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A Primer on Process Controls in Industrial Environments





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Think about all the processes that exist within an industrial environment. The vast majority can be automated in many ways to improve productivity, safety, and efficiency among machines, processes, and operators.

This is all done through process controls: a device taking an action based on a type of measurement (such as temperature, volume, or pressure). By continuously monitoring a process, process controls can identify anomalies, take immediate action to correct them, and then return the process to normal state. 

Entire processes run on process controls without interruption, such as wastewater management and oil and gas refining. These systems continuously manage flow, output, and mixture processes based on information gathered from sensors and monitoring systems. 

How Process Controls Have Changed 

Historically, controllers have been very simple devices: a loop controller that controls temperature, for instance. To do this, the controller uses feedback from sensors to identify setpoint deviations and adjusts output accordingly until the deviation disappears. 

Today, a process control can still be this simple and straightforward. An on-off controller or a single-input/single-output solution for a specific part of a process is a good example. In the winter, when you set your home thermostat at a desired air-temperature setting, gas or oil will be supplied to the furnace to heat the air when the temperature falls below that setpoint. That’s a real-world illustration of a simple process control you encounter every day. 

But most industrial applications require a more dynamic level of control. Today, some process controllers are responsible for controlling thousands of I/O points and making thousands of decisions based on that information.  

In these complex process control applications, for example, you may need to integrate devices from different vendors (an Allen-Bradley controller and an Emerson flow meter) into a single system to perform more advanced process control applications and gather information from devices that isn’t native to a particular process control system. 

For years, ProSoft’s focus has been on creating process control solutions that allow you to integrate various devices into a control architecture that can’t natively perform the work on their own. Devices that run on traditional communication protocols, such as Modbus, are a case in point. If you aren’t able to tie that instrument into your control system, then you can’t gather or use data from that part of the process and integrate it into your overall process control architecture. 

Recent Process Control Innovations 

Today’s process controls can integrate wireless to connect remote devices. Traditionally, physical media has limited reach (the maximum cable length of RS-485 is 4,000 feet, while the maximum cable length of Ethernet cabling is 100 meters, for example). But a wireless process control solution can extend that reach to remote devices to help you make advanced process control decisions and perform more cutting-edge automation. 

The desire for increased visibility into process applications is also changing process controls. Enhancements like secure remote access can help you access data from wherever you are to adjust processes accordingly. 

ProSoft can help you connect disparate devices, deploy process controls, simplify networking between remote equipment, maximize the life of your existing assets, and reliably capture operational data. 

Learn more about ProSoft’s IEC 61850 Client Module, which allows Rockwell Automation® ControlLogix® PACs to interface with IEC 61850 IEDs.