Plant Efficiency with the Right Control Hardware

February 14, 2023

By Armand Prezioso, Sr. Global Product Manager, Rockwell Automation

Process customers today are striving to reduce total cost of ownership, project execution time, and optimizing production through expanding throughput, decreasing downtime and empowering plant operators with smart manufacturing.

Smart manufacturing demands more smart information. Luckily, nowadays information and big data are everywhere. Sensors and instrumentation provide much more information than was previously available. The problem exists when you need to enable the system to accept that additional information. 

Many times, those changes are difficult, if not impossible, based on how a system can bring in the right data at the right place. Typically control systems are commissioned with a set number and type of input/output (I/O) cards that can accept data from sensors and instrumentation. Historically, any changes to the layout of I/O cards can only be possible through leaving spare space in an enclosure and holding many different I/O card types on hand as needed. This is both costly and can impact how quickly a system recovers from a failure or scheduled maintenance. 

FLEXHA 5000 universal I/O options, enabled by the PlantPAx 5.20 distributed control system, provide a new answer to dealing with this issue.  

Universal I/O defined

Universal I/O, also defined as electronic marshalling, allows for different I/O types to be landed on one card. These I/O types can consist of analog inputs and outputs (with HART) and digital inputs and outputs. With FLEXHA 5000 universal I/O, these configurations are enabled by the software, avoiding the need for physical component changes.

Benefits through flexibility

  • Reducing project execution effort:
    • FLEXHA 5000 I/O allows for various field wiring types. It is not incumbent on the customer to finalize their wiring too early. This enables reduced total installation cost while enabling efficiencies for engineers during early design without impacting panel costs. Many revisions and changes happen based on how needs may change not only at commissioning but through the lifecycle of a system. 
    • There is also a benefit to designing a system with universal I/O. By starting with a universal I/O layout, the power needs of a system, termination assemblies and cabling layouts can stay the same regardless if the I/O type needs to change later, saving a lot of effort and planning.
  • Minimize impact of late changes to the I/O
    • The FLEXHA 5000 platform provides the flexibility to change I/O types throughout its operation. This provides for decoupled project workflows where physical and functional design are in parallel enabling optimization of project schedules and costs.
    • Historically, you would have to manage maintenance needs through carrying many different I/O cards in inventory for each enclosure area. The FLEXHA 5000 universal card differs by it being one single catalog entry, reducing the need to carry additional inventory.

Optimized for the process system user

It’s important to note that process control systems demand certain capabilities out of I/O cards that still must be available regardless of if the option is universal or not. Critical to this is having redundant, highly available options, as well as channel isolation and HART communication availability. The new FLEXHA 5000 I/O not only provides that universal differentiation, but also provides for redundancy, channel isolation and HART communication interfaces. 

Not all universal I/O is the same

Many control system providers have released universal I/O capabilities, but not all cards are built the same. 

Some, like the FLEXHA 5000 platform, allow for remote software configuration of the channel I/O types during runtime. The FLEXHA 5000 platform offers common componentry between I/O types, enabling a remote operator the ability to dynamically change I/O type without being local to the I/O card. 


Universal I/O

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