance or guide document for the use of wireless in the facility. 
  • Major concerns about wireless are limited battery life, concerns about the technology, and potential interference from other devices.
Advanced Control
The emphasis on improving efficiency has not resulted in wide use of advanced control. There is the sense that APC has been adopted in other industries and not in pharmaceutical.   
Group discussion points:
  • There are concerns about acceptance by quality control and validation issues.  CFRs are starting to demand real-time trending, etc. which could drive more APC use.
  • Many plants “don’t have the behaviors to support APC.”
  • “We don’t have the people that understand the technology, a skilled engineering staff that can focus on this.”
  • “We don’t have the managers that can tolerate that focus.”  
  • “One thing we’ve learned is you need a champion on the process side that understands the process science. We give them the tools, expose the data, and they do the analysis.   Smart people look at the data and identify what to improve.” 
  • There may be a lack of required instrumentation in many cases.
Operator Interfaces
The group feels there is early and growing adoption of smart phones and tablet computers. The commercial devices are low cost and easy to use. The majority of users represented use ISA standard graphics and have a standard style guide for development of operator interfaces. Less than half of the users have an active program to reduce alarm floods. The majority of survey respondents selected 6-10 years as the average life for operator interface workstations; other responses noted a lower life. 
Group discussion points:
  • “Users are demanding smart phones and tablets.”
  • “The low hanging fruit is portability and visualizing data…”
  • “Our historical way of building up these architectures is we put vendor names in each of the functionalities and we keep relying on the vendor for those functionalities. We are locked into those vendors and have to wait until they adopt new visualization techniques before we can adopt them. That is just not letting us be as agile as we need to be.”
  • “If you move to thin client technology which is much lower cost, the devices can be replaced more often.” The other factor using thin clients is the server function only needs to be validated as opposed to having HMI software in the plant that each needs to be validated.
  • “We actually expect the thin clients to last on the floor up to 10 years, so they are cheaper AND last longer.  Thin clients make us more agile because we can upgrade the server systems (often around 20 servers) without touching the field terminals (often around 100 field terminals).  In the past that would have required swapping out 100 Windows boxes.”
Computing Technology
This year’s survey asked about adoption of the following computing technologies: thin clients, virtual servers, web services, and cloud computing. The majority of users see value using virtualization.  Thin clients and virtual servers are both being adopted heavily followed by Web services. The major issue cited with implementing virtualization is that many vendors have not approved the use of virtualization with their systems.
Group discussion points:
  • It is easy to pre-calculate return on investment on projects like virtualization but difficult to calculate on projects such as MES. An example was given that after implementing an MES there were less variances, faster batch releases, and other benefits that are hard to account for up front in an investment analysis.
Emerging Technology
The challenge with applying emerging technology is it requires guidance and new expertise to implement effectively and achieve positive payback results. If you apply an emerging technology too early it is very risky.
Qualification & Validation
The most used method to checkout applications before putting them in the processes is with test beds to verify code. The test beds are the same hardware and software used in the field. Simulation and modeling are less prevalent.
Skills – What are the major skills that your new automation professionals lack?
The major item is a lack of understanding of process and equipment operations.  The survey indicated that the majority of automation professionals spend 40 to 80 hours of time on professional development, while the next largest group of respondents spent 20-40 hours.
Group discussion points:
  • There seems to be a major difference in education between USA and Europe. Europe has more automation graduates that are trained on how to program PLC and DCS systems. 
  • Very few automation engineers are taught process fundamentals in college, reflecting a need for better educational programs.
  • Training on the process specifics of a pant needs to be done by the employer.
My Observations
Part of the discussion for many of the topics was the issue of justifying automation investments using broader analysis. In most cases, automation projects are justified on a narrow set of criteria as capital investments without accounting for improvements in operations, maintenance, and overall efficiency. This is due to organizational structure and business practices that isolate capital, operations, and maintenance investments, causing many organizations to avoid using new technology that could make them more competitive. 
There is a general feeling that lean staffing levels is resulting in lost opportunities to improve business performance. An automation person that can improve plant performance has a range of skills and knowhow about the specifics of the plant. The low use of advanced process control may be caused by the lack of staff at plants.
Links to other articles in this series:
Part 1: Emerging Technology Benchmarking (You are currently reading this article)
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