The global pandemic was, perhaps, the single greatest driver of digital transformation we will ever see. Nearly overnight process manufacturers needed to find ways to continue to operate when key personnel couldn’t be in the building. This led to an increased and immediate investment in automated solutions to help monitor and maintain plant equipment and operations to ensure personnel shortages didn’t disrupt 24×7 operations.
However, as Emerson’s Erik Lindhjem details in his recent article in Efficient Plant magazine, the effects of the pandemic may be receding, but personnel shortages are not. The plants that win the future of manufacturing will be those that continue to expand the digital transformation foundation they built during the pandemic.
Working together for greater connectivity
When restrictions forced personnel out of the plant, they needed ways to stay connected to keep processes running at peak performance. Most plants had begun doing this well before the pandemic but had varying levels of architecture in place. Erik explains how that rapidly began to change,
“Nearly overnight, process manufacturers around the globe began to scale up their online-monitoring pilot projects. Many implemented edge-analytics devices and predictive-intelligence software solutions to deliver critical data to key personnel who could no longer sit in the control room. Teams also installed more sensors and connected them to cloud-enabled asset-management software. Cloud capability enabled offsite personnel to continuously monitor asset health and receive intuitive alerts when asset performance deteriorated.”
But operations teams did not build this connected architecture by themselves. It required close partnership with information technology (IT) to quickly build secure solutions to enable remote work. Often, these connectivity methods were built on consumer-grade IT solutions, which worked, but were not designed for industrial operations, limiting their capability to create a more mobile, digital workforce. Erik explains,
“Fully unlocking these capabilities, and ensuring they work efficiently and reliably across the plant equipment lifecycle, requires further collaboration with IT to use technology to not only remotely connect to data, but also to organize and contextualize it to continuously improve insights into the health and reliability of plant operations.”
More mobility drives many benefits
Some of the benefits of a more mobile, digital workforce are obvious. Increased visibility fosters better awareness of asset and plant health which drives more informed decision making. These improved decisions in turn help improve efficiency and productivity, increasing throughput and saving money with lower lifecycle costs and fewer production outages. As Erik describes it,
“Using data from sensors, maintenance records, inspection notes, computerized maintenance-management systems, and calibration data, reliability teams can better understand what is happening, empowering them to identify, isolate, and solve the plant’s biggest problems.”
But there are other benefits that may not be as obvious. Today’s process manufacturing plants are focused on more than just the bottom line. Corporate goals and social expectations are driving plants toward more sustainable operations. And while the biggest and most obvious sustainability initiatives—solar, hydrogen, and wind-power overhauls—are not yet in the cards for many organizations,
“Moving toward more sustainable operations need not start with massive, groundbreaking projects. Sustainability and reliability are intertwined and making small strides in reliability often results in increased sustainability operation. Those reliability strides are often unlocked by moves the plant is already making toward a connected, digital workforce.”
Those small strides are driven by the automated condition monitoring technologies plants have already put in place. Technologies such as Emerson’s AMS Asset Monitor with edge analytics capabilities and AMS Machine Works software coupled with AMS Wireless Vibration Monitors can help personnel keep a pulse on overall plant health and drive more sustainable, reliable operations across the plant’s lifecycle.
Erik goes into much greater detail—including specific examples of how improved reliability helps the bottom line while increasing sustainability—in the full article at Efficient Plant. Check it out to learn how you can leverage the remote monitoring investments you’ve already made to drive even more reliability and sustainability.