Most of us involved in the chemical process industries (CPI) are familiar with — to varying degrees — the industrial internet of things (IIoT). Also known as Industry 4.0 and more recently as industrial digitalization, the movement toward connecting more and more aspects of industrial plants is being enabled by tools that are becoming available at an ever increasing pace. It can be a chore to keep up with the latest developments, and particularly, how they might relate to the CPI. The recent Connected Plant Conference (February 26–28, 2018; Charlotte, N.C.; www.connectedplantconference.com) provided a resource for this information in one place. Professionals from the chemical process and power generation industries convened to take a deep dive into digitalization within their respective industries.
The Connected Plant Conference
Attendees heard from both users and vendors, who shared information about the latest tools and how they are being implemented. Both success stories and “learning experiences” were shared. For example, the use of drones to help create impressive 3-D images of hard-to-access places that can be used to check maintenance needs was demonstrated. Practical information about what is actually needed to fly drones and prevent crashing, based on some initial failures, was also shared.
The economic aspect of how to make the business case for digitalization was addressed by a number of speakers. Craig Harclerode with OSIsoft Inc. drove the point home when he talked about the “4M” or “Make Me More Money” approach. That phrase resounded with several speakers.
Diving into big data analytics was the topic addressed by Yves Gorat Stommel, with Evonik Corp. Stommel presented the approach his company took, which involved starting with a predictive maintenance application. This, he explained, is seen as a learning process and entry point into advanced analytics, which can lead to bigger goals like process optimization. He elaborated on how the technological, organizational and economic questions surrounding change and implementation of new technologies can lead to gridlock and slow or no progress, and that it is necessary to accept some uncertainty in the initial steps and investment.
Vince Ward, with The Dow Chemical Company, discussed choice and implementation of mobile devices. Improvements in data entry accuracy and efficiency, the ability to access operational information when needed, safety upgrades such as with personnel location and monitoring, as well as faster training with digital instruction were all cited as advantages of going digital.
The human side of digitalization
While much attention was given to the technologies of digitalization at the conference, the human side was also addressed. Sree Hameed from Schneider Electric Software spoke of addressing structural problems and the importance that the work process and culture play in achieving our goals. He quoted General Colin Powell who said, “Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved.”
In addition to learning about digital connectivity, attending the Connected Plant Conference offered the chance to make connections with people, who are ultimately the drivers for success.■
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