Automation IIoT

Enter The IIoT Your Way

EP Editorial Staff | September 19, 2019

Small steps can help move your operation down the digital-transformation path.

While much has been written in recent years about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), adoption hasn’t been universal or rapid. There are many factors that go into automating and digitalizing plants that have been around for decades and are operating on legacy equipment and an established — though not necessarily modernized — infrastructure.

Several facilities still struggle with manually collected data, as was recently highlighted in a survey conducted by the technology company Plutoshift, Palo Alto, CA (plutoshift.com). The study indicated that 48% of respondents still rely on spreadsheets or manual data-entry documents, and only 40% said their companies collect data by way of remote sensors.

INCREMENTAL CHANGES

If the Plutoshift survey findings are reflective of the situation in your plant, there’s still no need to force a full-scale digital transformation upon it in one fell swoop. Some incremental changes in the way things are done within the operation can go a long way toward leveraging the IIoT. Think of these changes as “smaller steps.”

Consider data-management, -analysis, and -insight strategies. Data is the driving force in plant operations. It’s what guides decisions and lets engineers and technicians know when processes are not running optimally. Using spreadsheets or other manual tracking systems, however, is not an efficient or effective method to achieve process optimization.

The time lost between information gathering and actionable insights can mean that a process is so far out of alignment that the only solution for fixing it is a shutdown. Shutdowns, for whatever reason, are always expensive and something that plant managers seek to avoid while still maintaining safety and regulatory standards.

Consider remote sensors. As mentioned previously, less than half of all plants in the Plutoshift survey reported using remote sensors to collect data. This indicates there might still be a barrier to entry in the industry. But is the barrier caused only by aging equipment or by a distrust of new technology? Management and engineers may well be concerned about data security when transmitting wirelessly.

A simple solution to mitigating risk is to use devices with data diodes that establish a unidirectional security gateway. By combining the gateway with appropriate protocol translations, simple systems can be constructed that allow the highly secure and trusted transfer of data from gateways that are communicating directly to sensors.

Consider software applications (apps). Sensors with remote data-transfer features such as WirelessHART, won’t require a costly plant overhaul. With the right sensors in place—with secure data diodes onboard—data can be collected wirelessly on laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

With a set of software applications that load onto a dashboard, data can be viewed at the touch of a button. A customizable dashboard can display real-time data on a variety of devices, offering a snapshot overview of production processes. By programming the system with parameters that meet safety and production standards within preset device specifications, it can alert personnel to anomalies that might indicate meter or process problems.

Having data from multiple devices on one dashboard provides immediate access to clear, actionable information, including:

• meter health
how much is flowing through each meter
deviations from set parameters
alerts warning of critical issues that require immediate attention.

Using apps is the most cost-effective, simple way to optimize production and increase efficiency, relieving some of the burden on technicians and engineers to maintain safe and effective systems. Purpose-built software for each asset in the plant that needs regular monitoring will save time and money if such data can be accessed remotely.

CONNECTIVITY ISSUES

Digitally connected devices form the web of information within a plant that provides real-time data to ensure decisions are made quickly and with the right information. Better connectivity and access to data allows better scheduling of maintenance and anticipation of the needs for equipment upgrades or replacement, all without causing process upsets.

Ultimately, the greater efficiencies that connectivity offers will translate into significant cost savings on maintenance and man-hours, as well as increased safety for the plant and personnel. Without the need to manually review meter/sensor data, there are fewer opportunities for personnel to be injured in the plant or field.

Data is immediately actionable without waiting for it to be entered and sorted. This cannot be overstressed—the ability to have real-time data at one’s fingertips is a game changer. Leveraging available data through software applications that offer intelligence, security, scalability, and immediate insights allows peak-process optimization.

Another valuable benefit comes from the fact that the new generation of workers in plants is made up of digital native; they grew up with technology and expect information to be available through apps. They won’t need much training to get up to speed with such solutions, thus reducing the time needed to learn their jobs.

NO BIG, RISKY LEAPS

Entry into the world of IIoT and the promise of next-level productivity can be accomplished through small steps that will pay big dividends. In short, there is no need for massive capital expenses to invest in technology upgrades that may not meet a plant’s needs, not to mention require expensive training of personnel. Initiating major changes at great expense is not always an option, especially in industries with strong market fluctuations, such as oil and gas. Implementing smaller, software- and sensor-based changes can meet the needs of modernization while larger, i.e., infrastructure, changes can come at a more gradual pace. EP

This information was provided by Emerson Flow Solutions, St. Louis. To learn more about equipment-monitoring and -control topics, visit emersonflowsolutions.com.

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