Automation 2012: View from China

Control Engineering International: Energy efficiency and renewable energy are among 2012 automation development opportunities in China. Remote measurement and control systems, industrial automation, instrumentation systems, and smart sensors can help.


The year 2011, the first year of the Twelfth Five-Year plan, just passed in China. In 2011 the direction of the transformation of economic development and the priority of “good development” over “quick development” were determined. Seven new industries, including the intellectual manufacturing industry, were chosen as strategic areas to be fostered. The “product and service concept” as well as gross domestic product (GDP) were emphasized. Energy efficiency, remote measurement and control systems, industrial automation, instrumentation systems, and sensors can help.

Energy efficiency

Energy efficiency gets hot as energy saving become more popular. A white paper about the energy challenge from 2010 to 2030, published by the IEC Standardization Strategy Group in March 2011, proposed 34 recommendations about the future work of “energy efficiency and renewal energy” in different areas, including three recommendations in the area of automation:

—R#7: IEC/TC 2, SC 22G and TC 65, and ISO/TC 184 should develop guidelines for the design and operation of energy-efficient systems in the field of industrial automation and industrial process control from a system point of view.

—R#27: To support optimization of automation and production processes already during the planning phase of production systems, SG1 recommends that all relevant product TC/SCs include key data in their components/devices standards that are vital for simulation of the component/device behavior in an intended production system. Simulation leads to optimized, energy-efficient processes.

—R#28: To support the optimization of the automation and production processes already in place during the planning phase of production systems, SG1 recommends that TC 65 and its SCs consider the development of simulation tools from a system point of view, to allow energy-efficient optimization of automation and production processes on the factory floor.

To meet these goals, the joint work group of JWG14 (energy efficiency in industrial automation group, or EEIA group) of IEC/TC65 in charge of energy efficiency standards held five meetings in 2011. China actively participated in standard setting and practiced much in the areas of energy management from sensors to systems, including energy measurement, control, monitoring, and adjustment. It is time to summarize these experiences and decide what to do next. I propose that we first need to act in the field of measurement, such as standards, verification, prototyping, installation, acceptance, and maintenance—this is the first thing that our instrument and automation professionals should do.

Advanced automation

With the rapid advancement of measurement technology in areas of natural gas, petroleum products, and water, the ultrasonic flowmeter, electromagnetism flowmeter, Coriolis force mass flowmeter, and multivariable transmitter have prevailed. Dry calibration technology and wet calibration have gained attention. Some specific flow instruments, such as heat meters used for house heating measurement and their meter reading system, are being commercialized gradually. This is the fourth meter in house after the water meter, ammeter, and gas meter. It facilitates energy savings. There is a long way to go for energy savings, and producing good fundamental measurement instruments is the first step for automation.

Remote measurement, controls

Issue 52 of CEC published an article about Wireless Regional Area Networks (WRAN) by Apurva Mody, chairman of the IEEE802.22 work group. This big event in 2011 paved the way for the Internet of things (IOT) and Smart Grid, as well as remote measurement and control systems, which have a longer history and larger coverage. Remote measurement and control systems were just a branch of control systems, including remote telemetering, remote signaling, and remote control systems; supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA); remote terminal systems (RTU); and remote I/O. As data communication technology advances, the field of remote measurement and control systems (RMCS) grows also. Its layers include RTV, field bus, and wireless field instruments, and it is compatible with IOT’s use of radio frequency identification (RFID). As the core of a SCADA software and system, its monitor and control layers include wired local area network technologies (IEEE 803.3 and IEEE 803.4) and Internet technologies (TCP/IP and OPC UA). Its management layer is composed of the control center, metropolitan area network (MAN, IEEE 802.6), multimedia technology, wireless local area network (WLAN, IEEE 802.11), wireless personal area network (WPAN, IEEE 802.15), wireless metropolitan area network (WMAN, IEEE 802.16), and even wireless region network (in rural and mine areas with low population density and observation points).

Automation professionals in China made breakthroughs in wireless personal area networks (WPAN, IEEE802.15), especially in ZigBee applications. Shenyang Institute of Automation, CAS, rolled out the WIA series, which has been included in international standards.

