Lower Asset Lifecycle Costs
Because connected devices can support remote configuration, remote monitoring, remote fixes and remote updates, asset owners can use the technology to reduce their engineering, maintenance and repair costs over the entire lifecycle of an asset. And unlike typical IT assets, industrial assets remain in service for 10, 20 or 30 years, or more, so these savings can really add up.
A New Platform for Innovation
Through data collection, increased interactivity and collaboration, connected products can provide a platform for product innovation. According to Chatha, “Just as many companies run business software in the Cloud and pay for the software on a monthly subscription basis, you can do the same with products; pay for the value derived from the product, not the product itself. Many companies already run IT applications in the Cloud, why not for software at the plant level as well, at least for larger assets?”
Asset Supplier Value Proposition
Chatha also believes that there’s a parallel value proposition for asset suppliers that can help them justify “jumping on the bandwagon.” For asset and technology suppliers, this involves better productivity, improved service business profitability and (as for asset owners) a platform for innovation.
Connected devices can improve field service workforce productivity by enabling service personnel to diagnose and fix customer problems remotely, without having to travel to the customer’s site. They can help bolster the profitability of a supplier’s service business by helping customers solve business problems, lowering warranty costs and improving overall customer satisfaction. And the IoT can provide a platform for innovation by enabling suppliers to move from supplying products, to supplying products-as-a-service. Here, there’s ample opportunity to work with customers to achieve incremental product innovations.
IoT Architecture Reference Model
Chatha made it a point to mention that, while the IoT may have been a relatively new notion for many in the audience, an organization in Europe – the IoT Architecture Consortium (http://www.iot-a.eu/public) – has been in place for several years. This public/private consortium has created an architectural reference model for companies to use.
The Connected Plant
To start discussion of the connected plant, Chatha presented several assumptions:
1. Most industrial asset owners/technology users have already installed and use both control systems and plant management applications.
2. Most business applications are already in private clouds, and some asset owners/technology users already take advantage of advanced analytics to analyze the data.
3. It’s likely that as asset owners move more of their data to the Cloud, they will share appropriate data with their asset and service suppliers, and in this manner, can help asset owners enhance the reliability of their plant or other industrial assets.
Based on the above assumptions, Chatha proposed an interesting option: connecting big assets directly to private clouds using a secure plant network. What’s the benefit? First, it can save asset owners a lot of money, because connecting a device to the control system is usually very expensive. By buying a field device with a dual interface (WirelessHART and Wi-Fi), asset owners could make use of either or both interfaces to inexpensively connect to the Cloud and add many more sensors to the big assets, enabling them to predict failures before they happen to improve plant reliability.
The Connected Plant
Chatha believes that with this approach, there’s no need to change systems; asset owners can just add incremental sensing points and smart devices using the dual interface approach for applications such as asset monitoring.
“This is not for every plant, but for some it can make sense by helping eliminate downtime, particularly for remote industrial assets such as oil & gas production fields and mines.” Chatha added, “Clearly, the connected asset value chain becomes much more complex, but failures in plants can be big things, particularly if you don’t have a good grasp on what happened.”
“We in the industry have an opportunity to lead this revolution since we’re already using many connected devices.”
NOTE TO READERS: See a YouTube video on the complete presentation on which this column is based.
Paul Miller is Senior Editor/Analyst at ARC Advisory Group, Dedham, Mass., a firm that evaluates technology, analyzes trends and conducts market research. Miller has been a “student of the automation industry” for 30 years, closely following the evolution from yesterday's proprietary, purpose-built control systems to today's more open automation systems, based largely on commercial technologies. At ARC, in addition to his own research, Miller serves as both senior editor and content director for all Advisory Service reports. You can e-mail him at PMiller@arcweb.com