At the 2017 ARC Industry Forum, Janette Brightwell provided attendees an overview of process control at Dow. The company’s diverse nature requires that process control handle all manner of control: batch, continuous, and discrete. Process control also requires knowledge of field devices, field networks, operator interfaces, application layer interfaces, as well as maintain process knowledge.
Dow is unique in that, until the mid-1990s, it developed and maintained its own process control system: the MOD5. It has since adopted commercially available systems, but its installed base is enormous and process control personnel must still support the legacy installations until they are migrated.
Traditionally, Dow recruited chemical engineers as process control staff and taught them to code. The role has expanded to include information technology (IT) and it is getting difficult to achieve the right balance. Through its state-based control approach, Dow has institutionalized its operating discipline into the control systems. However, the company has begun relying on external resources and is developing methods to protect its intellectual property. Dow remains committed to maintaining in-house proficiency, but struggles to find the right balance between in-house and outsourced expertise. The company is also assessing individual expertise versus organizational expertise and how to leverage organizational expertise across the enterprise.
The Process Control of Tomorrow
Moving forward, Dow looks to embrace new technologies in the context of supporting its core competency of producing chemicals safely. In doing so, it expects to maintain an appropriate ratio of direct versus contingent staff, as well as between control system expertise versus plant operating knowledge. Technology will be evaluated as either adding value, or not. The company looks to shift to a mindset that integrates running the plant and running the business. In making this transition, it expects to put forth a greater effort to manage the variability and complexity involved.