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  • Writer's pictureJesse Hill

3 Technologies Driving the Digital Revolution in the Process Industries

Ethernet-APL, NAMUR Open Architecture and Module Type Package are fueling the ongoing digitalization in offshore, renewable energy, water and wastewater, and many other process automation markets

Automation technologies for process industry digital transformation

In the realm of the process industries, uptime, safety and reliability have always been paramount. But now there’s an additional factor: digitalization. The ongoing digital revolution is reshaping traditional paradigms – in what is often a very traditional field that is slow to adopt new technologies.

As plants and processing facilities evolve towards smarter, modular and more connected systems, interoperability and open systems are emerging as critical pillars. They’re driving innovation, breaking down barriers and enabling real digital transformation. This is evidenced by the multiple collaboration initiatives that are gaining steam in the process industries, such as) NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA), Module Type Package (MTP) and those from The Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF).

Additionally, there is renewed drive to develop an industry standard fieldbus for process automation based on Ethernet. While this technology is ubiquitous in almost every other industry, it’s another major step forward for process automation. The progress of the Ethernet-APL standard will help advance the process industries and allow for much greater data throughput and improved transmission speeds. This will allow users to achieve much greater reliability, and lead to many insights that can improve the uptime and reliability of process control systems.  

The current level of collaboration and teamwork between multiple end users, automation vendors, and other organizations is encouraging. And it will help move the process industries forward at a much greater pace than we’ve come to expect in these markets. Let’s explore just three of these exciting advancements.


1. Manageable modularity: Module Type Package

TwinCAT MTP on a machine
With the new TwinCAT MTP, automation software from Beckhoff addresses increasing requirements for plant modularization in the process industry.

Remember the days of monolithic, inflexible process control systems? Yeah, those are over.

Today, modularization is revolutionizing the way engineers in the process industries design, build and operate facilities. MTP represents a key paradigm shift with many aspects to consider. It allows for the creation of standardized, interchangeable units that can seamlessly integrate into existing infrastructures.

MTP offer numerous advantages beyond simplifying equipment design, including:

  • accelerated project timelines

  • reduced costs

  • enhanced scalability

By breaking down complex processes into modular components, industries can achieve greater agility and adaptability, and rapidly adjust to changing market demands. Moreover, MTP facilitates interoperability by adhering to common process industry standards and protocols, fostering seamless communication between different modules and systems.


2. Open Systems: NAMUR Open Architecture

The NAMUR Open Architecture pyramid
Engineers can implement the NOA concept in plants with very limited available space using highly compact solutions consisting of PC-based control and EtherCAT technologies from Beckhoff.

One of the key drivers of this fundamental transformation in process automation is the concept of open systems. As it turns out, emphasizing transparency, collaboration and compatibility is a strength – not a weakness – in today’s complex, multidisciplinary engineering environments. (Who would’ve guessed?) The NOA framework exemplifies this approach.

NOA provides a set of guidelines and principles aimed at promoting interoperability and flexibility within process automation systems. Building on the standards developed by the NAMUR organization, this addition advocates for the use of standardized interfaces, protocols, and data models. NOA’s goal is to enable seamless integration between devices and systems from different vendors. By embracing open architectures, industries can overcome the challenges posed by vendor lock-in and proprietary technologies, fostering innovation and healthy competition in the marketplace.

Furthermore, NOA empowers existing plants to take advantage of these technologies and improve monitoring and optimization of field devices and operations. This is because NOA operates on a “second channel,” which is separate from the main control systems. As a result, the current process control methods don’t actually need to change. 

3. Advanced Networking Protocols: Ethernet-APL

Beckhoff solution for Ethernet-APL
With the ELX6233 terminal from Beckhoff, Ethernet-APL field devices can be integrated into process control architectures in a highly compact and modular format.

We live in an increasingly hyper-connected world. Reliable, high-speed communication infrastructure is essential for enabling seamless interoperability across diverse systems. Unfortunately, up until this point, that’s only been a dream for the process industries.

An industry standard fieldbus for process automation has remained elusive. Sure, FOUNDATION Fieldbus and PROFIBUS PA (Process Automation) had their moments in the early 2000s. But both failed to catch on as a standard, mostly due to bandwidth limitations and a susceptibility to electrical interference.

Ethernet Advanced Physical Layer (Ethernet-APL) represents a groundbreaking advancement in networking technology, specifically tailored to meet the stringent demands of the process industries. Ethernet-APL offers unparalleled performance, combining the speed and bandwidth of Ethernet with the robustness and reliability demanded by industrial environments.

Ethernet-APL enables seamless connectivity across the entire plant through an abundance of advantages, including:

  • support for long cable distances (up to 1,000 meters)

  • 2-Wire Intrinsically Safe Ethernet (2-WISE)

  • 10-Mbit/s speeds using the 10BASE-T1L Ethernet standard

By utilizing Ethernet-APL, industries can streamline their communication infrastructure and simplify integration efforts. This enables engineers to unlock new possibilities for data-driven insights and optimization.


Join the digital revolution in process automation

Digitalization in the process industries is rapidly reshaping the technology landscape. It provides tools for both giant, established players and new startups to usher in a new era of collaboration, innovation, connectivity and interoperability. By embracing modularization, open architectures and standardized advanced networking protocols, companies can utilize best-in-class solutions from multiple vendors.

Why is that important? Well, it means you’re no longer locked into a single supplier and their preferred (and often proprietary) technologies and protocols. As a result, you’ll have the power to choose technologies that will help you to build scalable, future-proof systems with comprehensive data insights. So whether you’re in oil and gas, water and wastewater, mining, renewable energy or countless other fields, you can avoid constant cycles of obsolescence and reengineering.

As the process industries continue to embrace the digital revolution, the emphasis on interoperability and openness will remain crucial. This guiding concept will ensure that organizations can harness the full potential of emerging technologies and drive sustainable growth and innovation for decades to come.


Ready to harness digitalization in your process automation applications? Contact your local Beckhoff sales engineer today.


Jesse Hill, Process Industry Manager of Beckhoff Automation

Jesse Hill is the Process Industry Manager at Beckhoff Automation LLC


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