Process Experts Discuss Digitalization Trends
From energy transition to an aging workforce, analyzing data paves the way
Industry leaders say there’s no question about it: Digital trends are here to stay.
Chemical manufacturing companies embarking on their digitalization journey will encounter many of the same trends along the way. According to McKinsey, three digital transformation trends—massive advances in technology, rapidly changing customer requirements, and increasing pressure to keep costs low—are universal for companies in the chemical industry.
The topic of digitalization trends has become popular around the company watercooler as well as at industry-focused events. Digitalization took center stage at two conferences in May. AVEVA PI World, held at the RAI Convention Center in Amsterdam, welcomed industry leaders to a discussion on digital transition. On the other side of the Atlantic, experts gathered at the Sixth Annual Connected Plant Conference, held at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel in Atlanta, for a similar discussion. The U.S. event catered to the chemical processing and power generation industries.
Process experts learned that while Industry 4.0 technology offers the promise of reduced costs, greater efficiency, energy savings, and carbon footprint reduction, the improvements do not necessarily happen overnight. Instead, changes happen over time as companies increase their digital maturity level and move toward a fully data-driven, smart factory.
One of the hallmarks of digitalization has been the vast quantity of data that companies now have to sort, store, and analyze. Organizations can become overwhelmed with data when they first begin their digital journey. Meanwhile, industry leaders also say organizations need to be able to analyze data as efficiently as possible to realize cost savings, efficiency savings, and so forth.
Sensors on processes throughout the plant produce enormous amounts of time-series data. Companies also have operational data in separate business systems managed by separate departments. During a digital transformation, industry leaders say companies must unlock the data that is trapped in these separate silos and prepare to integrate data sources to become more efficient.
To prepare for the integration, companies spend a significant amount of time researching various analysis solutions. While lots of tools offer data integration opportunities with multiple platforms, industry experts say companies should seek to unify their data into a single platform. Having the data in a central location eliminates the need for process experts to switch back and forth between solutions. Software that enables this type of integration is advantageous to industrial manufacturers, according to industry leaders.
At the same time, the data residing in these sources can provide additional insight about process behavior. This contextual data can complement time-series data to give process experts a more complete view of how business decisions affect process performance. For example, contextual information might include batch records, product quality data, shift logbook information, or maintenance data. When contextual data is accessible and ready, companies can use it to improve operational performance.
Saving this information in an advanced analytics solution has additional benefits. As companies struggle with turnover and an aging workforce, companies can use contextual data to establish benchmarks and best practices for certain tasks. Industry leaders say this helps diminish the learning curve when onboarding new employees. As engineers join the team, the contextual information will help them understand the data much quicker, which, in turn, will speed up analysis.
According to industry experts, the best way to prevent getting overwhelmed during a digitalization journey is to start small and work toward larger adoption. Choosing someone to be accountable for the initiative ensures digital transformation goals are defined clearly. Once goals are defined, companies can start with bite-size, tangible gains that show real financial outcomes.
Organizations that choose an advanced analytics solution that will grow with them have better chances of succeeding, experts say. The solutions not only should be able to match the scalability of the company, but also integrate with complementary technology as companies continue to add to their digital spend.
As digitalization trends continue to dominate conversations about sustainability and operational performance, companies that choose a centralized, scalable next generation production client are less likely to become overwhelmed in data, and more likely to succeed in their digitalization journey.