The information technology and automation industries should make a greater progress in the area of remote measurement and control systems in the 3G era. It was reported that International Foundation Fieldbus has scheduled ROM (remote operation management) and will give demonstrations.

Instrumentation, sensors

The economic situation in China was exceptionally good in 2011. For instance, the revenue of Hollysys Co. Ltd. reached 3 billion RMB; the revenue of Supcon Co. Ltd. reached 200 million RMB; Yokogawa Sichuan Instrument Co. Ltd. sold 200,000 EJA pressure and differential pressure transmitters in 2010, while the total transmitters sold in the past 10 years was only 1 million. This proves the strong manufacturing capacity and big market in China, and the automation industry can enjoy big achievements.

1. With more than 10 years of history in the area of fieldbus, China can produce many fieldbus products. More than 10 FF fieldbus meter products have passed international certification, and there are more in the area of HART and Profibus. Also, DCS manufacturers can integrate HART, FF, and Profibus-PA into one DCS system. For example, DSC of Supcon Co. Ltd. produces FF H1 interface card AM712 modules, and each network segment can receive 16 Foundation fieldbus (FF) instruments. It integrates FF Builder software, FBD control strategy software, warning and event view software, diagnostic software, real-time monitor software, and SAMS device management software (which can be connected to many smart devices via EDDL and FDT/DTM interface technology). It can also achieve CIF fieldbus control of FF technology.

2. In area of functional safety, except some specific SIS systems, integration of SIS and DCS has been recognized, and DCS manufacturers in China are advancing to this area. The application of functional safety is becoming more popular, and there are many technicians with knowledge of and experience in standard, certificate, training, design, installation, and acceptance.

3. Most manufacturers have integrated device management systems into DCS. For example, the AMS device management software from Hollysys Co. is compatible with HART FF fieldbus devices and can be used in engineering. The ERP/MES/PCS three-layer structure is also improving.

4. Thanks to high demand in the areas of energy saving, environment protection, oil field, and gas and oil transportation, control systems are developing rapidly.

5. Sensor technology also is advancing rapidly. Because many plants are installing FGS fire alarm and gas detector systems, many gas sensors are produced. For instance, Zhengzhou Winson Technology Co. Ltd. provides 3.5 million gas sensors for users worldwide every year, including industrial, mine, and civilian gas sensors.

Flow sensors is another hot area. Besides flowmeters, sonar flowmeters, such as Sonartrac, can be used to monitor single-phase flow, multiphase flow, viscosity, and air void rate. Mass flowmeters can be classified as heat mass flowmeters and Coriolis force mass flowmeters. The later has been gaining wider use and is produced in larger numbers by manufacturers in China. Some companies package their core part as the sensor. For example, Siemens products can be used for OEM manufacturing by instrument manufacturers.

Also, a great number of sensors are produced for automobile and mechanical engineering as well as for the processing industry and production lines in plants. Level measuring instruments, such as radar level measuring instruments and laser level measuring instruments, are advancing rapidly. The same is true for electrochemical instruments (PH meters and TOC meters) and component sensors. Discrete sensors, such as smart proximity sensors, valve sensors, smart photoelectric sensors, displacement inductive sensors, capacitance sensors, and control switches used in plant automation, are starting to grow. This is a wide area to exploit further.


Automation initiatives in China

Advancing technologies, codes and standards, and other global trends are helping development of various technologies in China. These include:

- Wireless personal area network (WPAN, IEEE802.15), especially in ZigBee applications

- 3G remote measurement and control systems

- Level measuring instruments, such as radar level measuring instruments and laser level measuring instruments

- Coriolis force mass flowmeters and other technologies to monitor single-phase flow, multiphase flow

- Electrochemical instruments (PH meters and TOC meters) and component sensors

- Discrete sensors, such as smart proximity sensors, valve sensors, smart photoelectric sensors, displacement inductive sensors, capacitance sensors, and control switches used in plant automation.


- Zhenggang Bian is with the China Fieldbus Foundation Committee.

This article appeared in the November/December 2011 Control Engineering China  edition.

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