IIoT Spurs Vendor Collaboration

Alliances allow chemical makers to more easily pursue digitalization opportunities

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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The promise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIotT) is so huge that vendors are realizing they must team up to offer customers a more comprehensive way to take advantage of digitalization. For instance, Rockwell Automation, AspenTech and Endress+Hauser exemplify how collaborations with data acquisition and analysis companies are easing chemical makers’ efforts to use the IIoT for asset optimization.

Technical advances and their successful uptake by other sectors are prompting a cultural change in the chemical industry, believes Gordon Bordelon, Greenville, S.C-based global chemical industry technical consultant with Rockwell Automation. “It’s a shift towards more agile plant performance and to getting more competitive with their existing plant assets. We are starting to see real gains in the industry,” he says.

Two other factors also are in play, he adds. First is the human capital issue. “Thirty percent of experienced operations staff are set to retire in the coming years. You need to capture their best practices and, at the same time, get the best data possible out of the plant so that you can empower the new generation of young operators hungry for data.”

The second is a big drive in the specialty/batch area to change products by tailoring molecules to specific customers and applications. “This requires a real agility and flexibility in the manufacturing process to adopt change, which in turn means better leveraging automation technologies,” he notes.

At the same time, there’s been a huge upsurge in the technologies available, with many different software companies offering innovative ways to gather and aggregate data, plus more advanced analytics techniques that all are enabling the rise of the IIoT.

“However, as a company, we can’t have too varied a technology stack. So, we have to decide on which enabling technologies can be added for the benefit of our chemical industry customers. That has been the driver behind our different partnerships and strategic alliances,” he explains.

Bordelon points to the partnership with software specialist PTC, Needham, Mass., as being key in this respect.

“This partnership is all about enabling plant asset connectivity. A typical chemical plant today might have assets supplied and controlled by a dozen or more different vendors. The PTC portfolio can help with connectivity of disparate systems from multiple vendors and aggregate all this data and provide real-time insights. Operations today expect data on-demand, which is intuitive and can be securely served up on mobile devices anywhere in the enterprise. This is especially true for operators and maintenance personnel,” he stresses.

Rockwell also has a strategic alliance with Endress+Hauser (E+H), Reinach, Switzerland. With so much chemical industry data coming from instrumentation such as temperature, pressure, flow, level and other sensors and transmitters, the two have worked together to integrate E+H’s instrumentation portfolio with Rockwell’s automation architecture.

“What you get is a very straightforward application that ensures much better quality data that can be integrated and displayed through our HMI [human/machine interface] screen real-time and in an intuitive manner. This empowers operators and, for example, makes maintenance much quicker because the pertinent information is so easily accessed. This drives down mean time to repair (MTTR) and increases asset utilization.”

Rockwell Automation also leverages its PartnerNetwork programs to find and develop other enabling technologies.

For example, the company uses the PI historian from OSIsoft, San Leandro, Calif., to tie in its own visualization, analytics and reporting packages — giving users real-time insights into their processes. “PI is a fantastic tool for capturing, analyzing, visualizing and sharing large amounts of high-fidelity time-series data from multiple sources to people and systems across all operations — and there was no point in us recreating the wheel,” says Bordelon.

Other alliances include Cisco, San Jose, Calif.; Microsoft, Redmond, Wash.; and Panduit, Tinley Park, Ill. With a huge and growing emphasis on cybersecurity, Rockwell is working with all three to develop standard reference architectures and tools for how to protect industrial networks. “Today, chemical customers are looking to adapt IT/OT [information technology/operational technology] convergence to access data through a secure and standard unmodified Ethernet. Cisco is heavily involved in this, too” he adds.

Panduit’s expertise in turnkey industrial data centers (IDCs) also is important to Rockwell. “These preconfigured, fully assembled and tested IDCs are a cost-effective solution for chemical producers to build their modern infrastructure with. They are experts in deploying high-speed networks, Ethernet and data centers that OT folks on chemical plant floors don’t have experience with,” he notes.

One PartnerNetwork strategy that Bordelon believes is unique is Rockwell’s use of solution partners (SPs) and solution integrators (SIs). “Often former workers from the local customer facility, they know the production facilities intimately and understand the processes and challenges involved. We find that this is a very powerful way to ensure that our technology is implemented.”

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