All plant owners, engineers and operators seek methods to reduce risk, increase operational efficiencies, shorten time to market and continually optimise processes. An integrated engineering link from plant concept to ownership – the digital plant – is set to help satisfy such objectives. With a long-term vision of reducing product launch times by up to 50 per cent, and plant design to construction timescales by over 10 per cent, the advantages of digital plant could deliver clear benefit to important and growing industrial sectors such as energy from waste. Steve Leech from Siemens highlights the thinking behind a unique and radical approach to getting a plant built and operational

Any new plant development faces a number of key challenges. These will include a requirement to have the plant delivered and up and running without undue delay, as well as important ongoing factors such as optimising the plant performance through its lifecycle by reducing risk and maximising operational efficiencies. Both these factors will also impact the ability of plant operators to shorten time to market and offer enhanced product launch times so that investment cycles can be supported.

Central to meeting these typical challenges is the ability to create an efficient plant engineering environment from the original concept of the plant through to its operational ownership. Traditionally, the various elements of plant design, engineering, commissioning and optimisation have acted in isolation of one another, which due to its serial structure often meant delay as one stage was completed before the next got underway. The need to link such vital stages in an integrated manner lies at the heart of meeting the challenges presented by efficient plant engineering.  Such integration is now made possible through the concept of the digital plant.

Integrated engineering solutions

The thinking behind the digital plant is a fusing together of the various elements – from design software to the engineering tools that are integral for the concept, build and operation of any plant.

To enable this now to happen, for the first time, the market can benefit from an ability to utilise integrated engineering solutions that can seamlessly link the upfront plant design, engineering and commissioning phases with the ongoing daily operational and future plant optimisation stages.

The fusing of COMOS plant engineering software – intrinsic in the plant and process planning stage – with the operational plant operation control delivered by PCS7 provides a number of real advantages for plant owners, engineers and operatives.  It provides a consistent plant and equipment engineering environment in a two-way process that sees, for example, code generated in the COMOS operated design stage seamlessly transferred to the PCS7 operational phase. In essence, it becomes a living system and is an ‘as built’ plant from day one which can offer a two way data exchange. It negates the requirement for multiple inputs for changes at any stage and creates a  scenario that mitigates the undoubted risks associated when system alterations are made. In effect, changes made in one part of the process simply ripple through to the other, alleviating repeat tasks and reducing risk.

The integrated engineering approach is best illustrated by the ability to enjoy a continuous information flow from product design to production.  It is based upon an integrated tool chain so that all the key stages from plant design, through basic engineering, detail engineering, installation & commissioning and the final operation and maintenance is performed based upon engineering workflow that is based on a single engineering model for all aspects of the plant, I&C and automation configuration.

Fast concept to commissioning

In terms of having a plant up and running and making inroads into the substantial financial investments made by owner/operators, it is possible by adopting such an integrated approach to reduce the plant concept to commissioning phase timescale by up to 11 weeks and the number of man-weeks involved by approximately 10 per cent. This, by definition, provides substantial gains in both efficiency levels and cost reduction targets for any proposed new plant.

While the integrated plant engineering phase boasts the ability to optimise the engineering process, reduce process lead times, reduce risks and shorten development times, similar benefits can be derived from an integrated plant operation standpoint. Once in operation, users can see the advantages of closer fusion between the engineering and operational functions; minimised plant downtimes and shutdowns, fast and error-free information handover as data is exchanged seamlessly and consistently available plant documentation.

Energy from waste

By 2020 a quarter of the UK’s existing power generation capacity will be gone and significant investment in affordable low-carbon power is required to bridge the generation gap. It is estimated that renewable power will contribute 15 per cent of the UK’s energy consumption by the end of this decade creating demand for energy from waste solutions. For the growing energy from waste market, one that is seeing pressure for new plants to help tackle the legislative pressures on local authorities for sustainable waste management strategies, as well as helping to alleviate the growing power generation gap, an ability to more quickly come to market, and when they do so, be able to optimise plant performance, is becoming ever more critical.

For plants that will have to operate efficiently for up to 25 years, the reassurance that plant lifecycle optimisation potential can be realised thanks to the integrated design, engineering and operational approach outlined above should help support what is set to become an increasingly important UK industry sector as the new century evolves. 

Integrated plant design, engineering and operational tools can offset the concerns of energy from waste plant owners wishing to commission a substantial piece of construction without delay; plant engineers charged with its design and build as efficiently as possible,  and operators tasked with effective long term operation, maintenance and control of the plant.

Template for the future

So-called ‘digital plants’ offer the realistic template for the future. Software-driven, seamless links between concept and operation stages provide the assurance of proven risk reduction in the engineering phase through the non-repetition of tasks, as well as a rapid shortening in the crucial plant design phase. The operational benefits of having an ‘as built plant’ from day one with intelligent data available from the start of operations to underpin operational efficiency gains, and a standardised approach to software and control technology that future proofs the plant through its lifecycle, are all clear evidence of the competitive advantages seamless integration for plant design, engineering and operation can bring.

Siemens Industry Automation & Drive Technologies

T: 0161 446 6400