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Germany is the world's largest exporter of chemical products. Nevertheless, the process industry is faced with stiff global competition. "Some international competitors have more favorable cost structures and are catching up technologically," explains Felix Seibl, Director of Measurement Technology and Process Automation with the Electrical and Electronic Manufacturer’s Association (ZVEI). In emerging markets the production capacity of fine and specialty chemicals and the pharmaceutical industry is growing. In addition, product life cycles and installation run-times are decreasing steadily. The German process industry therefore is looking for new ways to develop customer-specific products and small batch series more quickly. "Products must make it to market faster and we need to produce them very efficiently," says Felix Seibl.

For this purpose, the chemical and pharmaceutical industry is developing flexible modular concepts for their processing plants. A number of advantages can be found in process-encapsulated, reusable modules, including a faster time to market of up to 40 percent, 30 percent energy savings, 20 percent lower operating costs, and 40 percent less capital expenditure. "The greatest value however would be generated by the flexibility gained," says Felix Seibl. Customer-specific product adaptations can be rapidly and flexibly carried out by exchanging individual modules. "The batch size of one that costs the same as mass produced products, so frequently mentioned in connection with Industrie 4.0, is therefore within the reach of the process industry as well," says Seibl.

"Modular production will simplify engineering, make production more flexible, reduce the time to market, increase plant efficiency, and lead to improved overall competitiveness," summarizes Felix Seibl. However, automation engineering does not yet provide "suitable technical support for modular process technology plants." Several case studies, such as one for the research project F3-Factory, determined that modularization is possible and profitable for the process industry, but that in the area of automation there is a serious need to act. "The goal of further developments is to attain the plug & produce capability needed to create flexible, cost-efficient modularization in containers and modules," states the VDI study Innovations and Advances in Efficiency in the Chemical Industry – Effects and Challenges of Industrie 4.0. However, "standards and agreements regarding the interfaces to integrate modules into process control systems are lacking."

Since 2015 the NAMUR study group "Automating Modular Plants" and the ZVEI study group "Modular Automation" have been working together on multivendor specifications for modules. The committees will be presenting their proposal, the MTP standard (Module Type Package), at HANNOVER MESSE’s special Modular Production display at Industrial Automation 2017. The group pavilion is organized by ZVEI and can be found in Hall 11, stand D44. Support comes from the industry association NAMUR and the initiativ ProcessNet as well as twelve notable companies. ABB, Emerson, Endress+Hauser, Festo, HIMA, Phoenix Contact, R.Stahl, Samson, Siemens, Wago, Yokogawa and Spiratec are all demonstrating their vision of modular automation.

Felix Siebl summarizes the group pavilion’s message to the automation sector: "Modular production is possible – we have the concepts and solutions."

However, in order to win recognition for the new MTP standard, cross-company and sector cooperation is needed. "Process engineering, plant construction, automation, sensor technology, and actuating elements need to work together now. Modular production needs modular automation!" says Seibl.