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Digital control has been around for over 30 years, and distributed systems for 20. The technology is mature and (mostly) dependable, but the future demands cost reduction and improved performance throughout the project lifecycle. The emerging third generation systems offer the opportunity to reduce costs dramatically, but how can this be achieved in practice, without sacrificing performance or increasing risk?The control systems industry stands at a watershed reminiscent of computing in the early 1980s. The large and inflexible is under threat from cheaper and nimbler technology, multiple proprietary languages and protocols are being displaced by a few open standards, system vendors are losing their stranglehold on applications. In short, as the technology itself becomes a commodity; it is effective application that will determine success. This demands knowledge of the user’s operation and business.The paper reviews key technologies including: field bus, scaleable control systems, IEC-61131, object-oriented methods and integration with the corporate IT infrastructure. It goes on to argue that, although these appear well adapted to process industry demands, the benefits will not be achieved without significant changes in organisations, cultures and working methods within suppliers, engineering contractors and users alike. Finally, the paper presents practical guidelines for the selection, implementation and effective use of control technology for the Year 2000 and beyond.
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