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Batch manufacturers can now throw off old constraints

By Dan UpDyke Batch Product Manager, Rockwell Automation

The limitations of traditional batch software are lifting with the introduction of new technologies, letting process manufacturers increase their production velocity and serve a new set of market needs.

For decades, the effective use of batch-management software generally has been confined to slower processes. Typical applications involved multiple vessels that were part of sequenced process trains, such as those commonly found in brewing or dairy processing. In those traditional scenarios, the ISA S88 standard for batch manufacturing satisfied the need for an industry-standard approach.

A number of server-based batching solutions adopted the programmatic flexibility at the time, but they also carried limitations that prevented users from applying the standard to all applications in a facility. The solutions also proved too inflexible to meet the changing needs of production. Over time, the software infrastructure that was once a powerful enabler transformed into a constraint.

Communication lags are one of the main deficiencies in traditional batch applications, which can create a pause between various phases. Due to constant interaction in each phase, the equipment and product must temporarily remain in their present condition until the server approves a transition to the next phase. This is problematic, as facilities today are designed around manufacturing velocity and lean techniques sensitive to the result of these accumulated wait times.

Some system providers tried to solve this challenge by using the power of modern controllers to provide faster, more reliable batch control. These controller-level batch systems can apply the same benefits of the traditional server-class systems to new applications. Those include applications that were only achievable through custom methods in the past.

Furthermore, advances in controller-based programming can leverage firmware locations to control state engines and utilize structured flow chart coding. By shifting away from valuable memory space for complex tasks, this controller-based programming can build more reliable plans for OEM process skids.

Modern batch systems, though, need to do more than just leverage the responsiveness of controller-based sequencing. A holistic approach to batch production must include large, complex processes that are spread across several areas with multiple pieces of equipment and controllers. A modern batch system must be able to integrate these elements into the plantwide application for a scalable and flexible architecture. This goes beyond control, utilizing the power of servers and reporting features required in a connected enterprise to integrate higher level MES and ERP systems.

Many newer systems engage cloud-based applications for corporate-wide data analytics and quality control functions. By allowing hybrid controller solutions, systems that need fast-transition response can be incorporated in real time to larger recipes that involve feed and destination vessel control. Process equipment can be fully developed and tested at FAT, and then simply integrated into the recipe structure of the batch control system when commissioned.

The key benefits of modern batch systems extend to system interactions and usability needs. Embracing new technology helps improve productivity by providing flexible and intuitive use of the system for both programmers and operators.

Also, extending operator control and access to the batch system using mobile platforms can improve response times and runtime. This is a particular benefit for solving problems on lines that lie distances apart on large campuses, for example. Additionally, supervisors and engineers can quickly navigate issues without having to travel to control rooms. The necessary security procedures can be established for immediate access.

A modern batch system combines easier deployment with superior results. Taking advantage of faster and more reliable control, intuitive interfaces and a truly flexible, scalable architecture, a modern batch solution is integral to the process control systems of the 21st century.

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