Module automation: How manufacturers of machines and package units can benefit from MTP
3/1/2024 Analysing & automating Article

Module automation: How manufacturers of machines and package units can benefit from MTP

A revolution is on the horizon in the automation of process plants: Module automation is poised to massively reduce the amount of work involved in setting up and converting systems in the process industry. Manufacturers of machines and package units required for the production of powders and bulk materials in particular could benefit from this technology.

Drawn flowchart with wooden cubes as elements. One hand holds a block of wooden cubes to be inserted into the workflow Module automation allows the control logic of individual machines to be easily integrated into higher-level process control systems.

To date, production plants in the chemical and process industry have generally been automated centrally. This means that each plant has to be individually configured and adapted to its specific requirements: This is because although machines and process engineering units – known as package units – are generally already supplied with their own control system, the control system is usually also implemented in the central control system. This not only costs time and causes a great deal of engineering effort, but is also not very flexible. Every change or extension to the system has to be reprogrammed in the process control system.

As a result, users have been suffering for many years: As early as 2009, chemists and process engineers at the Tutzing Symposium outlined the vision of chemical plants consisting of individual, standardized modules developed for specific tasks such as mixing, heating, dosing or separating substances. However, it took until 2012 for Namur, the process automation interest group, to take up the concept. In November 2014, the automation supplier Wago finally presented the Module Type Package (MTP) approach, in which the control intelligence is transferred to the modules. This made it possible to use the module functions as a service via a standardized interface. The Module Type Package (MTP) makes it possible to easily integrate programmable logic controllers (PLCs) from different manufacturers into a control system, including the user interface (HMI, Human Machine Interface), communication and other automation aspects. OPC UA, which has been established in the industry for many years, is used as the communication protocol between PLCs and the control system.

Manufacturers of machines and package units benefit in several ways

The use of MTP brings considerable benefits not only for plant operators, but also for manufacturers of machines and package units (process equipment assemblies, PEA). In the past, PEA manufacturers had to develop specific automation interfaces for each system, which involved considerable effort. With MTP, the game changes fundamentally. The manufacturer-independent automation interface enables machine suppliers to develop the interface just once and use their established control technology. Integration into the operator's control system then takes place without any further modifications to the interface. This protects the know-how of PEA manufacturers and allows them to offer standardized package units that can be easily integrated into modular systems. MTP is therefore not only revolutionizing the way system operators design their systems, but also the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of machine manufacturers. The technology group GEA is one of the first to use the MTP information protocol in its "Plug & Win" separators.

MTP has also already proven itself in several pilot projects in the chemical industry. In addition to pilots at Merck and Bayer, the specialty chemicals company Evonik is relying on the technology: together with Engie, Siemens and Yokogawa, it implemented the Module Type Package standard for the first time in 2018 in Singapore in a world-scale plant for the production of a synthetic amino acid and put it into operation in 2019. The project participants were impressed: module automation with MTP made it possible to create and expand the process plants quickly. At the same time, the engineering effort was significantly reduced. Companies in the specialty chemicals industry in particular are not only hoping for significantly faster time-to-market through the use of MTP. The protagonists of the technology expect that module automation will reduce engineering costs by 70 percent and increase flexibility by 80 percent.

Food and pharmaceutical producers are very interested

Production plants in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries, which rely much more heavily on skids, could benefit from module automation to an even greater extent than the chemical industry. Here, skids from different manufacturers are often used, each with its own logic, programming and operating philosophy. Standardization according to the MTP concept offers great potential for reducing engineering costs. The engineers in the pharmaceutical industry organized in the ISPE have also recognized this: MTP is to become the basis of the ISPE Pharma 4.0 Plug&Produce initiative. The responsible Architecture Team of the association proposes to supplement the MTP concept with additional information such as the audit trail, which is important in the pharmaceutical environment, as well as metadata of the implemented equipment (e.g. version information) and safety mechanisms. The resulting "MTP+" would thus enable further savings in the integration of system components.

MTP also has potential beyond the process industry: modular production has long been used in shipbuilding - modular automation is a logical addition here. It is also worth using in production-related logistics, process analytics and hydrogen production. MTP enables easy integration of the electrolysers into upstream and downstream processes, which is particularly important for the rapid ramp-up of the hydrogen economy.

Since November 2021, MTP technology has been further developed and promoted under the Profibus user organization. The MTP interface is now being standardized under VDI-VDE-Namur 2658. In addition, activities for the international standardization of MTP as an IEC 63280 standard have begun.


Module automation with the Module Type Package (MTP) could revolutionize the way in which production systems are automated in the process industry. The separation of the module and control levels significantly increases flexibility, efficiency and speed in system configuration. MTP enables companies to meet the challenges of Industry 4.0 and make production more flexible and efficient.


Armin Scheuermann

Armin Scheuermann

Chemical engineer and freelance specialised journalist