Open Systems Accelerate Paths to Project Efficiency & Profits

  • November 13, 2018
  • Feature
Open Systems Accelerate Paths to Project Efficiency & Profits
Open Systems Accelerate Paths to Project Efficiency & Profits

By Bill Lydon, Editor,

In today’s connected industrial world, open systems have a high impact on improving automation project value. While the application of superior project management methods, using existing systems, will certainly improve project efficiency; it can also potentially yield limited operating results when compared to open systems turning it into a poor investment . An open system can impact all phases of a project from inception, through its entire lifecycle including: project design, configuration, operations, and lifecycle maintenance in order to create tremendous savings and value. 

In contrast, a closed system limits options to leverage open integrations, and hinders the ability to gain superior performance and results offered by new technology.  It is somewhat like trying to run a business using old closed architecture software and computer systems. It can be done, but at a significant disadvantage to productivity and profitability.


Lessons from the Computer Industry

The computer industry discovered the value of open systems years ago, dramatically improving efficiency, productivity and delivers greater value.  In contrast, industrial and process automation systems significantly lag in the adoption of technology to improve system functionality, lower implementation costs, and improve reliability.   By comparing some of the system architecture factors from both industries, we can see where automation can work to improve:


Program Portability

The computer industry is built on open standard applications and programming languages, and these create tremendous productivity improvements along with the ability to advance functionality at a very high pace.  Industrial and process controllers, on the other hand, all have proprietary languages and interfaces making it impossible to write one application and use it across multiple vendor controllers.


Plug-and-Play Peripherals

Anyone that has experienced the problems of configuring computer peripherals - including disk drives, printers, keyboards, network interfaces, and other devices - appreciates the ease of plug-and-play systems today that make life easier, while lending reliability.


Networking Standards

For years, the computer industry has leveraged agreed-upon networking standards for a wide range of applications including data, voice, and video, that allow multiple vendor products to work together.  Industrial automation networking standards have made some progress in this arena, with Profibus, DeviceNet, Foundation Fieldbus, ProfNet and EthenrNET/IP.  DCS systems, though, have totally closed networking architectures preventing the use of controllers from multiple vendors.  This is reminiscent of the early days of computing before TPC/IP, SNMP, etc. with multiple networking standards including IBM token ring, Banyan VINES, DECnet, Novell NetWare , AppleTalk and others.   


Improving the Digital Lifecycle

The need for manufacturing and process plants to keep pace with the rapid technological advances has not abated. Remaining competitive, through the deployment of today’s digital manufacturing technologies, further increases the importance of open systems in order to fully maximize that potential.   New functions and features are constantly being created which can improve manufacturing and process operations and can easily added to an open system at lower cost and shorter implementation time, giving an open systems user a considerable advantage.


Power Up a Competitive Advantage

Companies that deploy open systems can find greater flexibility to leverage the latest technologies at a lower cost and implementation time, allowing them to outpace competitors.  Companies with closed systems face the opposite: increasing cost and longer project implementation times.  This is not a theory, but a fact. It has been proven repeatedly, throughout various industries, including telecommunications, computer, defense systems, and avionics systems. 


The True Cost of Closed Systems

Closed systems increase total cost of ownership in many ways. Here are a couple of examples:

Gateway Myth and Fantasy

Closed architecture suppliers are staunch supporters of their “flagship” protocols and forcing users to add gateways and bridging devices and other interfacing methodologies to add in other controllers and devices to closed or gated industrial automation systems.   These approaches are not native interfaces and create brittle systems that increase reliability risk and require significant added application engineering, programming and configuration control management over the system lifecycle.

Production Optimization Complexity

Closed system architectures can force users into creating “islands” of control that take a great deal of application engineering to build into coordinated plant controllers, unless all the automation equipment is purchased from one vendor.


Open vs. Closed: The Investment Tradeoff

Adding and extending existing industrial automation systems with proprietary or highly gated networks vs making the transition to open software will not prove to be a forward-looking investment.  At the tail end of the minicomputer era, companies that made further investments in those systems were unable to take advantage of the range of software and peripherals (think sensors and I/O) offered by open PC systems. 

Open standards-based systems eliminate repetitive tasks and streamline standard operations focusing automation engineers and operations personnel on exceptions and opportunities.  Through these benefits, open systems have the greatest capabilities to improve project performance by impacting all phases of a project from inception through its entire life and that will continue to create value for the organizations that allow it


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