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Opportunities with Automation

by | Oct 20, 2021 | Digital Transformation, Sustainability

Jonas Berge

Jonas Berge

Senior Director, Applied Technology

New automation helps meeting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social and corporate Governance (ESG) commitments to sustainability. New automation helps plants operate safer during COVID through digital transformation (DX) of routine work. New automation enables autonomous operation, remote sites running unmanned for long periods of time. New automation enables plant modernization by preparing the control system for these changes.


Fossil fuels and feedstocks will be with us for a long time. Existing plants must therefore improve their energy efficiency to reduce scope 1 and 2 CO2 emissions. Digital transformation solutions can automate many tasks related to plant energy management. Brownfield sites now deploy Energy Management Information System (EMIS) software, performance analytics for equipment like heat exchangers, and health analytics for steam traps and relief valves. Add-in flowmeters and wireless sensors are also deployed to automate data collection. This is HyperAutomation for sustainability by reducing energy intensity and carbon footprint.

In the energy transition to go green by reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, companies in the renewable energy industries are building new plants for hydrogen and ammonia production including electrolyzers powered by wind and solar, and reformers with Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS) to be carbon-neutral, as well as pipeline grid, transportation, storage terminals, and MW-scale fuel cell power generation. It is new decarbonization infrastructure for a new value chain and a net-zero carbon economy to combat climate change. Hydrogen and ammonia are used in many industrial processes, so Emerson has taken our decades of experience in hydrogen and ammonia production and use from other industries and we apply it to these new energy and power economies. Production of hydrogen and ammonia requires a wide range of automation components. Some are specialized for hydrogen. As a long-term supplier to the fertilizer and chemical industry Emerson has these proven solutions for a new industry. This is Emerson’s Greening by‘ initiative.

Digital Transformation

Although the production process in most plants is fully controlled by automation, there are still lots of manual tasks in a plant such as maintenance and reliability inspection, loss control, safety checks, and operator rounds to name a few. Digital transformation is automation beyond the P&ID; HyperAutomation. Digitalization executed as originally proposed was slow and costly. Now there is a better way. Plants deploy a second layer of automation along the lines of the NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA). This starts by sensing every part of the plant to get real-time equipment data through permanent sensing with advanced sensors which are wireless and non-intrusive. Industrial WirelessHART gateways support HART-IP, Modbus/TCP, and OPC-UA for easy integration into existing systems and new software on-premises or in the cloud. Plants deploy use-case solution one at a time, quickly and at low cost.

By securely integrating many previously isolated systems across multiple plants into a common operational infrastructure and OT data lake more efficient operation and maintenance of large complexes becomes possible. Personnel can collaborate closely and become more effective with all the information they need on a single personalized dashboard. Thoughtful use of structured architecture, cloud platforms, edge computing, OT data lake, proven software solutions, and various forms of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to ensure ease-of-use is key to successful deployment and adoption.

Autonomous Operation

Many industries like oil & gas, water & wastewater, pipelines, and industrial gases have multiple remote sites. Often unmanned, increasingly operated and managed from an integrated operations (iOps) center. Large power plants are managed from fleet management centers. Hydrogen production and fuel cell power plants are, at least for now, smaller than their fossil counterparts. Hence there will be lots of them, so they will also be remote and unmanned. Since no one is at site, reliably predicting problems in advance is very important. Autonomous operation means no routine visits, and this requires not only automatic process control but also automatic equipment monitoring and prediction. Therefore plants deploy predictive analytics software solutions and add in sensors on equipment at site for data collection.

Plant Modernization

Plants already have a process automation system, but off-spec product still happens, and incidents occur. And there are other challenges. Plants will soon have to add new process units such as for carbon capture. Getting data out of legacy DCS into new automation software was notoriously difficult. The market demands new products and different grades, old automation components must be replaced, cyber-attack threats are emerging, and the number of servers for various function keeps growing. Plants also struggle with knowledge retention as experienced operators retire. Workers expect to be able check process from their mobile. Plants now modernize their automation systems to get support for the VDI/VDE/NAMUR 2658 Module Type Package (MTP) standard based on IEC62714 AutomationML (AML) for integration of package units over OPC-UA. A modern DCS embracing OPC-UA data integration also gets data out to other systems that needs it. That is, open integration while preserving robustness of the DCS at upgrades. New automation, new standards. Other important characteristics of a modern control system includes new advanced control and more accurate flowmeters and higher performance valves for tighter control, as well as better alarm management for improved visibility and reduced risk, better batch control for greater flexibility, Ethernet interfaces instead of RS485 to be compatible with new components, certified for cybersecurity, Digital Twin for simulation for testing and operator training, mobile on-the-go access anywhere, and virtualization of servers. Plants replace package units PLCs with standalone DCS controllers for the same reason.


These opportunities are all about automation, and lots of it; HyperAutomation. Your corporate engineering disciplines and your plant’s I&C team are subject matter experts in plant automation. Most have already deployed WirelessHART sensor networks and many also predictive analytics. Now is the time to scale it out across the plants.

Find out more at the Emerson Exchange Asia Pacific virtual conference, October 26 to 28. We have over 100 sessions as we gather Emerson’s Users’ community to exchange learnings and drive further evolution of the industrial automation industry. Register today.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.