Emerson’s John Sanders joins our continuing series of podcasts to share his insights on the process of effectively planning and executing plant shutdowns, turnarounds and outages. He also shares a surprising passion about chasing tornadoes, so make sure to listen in!
We hope you enjoy this podcast and please send me a note about other Emerson experts you’d like to hear from.
Jim: Welcome to the Emerson Automation Expert’s podcast series. I’m Jim Cahill and today I’m joined by John Sanders. John is Emerson’s global director of shutdowns, turnarounds, and outages. He has a business degree from St. Cloud State University and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas and has been with Emerson for almost 20 years. Welcome, John.
John: Thanks, Jim. I appreciate you having me on today.
Jim: Well, it’s great you could join us. I always like to start with our Emerson experts by asking what made you decide to pursue a career in services in the process manufacturing industries?
John: Well, that’s a great question. Most of my career I spent at Rosemount supporting the instrumentation there. So a lot of my career was spent talking to customers about the instrumentation needs. Now it’s always about the devices. And what I’ve learned over time is that customers…really there was a big gap when it came to once they get the devices, how do they maintain them? How do they utilize them and leverage all the technology, the bells and whistles that come with them? So I really saw a big gap and opportunity there for Emerson to help our customers better understand the technology, be able to leverage our technology better which in the end you know it supports the brand, it strengthens the brand. So that’s why I saw a good opportunity to help our customers.
Jim: Yeah and that’s so important. You can have the best technology in the world and if you’re not applying it to deliver the value that it can then you’re not getting what you can from it. So that’s really good. So tell us about some of the market trends and opportunities you’re hearing from these manufacturers that you interact with looking around these lifecycle services.
John: Oh, I’ll tell you I’ve always sought after talking to customers and interacting with them just because you know that’s how we learn. That’s how we learn what their needs are. And whenever talking with customers it seems just as we’ve all heard they’re losing a lot of personnel. You know tenured, senior technicians that know the plant inside and out, they’re losing all that experience and knowledge. And so what I’m hearing from manufacturers is they’re looking for experienced technicians and experienced automation professionals that can come into there and supplement their feet on the ground in there. And again, it’s more than just turning the ranch but it’s that level of knowledge. You know I get this question all the time from customers, “Well, what level technician are these guys?” And the first thing I tell them is, “They’re tenured, they’re certified, these guys aren’t you know fly-by-night technicians, they’re very experienced, they’ve been certified by the manufacturer and there’s an ongoing education program for them as well.”
So it’s really important for our customers to understand that our technicians are extremely experienced, extremely educated and they don’t have to worry that when we come to their plant we’re gonna bring a culture of safety and we’re gonna bring all that experience to their site to work on their equipment. And that’s what I see that’s really important to them.
Jim: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. The way we can supplement in that way. Given this rapidly advancing technology landscape that we all find ourselves whether in our personal area or in the world of industrial automation, how are digital transformations and IIoT changing the way we as Emerson engage with our customers?
John: Well, I tell you we’ve shifted the conversation. That’s what we’ve done. We’re able to broaden the scope of the conversation. Instead of talking about only automation assets, so only instruments, only valves, only rotating machinery, instead of just talking about that, we’re moving towards a conversation of what are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish? Because now that we have this digitization of data and analytics and connectivity and mobility in the plant now we can start leveraging that along with our products and be able to offer them a bigger solution when it comes to what they’re trying to accomplish. So it’s something we refer to an outcome-based performance for the customer.
So we’re shifting from a product to an outcome-base and that is how we’re able to do it because we have the products. Now we have the digital capabilities, like I said before, the connectivity, mobility, the digitization of data and analytics. So that’s how we’re kind of able to do that now. And customers are very…they embrace that conversation because they know we can provide that solution to them.
Jim: And I guess in your realm as leading some of our work with customers in shutdowns, turnarounds and outages, how is this digital transformation changing the way we engage in that area?
