“Trial and error” has long been the standard approach to plant building. Why? Because nobody has a crystal ball that can predict the success of new developments. Now the aim is to reduce the use of trial and error and use simulation more. In addition to simulation, our digitalization strategy also focuses on openness and cross-industry standards.
Since the term “Industry 4.0” was established at the Hannover Messe 2011 as a crucial part of digitalization in the process industry, great progress has been made. The focus from the outset was on the integration of plant and operating data through integrated engineering. From this initial concept in 2011, two further developments have taken shape. They have been spurred by progress in digitalization and have at the same time also driven forward the digitalization process. The first is asset performance in connection with cloud technologies. The second – and this is our current focus – is simulation in the framework of plant operation. Our developments and industry-specific solutions are very closely oriented towards our customers’ requirements. In use cases, the focus is on flexibility (for example in the variation of batch sizes) and the optimization of quality and productivity. This can usually be implemented effectively using simulations.
Open and integrated solutions are the key to success
As mentioned above, we have always offered an excellent level of integration and openness across all systems – this has been the selling point of TIA (Totally Integrated Automation) for the past 25 years. Consequently, our Simatic PCS 7 process control system is one of the most open control systems on the market. With this concept, we provide our customers with smooth interactions between systems from different manufacturers in modular plants. Initially, the chemical industry was skeptical as to whether, given the complexity of digitalization, this type of open approach could be implemented as an alternative to the one-stop-shop solution. But our success proves us right. We will therefore continue to pursue this strategy of simulating the entire lifecycle through comprehensive vertical and horizontal integration. This also applies to our new control system, the Simatic PCS neo. We are delighted that the issues we have addressed here are in line with the latest trends. For example, the system offers web-based multi-user capabilities, making engineering much easier. Another significant feature for applications in fine chemicals and the pharmaceutical industry is the native support of MTPs (Module Type Packages) and the modularity that this offers.
IT and OT convergence is an important aspect of digitalization
I am often asked what challenges must be overcome when implementing digitalization solutions. I would say that the increasing interconnection of IT and OT is an important element for a successful digital transformation and should include effective cybersecurity measures. I believe that they will grow ever closer, particularly when it comes to 5G. And of course, we support our customers quite specifically in this regard.
AI, industrial 5G – what comes next?
I think that – alongside the aforementioned solutions – artificial intelligence will also be a major influence in the progress of digitalization. Aside from this, a whole range of products and topics are also already being implemented in pilot projects. This includes sensors for the Namur Open Architecture for data collection. In addition, simulation will become even more important. The same is also true for the 5G communication standard.