Process Automation Vision at DuPont |

Process Automation Vision at DuPont

August 272012
Process Automation Vision at DuPont
August 2012
By Bill Lydon, Editor
Yiannis Dimitratos, Technology Manager of the Process Dynamics & Control Organization in DuPont Engineering Research & Technology, is charged with developing a competitive position in automation and process control technologies.  Dimitratos shared his thoughts at the Siemens 2012 Automation Summit about future plant and automation developments.
Yiannis Dimitratos heads the Automation & Process Control Center of Competency in DuPont Integrated Operations.  Dr. Dimitratos received his Diploma in Chemical Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece (1983), and an M.S and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA (1989).  He has held visiting appointments as a research scientist and assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA.
Reducing DuPont’s environmental footprint is a major goal to meet the vision of being the most dynamic science company by creating sustainable solutions.   DuPont is focusing innovation activities on increasing yield of food crops, finding greener energy alternatives, and developing safe materials. The largest segment of DuPont’s business produces seeds and crop protection products.
The company has a diverse number of chemistries and processes. Dimitratos noted that the unifying factor is process of product to order, on time, conforming to standards, in a safe, secure, and environmentally acceptable way. Accomplishing this requires process understanding and deep manufacturing intelligence embedded in the process designs. “This is what we call inherent operability,” said Dimitratos. In this framework, the automation system is designed to manage upsets and issues. 
“The process and the automation system design are critical; the plant of the future will be a totally different knowledge-based manufacturing facility,” said Dimitratos. He described smart plants as having embedded intelligence in the manufacturing assets such as reactors, distillation columns, heat exchangers, compressors, and other machines. “Think of them as repositories of process knowledge and manufacturing knowledge,” said Dimitratos. He described a future by saying, “…manufacturing assets are self-aware, wirelessly broadcasting their state to other equipment and being aware of upstream and downstream bottlenecks and making adjustments accordingly for self-healing, self-correction, anticipation of constraints, debottlenecking, learning, adapting, and doing optimization.”   He noted we see some of those trends today at the field instrumentation level with smart sensors and valves. 
Dimitratos acknowledged that there are challenges to achieving this vision. A very important challenge he noted is systems integration and information technology. “We are looking to companies like Siemens to get us over that,” said Dimitratos. “We don’t want to deal with information technology at this level; we want to have the equivalent of an iPhone that downloads your apps without having to deal with protocols, systems integration, and connectivity issues. We don’t have that today; that is the vision.” 
Dimitratos described the strategies today that help achieve this vision as virtual automation systems and virtual plants. “Why this virtual technology is so important is it gives you the capability, it is an enabler, to think process engineering wise,” said Dimitratos. “You are looking at your entire plant and operations as a whole so that you do not sub-optimize but can design for entire system optimization.” He suggests this approach minimizes integration cost and the operational design is more efficient. “Think beyond models, think beyond equations and parameters, think beyond simulators, and think of a virtual plant,” said Dimitratos. He describes a virtual plant as giving you the experience of operating the plant as if it existed in reality including startup, normal operations, failures, transitions, and disturbances. This can be used to test alternative process designs and find the economic design optimum. He described how a virtual design will produce the basic data for the plant. The functional descriptions are created from the virtual plant providing a direct linkage to the design and can be given to suppliers rather than specifications. This virtual plant will create the software configuration for the real plant implementation. After the plant is running the virtual plant will be used to test improvements and benchmark the real plant operations.
“The most important challenge here is not technical,” said Dimitratos.  “I believe the most important challenge is how we manage our knowledge.” He described how a company like DuPont has a geographically dispersed knowledgebase. The people that produce the knowledge and those that apply it are all over the world. DuPont’s approach to this is the Center for Competence in Automation & Control started about 8 years ago. It is a virtual center that takes advantage of the geographically dispersed knowledgebase by bringing it together, codifies it, institutionalizes it, and disseminates it back.   This is company specific knowledge and then we work with strategic alliance partners like Siemens for non-company specific knowledge systems that are applied in all regions. Dimitratos believes these alliances are an emerging model for cooperation to work together with customers and suppliers that foster innovation to address “a world of challenges.”
Thoughts & Observations
It was a pleasure to listen to Yiannis Dimitratos because of his knowledge and passion. The vision is one that has been talked about for a number of years as a holistic approach with “smart and self-aware” equipment that can self-heal, self-correct, learn, adapt, and optimize operations. Technology seems to be improving so this is within reach but there is a lot more design and refinement to be done. Eckert Eberle, CEO of Industrial Automation Systems, discussed these concepts in another presentation at the Summit and predicted it will take fifteen to twenty years to achieve complete seamless systems.
Dimitratos’ belief that user/supplier alliances are the emerging model for cooperation to foster innovation to address “a world of challenges” is the idea of “sticking to your knitting.” These relationships need to be managed very carefully to avoid a velvet trap of only seeing automation innovation and technology trends through the lens of your partner supplier. You could miss some innovations that your competitors may take advantage of and leverage against you.
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