John: Well, that’s a good question. When you look at shutdowns, turnarounds, and outages so STOs, there is a very precise seven-step process we take our customers through. And we just put a framework to it they go through the process and so we put a structure to it. And the way we’re leveraging the digital transformation is first we identified the three key areas to the biggest challenges customers have. And that’s a work scope development, the planning and scheduling and then the execution. So those are the three areas that the customers perform and execute these STOs that they feel are the biggest challenges. So we’ve applied this digital capability to those three areas specifically to address all those pained and help them reach their goals you know their KPIs [key performance indicators]. they set forth in the planning stages of an STO.
One of the things that we’ve done is we’ve looked at when it comes to work scope development how can we make them or enable them to be more efficient, more precise? Because all that planning upfront cascades down. And the better planning and identification of the needs that you have upfront will cascade down in terms of better efficiency, more accurate planning for equipment, for processes, for you know all that type of stuff that happens when you’re actually executing that STO. So we put together a digital mobile walk-down app that has really digitized the install based…not only the installed based, Jim, but it collects a lot more information than what they’ve typically done on a walk-down with a clipboard pencil, and paper. So we collect information about the device, the manufacturer, about the equipment that’s gonna be needed during the execution, because that’s part of the planning and scheduling as well and that’s something that we didn’t think was that important when we were putting this app together.
But when I was talking to Oxy down in Texas about a month and a half ago I was doing a demo of the app and he said, “Oh, that’s great that you identified that need in the app because you know scaffolding is such a headache when we’re looking at planning and it can really be a nuisance when we’re actually in the outage or turnaround.” So it’s stuff like that, the digitized install base of the equipment and then getting all this additional information and then, in the end, the app for each device after all the data is collected on each device it prioritizes the level of need for that specific device based upon the data.
So there are analytics in the background or lookup tables as you’re going through the specific pieces of data for that device. At the end, it will prioritize for the customer, you know good, questionable or in need of so they can start to use that for their prioritization of the work scope development. So that’s been a fantastic tool that we’ve built for our service organization to allow our customers to make those data-driven decisions for the STOs.
Jim: Yeah and it just sounds like the more that can be done in the calm of the planning phase because once you get into this shutdown, turnaround or outage and just trying to get everything done that needs doing and missing any kind of detail or something like that just seems so challenging there. So it sounds like that mobility app tool is a great way to really flesh out and get all the things that need to be thought about early into the plan and the schedule for what needs to be done.
John: Yeah. And just one additional point to that too is during the walk-down with this mobile app we can provide reports to customers on a fly. So let’s say there’s a multi-unit walk-down being performed that might take three or four weeks, if the customer wants to see either the status of the walk-down, what’s going on with the hundreds of devices being walked-down to the plant or if they want to see if there’s been a critical need identified, we can provide reports to the customers at the push of a button with that app that shoots a report right to their email so they’re connected. They’re connected to that walk-down as it occurs. Which is really cool. Customers when you tell me about that you can kind of see their eyes open up a little bit and kind of nod their head like, “Yeah.” You can just see the wheels turning on how they can use that in this new access to knowledge that they have.
So it’s pretty cool to see that in the customers’ eyes when you’re talking and telling them about these new tools and capabilities you’re enabling them with.
Jim: Yeah, that sounds really powerful. One of the things I like to ask everyone is just to tell us about a recent challenge. So what’s the recent challenge that you’ve been working on to solve?
John: So we could try to plan to the best of our ability, to the best of our knowledge, you know our technicians and engineers working on the plant with the customer to identify all this work scope, but inevitably you’re gonna have emergent work, which is the work that comes about between when the freeze of the work scope happens on the actual outage and also discovery work, which is defined as when you open up a valve or you look at some rotating equipment then you have surprises. And these aren’t good surprises. These are typically…they’re headaches. So we’ve been trying to figure out, “Okay, we’re going to have emergent and discovery work, how can we help the customer plan for the unplanned the better? And one of the ways that we’re looking to provide a solution for that is having onsite service capability.
