Past, Present, and Future of Automation – Part 4 (APC and Wireless)

I think the future is advanced process control (APC). My definition of APC is any technology that puts process knowledge on the line online. Feedforward control is APC when the feedforward gain and dynamic compensation are based on process knowledge. On-demand and adaptive auto tuners, such as DeltaV Insight, are APC tools because these tuners identify the process dynamics that are useful for process diagnostics and training besides model based tuning. For example, the process deadtime can be monitored as an indicator of heat transfer surface fouling in temperature loops and the dynamics can be inserted in simulations for operator training and scenario testing and prototyping of PID enhancements (e.g. set point filtering and structure) or Model Predictive Control (MPC). There are many higher level technologies. In a recent presentation I made to a major chemical company I showed these technologies, the results from a benchmarking study of the top ten companies in the use of process control, and practical tips on how to conduct an opportunity assessment. The presentation can be seen at:


Slide 8 shows the pyramid of technologies that includes process performance monitoring (data analytics and process metrics), abnormal situation prevention, property estimators (inferential composition or quality measurements), model predictive control (MPC), rampers and pushers to maximize or minimize a controlled variable (e.g. feed rate), linear programs (LP) for optimization given defined constraints and economics, and real time optimization (RTO) for variable constraints and economics. The importance of process knowledge in all of these technologies is obvious. Slide 9 gives a straightforward “easy to remember” relationship between controller tuning for loop performance. The equation indicates before, during, and after APC implementation, the controllers should be tuned.

The amount of effort and the performance of the upper level technologies rest upon the strength, breadth, and integrity of the foundation of basic control. As you improve the number, type, and sensitivity of the measurements and control valves, the performance of these systems improve by reducing the number of unidentifiable disturbances and enabling more first principle calculations and inferential measurements, such as frosting rate, fouling rate, crystallization rate, and reaction rate important for diagnostics and batch profile control as discussed in a recent article in Control magazine.


Decades ago, field pressure and temperature gages were installed. These were not very accurate. prone to be broken, and obviously were not visible in the control room or historized. With wireless, we can afford to get many more measurements into the control system. Wireless measurements offer the opportunity to provide many of these missing measurements at a reasonable cost. However, the choice of measurements for data analytics (principal component analysis and projection to latent structures) must be judicious. Randy Reiss, the developer of online data analytic algorithms for Emerson, says “more measurements for analytics means more correlations. However, it introduces the possibility of dominate correlations that do not relate to product quality. That would skew the model for the worse. So there is a double edge sword there.”

For portable bioreactors, laboratory analyzers, and sterilization systems, wireless adds flexibility and utility. Wireless access to process and loop performance monitoring systems in the field makes troubleshooting much smarter. Wireless access anywhere to virtual plants with process performance scores for university courses on process control makes learning almost like a video game. There are many more applications for wireless than the monitoring of remote tanks and pipelines. The following Control Talk column slated for the December issue of Control magazine discusses the role of wireless in APC.


Randy Reiss’s list of the “Top Ten Reasons You Will Go Wireless Next Year” in the above column provides a reality check in case we are thinking of making everything wireless. This list has the insight, bite, and humor typical of the lists Randy has contributed to my column in recent months. Upon reading the draft of the column, Randy said “it’s the best argument I have heard for wireless.” Randy agreed to the post of this quote after checking with his PR agent.

Scott Broadley, the president of Broadley-James, is participating in a beta test with Emerson on the use of wireless transmitters on portable single use bioreactors (SUB) whose size is steadily growing from pilot plant (100 liter) to production (1000 liters) scale. Scott is also looking forward to the elimination of ground loops and noise by wireless pH transmitters particularly where the solution ground is not used or where AC noise gets through the power supply. Scott says, tongue-in-check, “we could hook the pH and DO transmitter up wirelessly to a Twitter account so your cell phone is getting constant text updates on how your bioreactor is “feeling” . Scott offers the following additions to the top ten list for going wireless…..(11) Each bioreactor can have its own Face book page where operators from different shifts can leave their comments……(12) Each transmitter can be on Twitter and send you instant text messages on your phone when it is moody…”