Is the industrial Internet of things (IIOT) just another buzzword, or can it bring real benefits to the chemical industry? ABB, Emerson, Siemens and the ARC Advisory Group say it all depends upon how you use your data.
ABB, for one, has been considering the issues around the IIOT, big data and analytics for well over a decade now, notes Marc Leroux, chief technology evangelist, collaborative production management, Westerville, Ohio. “We’ve been advocating that a key factor is having a contextual model for devices, not looking at them in isolation. Data without context is just data. You need to have context to have actionable information,” he stresses.
This will become even more important. The number of connected devices in a facility easily may triple over the next five years, Leroux believes, with the frequency of data collection growing dramatically, too.
“Potential savings to the chemical industry are not going to come from the IIOT,” he cautions. “From a practical perspective, they may provide better information, and they may provide it faster, but the savings are going to be realized from how the information is used in a systematic way. Today, we already have enough information to manage programs like energy management, resource optimization and inventory reductions. If we’re looking for the IIOT to solve these types of issues, then there is perhaps a different problem. These are decades-old issues. IIOT can add value to them, but if the organization doesn’t have programs in place already, another buzzword isn’t going to solve the problem. Can it improve the results by having more information? Certainly. Will it provide the justification for a program? No, I don’t think so.”
The easiest areas to realize savings, he says, are return on assets (ROA) and workforce productivity.
“ROA is perhaps the poster child for IIOT: the ability to monitor an asset in real time and predict any problems before they occur. Again, this comes back to a systematic approach.”
Workforce productivity can benefit from eliminating the unnecessary data collection that now occurs and from providing better information. For example, if a piece of equipment can supply details about what is failing, a mechanic can bring the necessary replacement parts without having to perform a visual inspection first. This reduces downtime and improves overall productivity.
Safety also stands to improve. Being able to have better information faster to allow a risk analysis on operations certainly can lead to a safer work environment. “We sometimes overlook this aspect, but safety is often the number one KPI [key performance indicator] that companies use, and the IIOT certainly can provide information to feed systems that can manage safety,” he adds.
However, educating managers and executives on the benefit of integrating an IIOT strategy is going to be key to adoption, Leroux also believes. “These are people that have heard this before and don’t believe the hype. Giving clear examples of how getting more information, more timely, and integrated with an existing system, process or strategy can result in lowering costs or improving ROA will be a key part of getting their buy-in.”
“Keeping IIOT running at peak efficiency isn’t going to be that difficult conceptually. It is like every other program that a company has, it needs to be reviewed, evaluated and managed on a regular basis to ensure that it is driving economic improvement. I’m not referring to the IIOT as a ‘program.’ I’m referring to capturing the data that is enabled by the IIOT and using it as part of a larger ‘system.’ That’s what can drive results.”
Such an approach can leverage IIOT to achieve significant benefits, including sparking innovations such as low-cost solutions to problems the companies didn’t even know they had (Figure 1).
Overall, ABB emphasizes two points: first, the names have changed, the technology has gotten better and easier, but producers and suppliers have been dealing with these topics for years; and, second, achieving real business value, something that resonates with the business leaders, remains the essential criterion.
“The IIOT is very real, but by itself is just a technology. It’s the combination of the ‘things’ with processes and people that can turn this into a business advantage. Let’s not lose sight of that,” concludes Leroux.
“IIOT has lots of different meanings, but basically the idea is that the world is becoming more interconnected, the Internet more pervasive — and sensor technology is becoming simpler, more diverse, easier to implement, and more cost effective and easier to deploy because of wireless technology. So part of the IIOT is that we are connecting a lot more things and so can do a lot more diverse sensing,” explains Mike Boudreaux, director, remote asset monitoring and analytics, Emerson Process Management, Round Rock, Texas.
The ability to access actionable information is key, agrees Boudreaux. This, in turn, requires some form of strategic interpretation of the data: “So analysis tools and visualization tools are very important. And we expect a rapid expansion of cloud-based tools in the next five years.”
“We are focused on a few areas around big data,” he adds. “We are doing a lot of first principles modeling on, for example, thermodynamics, and have done a lot of predictive analytics, too. There are opportunities for the application of first principle models to run processes better, and with predictive analytics there is the opportunity to do something more. It’s a developing area.”
Over the years, Emerson has done all kinds of predictive modeling to optimize processes — developing so-called “essential asset management solutions” that target individual types of equipment such as pumps, blowers and heat exchangers that often only get reactive maintenance, he notes.
“Using the algorithm we can detect, for example, pump cavitation. We now have a service where we collect data from customers and look at their turbomachinery. We have a team of engineers who can advise on improvements.”
Boudreaux sees this strategy expanding from individual assets to production units and then to overall plant performance as customers become happier to move from the old reactive model to a much more predictive one. At the same time, Emerson is doing a lot of work on pervasive sensing, driven by innovative, easily monitored and maintained sensors.
