ISA-106, Procedures for Automating Continuous Process Operations

As told by Bill Lydon.

Process plants are complex, and the majority of those in operations management agree that good operating people are valuable. Automation professionals can support knowledgeable operators with well-engineered system applications to keep production running efficiently—particularly when seldom-used procedures are required and unexpected problems occur.

Automating and clearly documenting functions that are well defined and deterministic enable operators to focus on the most important tasks, problems, exceptions, and unexpected issues. Automation professionals can take advantage of the work of ISA106, which is focused on achieving these goals with standards, recommended practices, and technical reports on the design and implementation of procedures for automating continuous process operations.

The ISA-106 models define how to capture information about physical assets, from the enterprise level to an individual device, and the requirements that define a procedure. They establish the functional requirements for the automated procedure and tie these requirements directly to objects in the physical model. The lower the level, the more detailed the association between procedures and objects. The implementation module defines a set of ordered tasks, which may have their own subtasks to perform step-by-step in a defined order.

Larger activities, such as plant startup or shutdown, are important. However, the same tools can be used for more routine procedures, such as isolating and starting up a redundant pump system, performing online maintenance on a piece of equipment, or even something as “simple” as performing an in-line valve performance test. All of this normally requires communication with someone physically at the asset to verify, or in some cases, manually intervene in, the process.

Procedural automation can be used to capture and share corporate knowledge, including best practices, and to minimize errors with a resulting decrease in incidents, improvement in safety, and increase in throughput. This is particularly important with an aging workforce and the difficulty in finding experienced operators.

Safety statistics show the majority of incidents not related to outright mechanical failures happen during abnormal situations, primarily unit startups and shutdowns. When an infrequent operation is required and key individuals are not available, inexperienced operators can be left to follow inadequate or incorrect instructions. Something can get out of control, leading to an abnormal condition with the undesirable outcomes of equipment damage, environmental release, injuries, and fatalities. By applying ISA-106, a single process plant, a complete facility, or even an entire company can achieve significant improvements in operational efficiency and safety.

This article is part of September/October 2020 InTech—the ISA 75th Anniversary Special Edition