A significant step forward from the LEAP execution principles introduced five years ago at the Honeywell Users Group Americas, the introduction at this year’s event decouples I/O modules and control strategies from specific controllers.

Honeywell, known for its work in process industries, is seeing projects that are larger and more complex than ever. They’re also more efficient than ever, but the automation supplier is looking to move that needle even further—moving from mass customization to mass standardization; converting data into knowledge and knowledge into action.

Continuing to build on the LEAP project execution concept it introduced five years ago at the Honeywell Users Group (HUG) Americas meeting, Honeywell unveiled an even bigger evolution of its flagship Experion Process Knowledge System (PKS) this year, further simplifying control system design, implementation, and lifecycle management. At HUG 2019 in Dallas this week, Honeywell unveiled Experion PKS Highly Integrated Virtual Environment (HIVE), which decouples the assignment of I/O modules and control strategies from specific controllers, focusing more on the control capabilities of the entire group (or hive) of controllers.

Customers across chemical, refining and oil and gas industries want a more efficient approach to control system engineering while still taking advantage of existing systems and infrastructure, noted Jason Urso, chief technology officer for Honeywell Process Solutions. “Experion PKS HIVE provides these benefits and is truly a distributed control as it applies and geographically distributes technology to where it is needed.”

The LEAP project execution principles are geared toward faster schedules and lower risks, helping to take automation off the critical path of projects. Its four main pillars are universal I/O to standardize cabinets and let I/O be configured in the field; virtualization, which reduces the amount of physical IT infrastructure at sites by as much as 80 percent; virtual engineering; and auto commissioning, which eliminates as much as 95 percent of the effort.

Experion PKS HIVE builds on those technologies and principles, but provides even faster levels of execution, with lower risk, and with simpler modular builds. It also changes the way control systems are maintained over their lifecycles, shifting to a centralized data center for managing servers and cyber risks. It hovers around four main technologies:

Despite its name, a distributed control system (DCS) is usually set up in a centralized manner, Urso commented. Several individual product releases are coming together now to enable process cabinets to go away from that central control space, moving more control out to the edge.

Through product releases like Experion PKS IO HIVE Network and Universal IO Discovery—some of the first major product announcements made by Urso during a firehose presentation of product announcements Monday morning—Honeywell’s C300 controllers can communicate with any universal I/O deployed in process areas on the network. Rather than being tethered to a particular I/O, the controller will use the network infrastructure to discover any I/O or channel and bind with it, Urso explained.

Shifting I/O to the field, HIVE takes individual physical controllers and distributes the load so that they appear as a single virtual controller. This distributes IT compute from onsite to offsite, providing a seamless operations experience. “This is a control mesh or data center concept of controllers—or control hive, as we call it,” Urso said.

This makes the whole system more flexible and adaptable. “Traditional control engineering is a pretty rigid and hierarchical model that’s defined by physical relationships,” Urso said, explaining how engineers typically have to carefully plan, making rules around how much I/O can connect to a controller and then implementing control strategies. “Late changes cause physical reconfiguration and manual load balancing. In a big project, this can be a very circular activity.”

With Experion PKS HIVE, control engineers can simply assign controls to the entire control hive, which will automatically allocate those controls to any available control compute. “They can do this because any controller can communicate with any I/O. So they can treat physical controllers as just control compute,” Urso said. “If they need additional control compute, they simply add C300 controllers.” This eliminates hundreds of steps and makes late changes completely flexible.

“You don’t have to think about deploying control to a specific controller,” he added. “Those controls will find their way to where the available compute exists. You can simplify the work in control engineering and can optimize load balancing across multiple controllers.”

Because Honeywell had to separate the control hardware from the control software to achieve this, it also means that the control software could technically run on any physical hardware, such as a set of PC servers.

The IT HIVE part of the offering makes use of Honeywell’s virtualization technology to centralize IT management and minimize the amount of IT infrastructure needed on site. “We’re trying to reduce the impact and cost associated with IT infrastructure that’s deployed at process facilities around the world,” Urso said. “We want you to be able to focus on process control and not IT.”

Using a completely fault-tolerant IT architecture, operations can maintain just a few critical IT devices onsite. “During normal operations, you can run most of your system from a central location, delivering information back to thin clients on site,” Urso explained. “It allows you to centralize your process control IT assets and personnel. You significantly reduce costs in onsite locations.”

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The challenge, Urso commented, was doing that in a way that still facilitates high availability. “We developed a novel approach that says you can host most of the system centrally and utilize technologies that in the event of a worst-case network failure, you’re still operational with a subset of equipment on site,” he explained.

The digital twin process model underlies all three HIVE principles. From a high-fidelity process model built primarily for operator training, Honeywell is able to plug the same technology into project execution to help validate that controls and infrastructure are ready for operation.

The Experion PKS IT HIVE and IO HIVE can be ordered now, with deliveries beginning in Q1 2020. Control HIVE will be available in the second half of 2020.

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