“There are two ways that the chemical industry is deploying IIOT: on premise, where we supply the technology and help them to deploy it; and off premise, where we put the equipment on site and collect the data ourselves and do the analytics.”
While the former is much more common at the moment, he expects a significant increase in off-premise deployment over the next few years. “Some has been happening for a long time already and we have been monitoring numerous sites for many, many years now. I think what is happening is that companies like Emerson are developing these new technologies and are now able to offer a set of services that have never been available before.”
CONSISTENT DATA PLATFORMS
Two major challenges face the IIOT, believes Mareike Blettner, head of global marketing, COMOS Plant Engineering Software, Siemens, Bonn, Germany. The first, and the bigger of the two, is cracking the issue of seamless solutions. “One of the major tasks to achieve this goal is to substantially rely on proper industry standards, like ISO 15926, by means of bidirectional data exchanges with external applications. This standardized interoperability reduces time and effort for coordination and ensures a higher quality result,” she notes.
The other big challenge is system flexibility. Here, she cites COMOS as an example of an open system architecture that optimizes interdisciplinary cooperation throughout the whole company and is optimally geared to meet the requirements and trends in chemical markets.
However, Blettner also emphasizes that getting the information is only part of the issue. More important is efficient data management throughout the entire lifecycle of an industrial plant via integrated platforms that allow parallelization of workflows. “Such consistent data platforms with open system architectures make it possible to manage ever increasing data volumes more quickly and securely.”
Fierce global competition is making more efficient workflows a must, and covering the entire lifecycle of a plant from the initial design stage to engineering, operations and maintenance to shut down or deconstruction is the only way to achieve them, she believes.
“The duration of the operating phase of an industrial facility is often ten times that of its engineering and construction period. This requires strategic planning of a sustained multistage solution concept with a consistent, integrated visualization of data and documentation across disciplines and covering the entire asset lifecycle, where the end-to-end workflow during engineering and operations is centrally controlled and monitored. All the information must be available to the right user at the right time across sites in a format relevant to his or her field of activity,” she concludes.
AN ANALYST’S VIEW
The chemical industry faces many important business challenges such as maintaining safe and reliable operation, achieving supply chain agility, managing operational cost like maintenance and energy, and ensuring the effectiveness of manufacturing operations staffs in the face of the current talent shortage, notes Peter Reynolds, senior consultant at the ARC Advisory Group, Dedham, Mass.
“Many industrial chemical plants today struggle to take advantage of technologies at the plant level, like distributed control systems, but IIOT technology can be layered onto existing infrastructure. Think of a basic industrial feed pump. Just think of your maintenance program and if mechanical equipment specifications required the pump to be peppered with an array of sensors that predict asset integrity.”
The cost for a smart pump shipped to the site would be incremental — however, the potential to cut maintenance failures or reduce preventive maintenance easily could represent 5% of a plant’s operational costs. “If you factor cost avoidance and downtime, then the opportunity cost is likely 5%–15%. IIOT leverages proven low-cost infrastructure like wireless. With these technologies inside and outside the plant, there is no end to how easily we can bring information back for optimization initiatives,” he explains.
Reynolds suspects that in a decade plants routinely will procure “connected assets.” “Not a connected asset to the plant control or information system, I mean the asset connected to the supplier’s experts and a brand new industrial service model in the cloud. This has been done for years, but with IIOT we will see this increase exponentially due to new business models and low cost and secure infrastructure.”
Analytics in a plant control room will feed information directly to these experts, many of whom will be independent consultants who supply services to numerous chemical companies. Think of IIOT as a “common service” to an industry with needs, he says.
In the nearer term, ARC has coined the expression “information driven” to characterize a new approach to industrial operations in an era in which several potentially disruptive technologies all suddenly are available and each could transform manufacturing. These technologies include advanced analytics and big data, cloud computing, smart mobile devices, 3D virtualization, IIOT, social technologies, and additive manufacturing (3D printing).
“To be sure, they all tend to interact with, supplement, and reinforce each other, but it is useful to focus on each separately as well. So the answer to the question about using all the data, while related to the IIOT, is also part of a larger question. At ARC, we think that companies will increasingly use available advanced analytics tools and technologies across various levels and applications throughout the enterprise. It is a key enabling technology to being information-driven. But if you focus on the IIOT dimension, you will see changes in asset availability and uptime, improved operational performance, reduced energy consumption, reductions in capital expenditures for industrial assets, and more,” notes Greg Gorbach, vice president at the firm.
ARC has recently published a report entitled “ARC Technology Forecast for the Industrial Internet of Things” that helps end users assess technologies in the areas of smart devices and assets, platforms and software, security, network connectivity, and analytics, along with design and engineering tools, for usefulness and adoption rate. See: http://goo.gl/sVl7r1.
Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.