Companies taking up the digitisation challenge drive more profitable businesses

The industrial automation space has traditionally been conservative, with a focus on reliability and high availability.

Today, many production plants, facilities and industrial businesses expect real-time, connected and mobile digital experience combined with the traditional principles of data resilience and availability in order to meet their production needs.

Consider this industrial scenario: during morning planning, an operations manager is reviewing the plant's overnight performance on their tablet. They notice that the site's weekly Overall Equipment Effectiveness has dropped significantly.

One touch data mining enables them to drill into this KPI and identify the origin of this drop in productivity. Additionally, the operations manager can pinpoint the common cause of these failures discovers it is due to breakdown of a critical process pump motor and flags it for action.

Continuing this scenario, the operator at the centralised operations centre is reviewing the control screen and notices the action flag from the operations manager.

After confirming the failures on the critical process pump motor, a single click takes the operator to the motor's temperature and control history. This information allows the operator to easily identify a consistent problem of fluctuating high temperatures.

To rectify the situation, a maintenance engineer is required on-site to troubleshoot the problem whilst the over-temperature situation is occurring.

With a second click, the operator drills down into the associated variable speed drive configuration and sets a high temperature alarm that will trigger before the motor trips.

This alarm will alert the maintenance engineer and allow enough time to access the site for troubleshooting. The operator initiates a work order request to advise the maintenance engineer, describe the issue and the actions he has taken in setting the high temperature alarm.

The scenario continues on the actual production site where the maintenance engineer views his tablet to register the work order request that the operator initiated.

Without wasting time, the engineer continues with his routine maintenance until he is notified of the high temperature alarm. On arriving at the critical process pump, the engineer accesses the remote control station.

With a touch, the motor control data for the pump is visible. The engineer confirms the fault and the motor controller is quickly replaced, detected automatically on the process control system, and the 100 plus complex parameters are downloaded as the engineer watches.

The engineer restarts the plant and confirms the motor performance on the remote control station.

Multiple workflows of different roles

The above scenario encapsulates a complicated yet typical workflow between three roles within an industrial business; a process that is streamlined through the use of technology.

Not only are the multiple workflows of the different roles managed in the digital domain but the seamless interoperability across the entire process control system enables the rapid identification of production losses, root cause and immediate rectification of the fault – all minimising process downtime, the key contributor to profitability.

These integrated solutions featuring enterprise-wide centralised control, mobile technologies and industrialised PCs at local control stations form the backbone of industrial digitisation. Putting it simply with industrial digitisation, what used to take hours (if not days), now takes minutes.

The first critical piece of the industrial digitisation architecture is enterprise-wide centralised control. This can be achieved through the consolidation of disparate site-based monitoring, control and operations intelligence solutions into one holistic production management system that operates across all sites in the demand chain.

While obviously decreasing the cost of ownership of the automation assets, increased collaboration across the systems, processes and personnel leads to higher operational effectiveness and broader collaboration in maintenance, scheduling and planning.

Centralised control also embeds standardisation in automation across the demand chain – emphasising the need for common visualisation and control standards.

For example, when multiple sites have the same pumps performing the same task, each pump requires both identical visualisation in the SCADA and also common control functionality to ensure they are operated correctly, and safely, from the centralised control centre.

The second critical piece of industrial digitisation leverages the strength of mobility solutions, such as tablets and smart phones, which provide the flexibility necessary when consolidating operations for centralised control.

In the scenario above, operations managers and maintenance engineers access information remotely, make decisions and act based on real-time information at the right time.

Using these wireless devices to provide data in real-time enables higher operational performance. When considering mobility, the security, in addition to the accessibility of information, must be embedded within the system.

Critical to centralised control and the strength of this industrial digitisation model is the localised, industrialised PC (iPC) in local control stations. As the historical, site-based control rooms are replaced by enterprise-wide centralised control, the need for on-site visibility into the process control system remains critical.

To fill the local gap, control moves from the site-based control room into the production process itself. This extends the monitoring and control capability directly into the plant.

This delivers visibility of both the SCADA production data and the environmental or physical input required for operations or maintenance teams on-site.

This is the third key piece of the industrial digitisation architecture, and is particularly critical for production processes requiring high maintenance activities together with the need for digital visibility (SCADA).

For digitisation to be directly located with the physical process (which is often dusty, wet or subject to high vibration), iPCs have evolved into rugged, strengthened, rust resistant solutions. In addition, particularly in the mining industry, iPCs are required to have high visibility touchscreens that can be viewed in direct sunlight.

Enterprise-wide centralised control

These requirements are becoming standard across iPCs, and targeted iPCs are being bundled and pre-built with operating system and SCADA software.

Enterprise-wide centralised control combined with mobility solutions and local control stations (iPCs) architectures are the fundamental building blocks for industrial digitalisation.

With these in place, industrial businesses are leveraging the rapid paced digital world – effectively combining the real-time, connected and mobile, digital experience with traditional industrial automation principles of data resilience and high availability.

Industrial companies that take up the industrial digitisation challenge drive more effective, agile and ultimately profitable businesses as their workflows are streamlined across their operations.

These architectural building blocks form the beginning, not the end, of the industrial digitisation story. The next step is to understand the significant importance of interoperability, information transparency and the critical nature of open standards, together with digital security.

Alison Koh is Solutions Marketing Manager, Schneider ElectricAlison Koh is Solutions Marketing Manager, Schneider Electric

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