Aerial view terminal

Where Have All the Batch Experts Gone?

05.5.2021

Process control engineering is a specific expertise blending knowledge of industrial processes, electronics, software, and instrumentation. Batch process control engineering is an expertise within an expertise. Implementing batch process control requires all the skills and knowledge of traditional continuous process control with the added complexity of sequential operations programming.

Many batch processes are based on specialty products that are constantly evolving or undertake frequent product trials. An intimate knowledge of the batch process can help develop early on a system flexible enough to accommodate these challenges without adding unnecessary complications to the system. However, while more companies than ever are using automated batch processes, it seems more difficult than ever to find experts in this very specific field.

What’s Different About Batch Programming?

While many continuous processes may include step driven pieces of equipment, true batch processes are defined by the discrete nature of their operations. Raw materials are added to a starting vessel and typically move through multiple vessels as a traceable quantity of material. These processes may involve multiple flow paths, and many batch production units make multiple products by loading different recipes into the control system.

If you’re new to this field ANSI/ISA-88 (S88) provides a consistent set of standards and terminology for batch control. Utilizing the S88 standard simplifies code development and provides a more elegant package with consistent methodology and terminology across multiple platforms. Hargrove has experience with both S88 compliant batch packages, as well as earlier implementations, which were often not S88 compliant.

How well you automate batch sequences can greatly affect the process controllability, quality, and cycle time. There are many variables to address when automating batch processes and having the skill and experience to think through these details upfront builds a more robust and intuitive configuration that is easier to maintain and troubleshoot.

Some questions the batch expert will analyze include:

  • How will the process start? What are the initiating factors?
  • How will it finish? Once it finishes, how will the process reset for the next batch?
  • When, not if, something abnormal occurs during a sequence, how will that be handled? Can the batch be recovered? Must the batch be aborted? Can we step jump the process? How will those things take place?
  • How will reservations for shared equipment be handled?
  • When you have multiple paths in a train, how will the next available piece of equipment be selected?
  • How will you maximize speed in each step without sacrificing quality?
  • When the operator makes a manual adjustment, how will your process respond and how will the programming incorporate the interaction?

Working process knowledge is critical when planning key elements of process steps that the batch sequence must address. In addition, expertise around equipment such as reactors, crystallizers, centrifuges, dryers, and batch filters all have their own unique elements and concerns. The automation engineer must have knowledge in multiple areas. Consider a scenario where you may rely on a batch expert to improve a process. One example is improving cycle times to increase throughput to maximize profit on a high demand product.

Based on experience, the batch controls engineer will analyze the process in the context of the following considerations:

  • Analyze how the operator is interfacing with the process. Are there operator prompts or actions that could be streamlined?
  • Is the operator already manually interacting with the process trying to improve cycle time?
  • Is the process optimized to meet production scheduling requirements?
  • Is the proper instrumentation installed to provide reliable process data, and is it sufficient for automated decision making?
  • Is it possible to charge multiple raw materials at the same time?
  • Can heat and agitation be started partway through a charging step so mixing/reaction time can be reduced?
  • What are the limits of temperature control or vacuum? Advancing closer to these limits may also reduce current step times for things like crystallization, distillation, or reaction.

These different possibilities must all be balanced with safety and quality objectives.

Operator Interaction with Batch Processes

Batch processes will also have varying degrees of manual operator interaction. Continuous process controls remain in a relatively steady state, with operators usually stepping in to correct issues or upsets. A batch operation is more likely to require operator assistance, whether through manual raw material additions, field verifications, or triggering specific process actions. The controls then need to consider:

  • What should happen if an operator doesn’t respond in a timely manner?
  • What information is best entered manually?
  • Which steps should an operator initiate?
  • How should the system recover from erroneous inputs, either from the operator or a faulty field sensor?
  • How seamless does the automated batch process work in parallel to the operator batch record?

In order to answer some of these questions, the automation team and the operations teams will need close collaboration to address what-if scenarios. This is an area where there is really no substitute for experience.

Batch Automation Platforms

Another unique aspect of batch programming is that the batch software is often a different layered software product even within the same vendor platform. Our Team has experience programming in all major platforms including:

  • Emerson DeltaV Batch
  • Honeywell Experion Batch
  • Honeywell Total Plant Batch
  • Yokogawa Centum VP Batch
  • Rockwell FactoryTalk Batch
  • Siemens Simatic Batch
  • ABB Ability 800xA Batch Management
  • Foxboro Evo

While all these platforms provide the necessary tools to comply with S88 standards, you must have experience in order to implement an S88 system. The considerations mentioned in this blog merely scratch the surface on what it takes to meet our client’s expectations when it comes to batch implementation. This is not an area where manuals or classroom training can replace working field knowledge.

So, where have all the batch experts gone? Certainly, after the batch manufacturing boom in the 80s and 90s, many of them have retired or moved into other plant roles. With an increased reliance on outsourcing, many have shifted out of the owner companies and into consulting companies. Because this is such a specialized field in automation, success requires intentional, dedicated workforce development. Hargrove Controls + Automation has this focus. We have the experts you need today – and are building more. Through formal training and working side by side with our expert teammates, we are constantly expanding capacity in our Team.

Our knowledge of specific batch processes combined with our ability to leverage your team’s expertise by asking the right questions can create the optimal automated batch process for you and your facility.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt ut labore et dolore magna aliquyam erat, sed diam voluptua.

Firstname Lastname

Specialist Title
Back to News
Share Next Article Blue arrow 05.05.2021
Using Artificial Intelligence to Improve Plant Reliability, Efficiency, and Profitability