Chemical and other process plants can gain substantial benefits from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). However, sites often struggle when implementing an IIoT application — particularly when engineers who aren’t automation specialists tackle such a project. They frequently face challenges in five areas:
1. Technology. There are many technical buzzwords, and some vendors may say they can solve all your technical problems. However, what’s right for your organization? Can you leverage any of your existing infrastructure?
2. Networking. What things should you use IIoT to connect, and how? Will these connections be secure? How does this change the Purdue Model (the hierarchical architecture of information flow in an enterprise)?
3. Organization. Many IIoT projects span areas handled by operation technology (OT) and information technology (IT) groups. How do you leverage the benefits of automation for the entire organization by getting these groups to work together?
4. Sustainability. How do you start small while still preserving scalability? How do you maximize uptime? How do you maintain the system?
5. Business Case. How do you justify infrastructure, applications and change management by showing a positive bottom-line impact?
Many plants and processing companies are very siloed — with responsibilities separated among diverse groups such as ones for process equipment, control systems, instrumentation, reliability, operations, safety, finance, accounting and management. However, maximizing IIoT benefits requires cross-functional coordination.
When you look at the IIoT through a cross-functional lens as depicted in Figure 1, the challenge seems formidable.
Thankfully, there’s a methodology for simplifying IIoT implementation, making it understandable for the typical process engineer in a chemical plant.
The first step toward simplification and understanding is to adopt an application model to evaluate possibilities. In general, IIoT options automate the collection of data from the field, process these data, and then deliver the results to the right person for corrective action. Figure 2 represents a simple see-decide-act model scalable from a single process unit to the enterprise level, and applicable to any functional work group.
Using this simple model, it’s possible to create: a list of cross-functional applications starting with current initiatives; a report to detail requirements to achieve top-quartile performance; and a compendium of complaints, desires and pains from various departments such as operations, maintenance, safety and environmental. This also is the appropriate time to put together a cross-functional working group with representatives from all these areas.
Calculating Annual Savings
Determining the return on investment (ROI) and business justification for an entire IIoT implementation can be difficult. Thus, it’s best to break the task up by application (e.g., as in Table 1). Typically, one or two key applications can justify an initial IIoT infrastructure installation — and reduce the cost of implementing subsequent applications.
For example, suppose a plant must monitor 100 pressure relief valves (PRVs) for compliance but has no wireless instrument infrastructure. The typical cost of a wired installation is $18,000 per point while a wireless implementation is $3,000 per point, which includes adding the wireless infrastructure. (The cost for wireless PRV monitoring breaks down to about one-third for wireless acoustic instruments to detect valve lifts and two-thirds for the new wireless infrastructure.) Opting for wireless would result in $1.5 million in project savings — or more if the wireless infrastructure spending is amortized over other projects. In many situations, an IIoT infrastructure will pay for itself through project savings and ongoing operational benefits from just a single application.