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ecent UK headlines have concerned the taxing issue of national productivity. The government wants, in the words of the Chancellor George Osborne, to “crack the UK’s productivity puzzle” as

a key factor for future prosperity, and as a response to the recent challenging economic conditions. Although a slowly improving fiscal outlook and

higher levels of employment are welcome steps in the right direction, nonetheless figures show that UK plc productivity has languished since the dark days of the financial crisis. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK lags behind every G7 advanced economy bar one. Indeed, estimates indicate that output per hour and output per worker is 20% lower in the UK than that achieved by the USA, Germany, France, Italy and Canada.

UK PRODUCTIVITY PLAN The Government’s productivity plan, published in 2015, demonstrates a desire to focus on technology investment, skills development, infrastructure spending and driving innovation to support general productivity improvements and fuel economic growth. But what does this mean for those charged with optimising process plants so that increases in productivity can help ensure a brighter future? There are many areas that can support productivity

objectives and true optimisation across a process plant. The following are indicative - though not exhaustive - of some of the key aspects to consider on the road to improved process plant productivity performance.

TRANSPARENT PROCESS OPERATION The distributed control system (DCS) is the ‘window to the process’ - the human-machine interface. Any action in the process plant can be operated and controlled via the DCS. Clearly structured user interfaces offer an excellent overview of the entire production process and provide safe and comfortable process operation. Considering the overall supply chain of a production plant from raw material supply via production to product delivery, the production itself is the central step, and the DCS is the central data source for information on production. The integration of the DCS into the IT processes of supply chain management is the foundation of cost transparency in production, such that the financial effect of specific operation sequences can be accounted or predicted.

ADVANCED PROCESS CONTROL (APC) APC methods can be an essential tool to help improve the productivity of a process plant with regards to 27

product quality, operability and availability, agility, safety and environmental issues. APC solutions can be realised much more cost effectively due to a DCS embedded implementation with standard function blocks and pre-defined wizards and templates for implementing basic APC principles.

BATCH SCHEDULING The transformation of production orders to a detailed schedule of batches on certain plant units at given starting times contains optimisation potential in the sense of efficient plant operation. Several optimisation targets have to be pursued at the same time while considering limited production resources. These can include: compliance with delivery dates and specifications of product quality; maximising capacity throughput; minimising cleaning efforts when different products are run in the same tank reactor and avoiding peak loads in energy consumption. Again, process optimisation tools such as Simatic Batch can help with batch planning and automatic execution of planned batches.

VIRTUAL COMMISSIONING AND SIMULATION TOOLS If the process sector is to match the automotive and aerospace examples with regards to productivity levels, then the use of agile, flexible and proven automation technology solutions such as virtual commissioning and simulation tools to aid engineering projects, automation system design and even new plant delivery, holds the key. The requirement for ever shorter commissioning

and start-up timescales for new production lines, plant migrations or new plant facilities, is a reality for many. This is where the added value advantages of virtual commissioning through a simulation framework can offer tangible and proven time, resource and cost benefits.


planning tools are naturally popular for processes such as tableting

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