ABB Customer World: Eliminating I/O surprises with flexible single-channel system


HOUSTON -- The process industries’ newest production assets have never been larger or more complicated. But with increased scale and complexity has come a growing inability to predictably deliver capital projects on schedule and within budget. Key contributors to this growing risk are late design changes that tend to cascade throughout a project, causing delays and budget overruns.

In a recent Control magazine poll, 70% of respondents indicated that late changes often affect overall project budget and schedule. Further, the majority indicated that these effects were “significant” or “major.”

What is it about automation in particular that tends to put it on the critical path of project completion?

The engineering of instrumentation and automation systems necessarily depends on the design decisions made by other engineering disciplines, but traditional automation systems lack the flexibility to roll with any late changes that come their way. For example, despite the longstanding availability of fully digital fieldbuses for instrument communication, many end users still specify analog electronic loops. While they remain a familiar and trusted technology, analog loops require an extensive hardware infrastructure of input/output (I/O) systems in order to bridge the gap between analog field instruments and digital automation systems.

Traditionally, these I/O subsystems, even the enclosures for them, have been highly engineered, designed to accommodate a specific mix of I/O types based on anticipated process requirements. Schedule delays and cost overruns happen when, say, a new measurement point is added late in the design cycle and there isn’t a spare I/O channel of the appropriate type available. Under conventional methods, this kicked off a whole series of expensive and time-consuming rework.

The alternative is an I/O approach that can be configured in the field on a single-channel basis. Enter ABB’s Select I/O, which effectively allows each I/O channel to remain flexible and “undeclared” until very late in the project, often until just before commissioning. All that’s needed from a project planning perspective is an approximate I/O count.

This capability effectively decouples I/O hardware engineering from software design. That lowers development costs and shortens delivery schedule. Physical marshalling cabinets and terminal blocks are eliminated in favor of “digital” marshalling in the course of system commissioning.

To further speed the development, testing and validation of automation applications, ABB offers a variety of digital tools that development teams can use locally or via the cloud. Standardized logic templates mean that developers seldom start from scratch but can adapt proven strategies to their processes’ unique requirements. Also, process simulation and hardware emulation tools allow full software testing in a virtual environment that mimics how the real system will behave.

Automated data management tools effectively allow I/O points within process skids and intelligent electrical devices to be digitally marshalled into the control system architecture as well. This means that all of the data points that make up a project—whether resident in a control system I/O module or within a connected electrical substation—are integrated, visible and manageable from the start.

The benefits to project schedules and costs that accrue to users who leverage flexible I/O engineering are likely to drive wider adoption of these technologies.


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