So, why not bring a mobile workshop to the customer site where we can do machining? Maybe we can do additive manufacturing with 3-D printing. Maybe we can have some like high runners spares that we have available for them to walk up and you know Julian Annison, a consultant that works over in Europe for Emerson who is a previous end user, he did a study of when a pressure transmitter was identified when he was an end user how many touches it took from when they discovered the need there in the outage from when they were able to install it? And I believe he said they were 28 touches for just a pressure transmitter. And if we’re able to have that onsite inventory, he said it reduces itself down to seven or eight touches. So that’s just for pressure transmitter. Not a valve, not rotating equipment, not something that’s much more complex but just an instrument.
So you can imagine if we can bring this onsite service capability whether it’s a lathe or whether it’s testing and calibrating equipment or having inventory, whatever it may be, if we can have that capability onsite to address those bad surprises that come up during the execution, that can help the customer immensely and really reduce those headaches that occur which can attribute to large costs overruns and/or extension of the outage which by per day typically is about a million bucks. That’s something we’re working on right now and we have some great examples to build our concepts off of that we’ve been looking at and researching. So we’re pretty excited about this new capability.
Jim: That does sound exciting. That is amazing advancements in the art of how you go about getting these executed. And that’s about all this fun we have around our world of instrumentation, automation, optimization all that great stuff, what do you like to do in your spare time?
John: Oh my spare time? Well, I have three kids and a lovely wife so I cherish that time when I’m with them. We have a cabin on a lake about an hour from our house. So we’d love to go to and spend our summers in Minnesota which are…again we cherish that warm weather. So like to go there, spend the time on the water, on the beach, maybe doing some fishing and I’m also an avid gardener doing the vegetables my kids can help me with. And then during my alone time, believe it or not, I like to storm chase. So…
John: Yeah, I’m kind of a weather nut so when there’s some bad weather around like tornadoes I like to get a couple radios with me and get some charged up batteries for phones and cameras and try to go chase tornadoes in a safe manner of course. I bring safety with me at all times.
Jim: Well, that’s an encouraging thing. We need to do that. You’ve just piqued my curiosity with all of that. So do you ever travel outside? Like go into the states in between where you are and I am right now where they have all kinds of serious activity like Oklahoma and Kansas and in the Plains like that or pretty much around the area there in Minnesota?
John: Yeah, you know what? So we’re at the top of the Tornado Alley as they refer to it. So I get some activity up here but yeah nothing like in the heart of the United States. I haven’t been able to do that but someday I’m going to go on one of those tours or maybe even perhaps do it by myself and do some serious chasing. Some…yeah, that’s hardcore. But I’d like to do that sometime.
Jim: Well, if you ever get any video footage from when you get to be able to do that make sure I can get a copy so I can share it with everybody out there.
Jim: Okay. And I guess to wrap up, we have all kinds of new people coming into the industry as some of the boomers retire and everything else, so what advice or guidance would you have for someone entering the field especially in providing services to process manufacturers?
John: I would say in you know you hear this time and time again from everybody at the industry, you hear it from leadership at Emerson all the time, when it comes to service, just be there, ask questions and listen. Service is not rocket science. It’s you know if the customer has a need and it’s a true need and I feel at times that we’re not even having a conversation about service because we are such a strong and broad product company that these companies when you look at our installed base we have to protect that. We have to find ways to displace our competitors. These are aging infrastructure out there when it comes to our customers’ plants and sites so ask the questions about the services, the gap in personnel, it might be education that they need or training or it might be you know Emerson person onsite that’s needed all the time as more of a consultant. So just ask a question about service.
We need to. We have a full solution. We had the product before but now we have those Lifecycle Services that can really enhance and strengthen that partnership and commitment and the loyalty with the customer. So that would be my advice. Just ask a question and listen.
Jim: Well, that sounds like some great advice for folks coming in. Yeah, start with listening. Don’t come in there guns-a-blazing like you’re the expert on all things in there. So that’s very solid advice. Well, John thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your path and everything else and I’m sure a lot of folks here gained a lot from it. So thanks for joining us today.
John: Great. I appreciate the time and I look forward to the next one.
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