The loss of experienced personnel is being widely felt by manufacturers and producers in many parts of the world. Reasons include the aging demographics, the pandemic-induced changes in work practices and culture, and the changing economics many businesses face. Suppliers providing remote services is an important way to address this challenge.
In this Emerson Automation Experts podcast, Emerson’s Vladimir Nitu joins me to discuss how remote services can help drive business performance improvements in many areas—sustainability, reliability, safety, and production.
Have a listen to the podcast and visit the Connected Services section on Emerson.com to learn the many ways that these services can help you drive improved performance.
Jim: Hi everyone. I’m Jim Cahill with another Emerson Automation Experts podcast. It’s been a few years now since we heard a lot about digital transformation and discussions between information technology or IT and Operation Technology or OT collaboration and convergence.
The trend of IT technology making its way into more and more OT type applications is accelerating exponentially. This trend brings unlimited opportunities to contribute to a sustainable environment, increase plant safety and reliability in these challenging times. I’m joined today by Vladimir Nitu to discuss how remote services enables the efficient adoption of digitalization at the plant level.
Welcome to the podcast, Vlad.
Vladimir: Thank you for having me, Jim.
Jim: It’s great that you’re here. Joining us, let’s begin by asking you to share your educational background and path to your current role here at Emerson.
Vladimir: Sure. I’m a marketing guy actually. I have studies in PR and communication and I have a degree in as an electrical technician and in the electrical field.
And I have been driving business development activities for Emerson for the past years. For lifecycle services programs, actually. And in the past five or six years, I have been driving a program around remote services putting together a portfolio with our global teams and going to market with solutions for our customers.
Jim: So why are remote services important? What is the program all about?
Vladimir: Many players in major industries have strategies on consolidating a remote operations model, and remote services is helping with the implementation of new practices for site maintenance. For site troubleshooting is helping with new ways of starting up and commissioning a new plant or an installation.
It’s helping with reinventing the execution of a planned maintenance event such as a shadow and a turnaround. And our ambition is really to help customers achieve a state of a failure-free facility that is focused on safe, continuous operation. The program started with delivering condition monitoring for control valves and rotating equipment by sending device diagnostics to a cloud application and generating a report which we regularly informed the users on health and condition of their assets together with some recommendations.
And we shaped that into what is known as connected services. Following a data flow, very common in the automotive industry to facilitate real-time insights on the condition of a vehicle. We transitioned that philosophy and the piloted industrial plants to help move to proactive and predictive maintenance. Later on, our deliverables expanded into the program today, which is delivering advanced expertise remotely.
Jim: Okay, that’s a good overview of it. So what are some of the challenges we are trying to solve with remote expertise?
Vladimir: Remote support services and field services are converging, and that is a given for us.
Recent studies from TSIA in a document called the State of Field Service 2022 actually mentions that companies that invest in connectivity and remote operations capabilities have increased gross margins by an average of 34%. And this is where we look at two elements as core in this transition to digital plant. We look at resources and expertise.
These two are not always brought forward, these critical factors in the digitalization process. But the reality is that staff today might need to develop new skill sets. New hires need to rapidly gain expertise. And for sure the operation teams on site are experiencing also a generation shift. And all of these require niche support to make sure that the plant is not only not affected, but also improving output and performance. And, operations are under pressure today for a number of reasons, many of which our users might identify with or even experiencing their sites. It’s reactive maintenance, inefficiency in operational practices, the suboptimal planning of a turnaround or an inventory program, it s equipment failure plan, downtime, and finally, safety.
So in short, remote services helps drive a service channel optimization. Whether we are talking about a geographical challenge of having engineers visiting plans or simply need faster intervention and reduce all the costs associated with experts travel. It all ties into the availability of the expert and the commitment is really that the subject matter expert will be available in short notice, always prepared, complementing the on-site or the resident engineer.
Jim: That sounds good to have that kind of expertise available on short notice. So can you give some specific examples of how Emerson is leading or supporting with remote services?
Vladimir: An example, by executing preventing maintenance on a system remotely or performing recalibration on a control valve positioner remotely, we reduced the need of our engineers to travel to the customer site.
For that, we have built a network of centers called collaboration hubs across Europe. Premier engineers can safely connect to our customers assets. That means for us less exposure to our engineers on an offshore or an onshore platform, or eliminating unnecessary travel and all the energy waste associated with it.
But most importantly, it means that we can assist much faster and any possible issue that can lead to damaging the environment can be contained immediately. Another good example is helping customers adopt powerful computing applications, either in the cloud or at this or at their site in order to run free for diagnostics and analytics on their systems and devices.
For that, we developed monitoring capabilities that can inform local teams in real time on which steam traps are losing steam, as an example, therefore using CO2 consumption. Or that the pump or compressor is not performing properly and is consuming too much power. And we apply similar execution models on fiscal metering skids.
We have a cloud-based application, which is powered by remote engineers from multiple locations for multiple sites, at the same time. We can also retrieve diagnostics from analytical devices such as gas chromatographs. And we can even deliver parts of a system upgrade remotely by using remote assistance in the planning phase.
Jim: Yeah, that’s an important part that you mentioned about sustainability in there. So it seems to me your examples support these sustainability efforts are customers are driving.
Vladimir: Indeed collaboration with customers changed also due to increased sustainability ambitions. As we all know, sustainability implies digitalization, decarbonization, decentralized energy sources, and the journey towards remote operations.
We using remote services, it said, but certainly helps with digitalization and decarbonization by enhancing diagnostics and analytics results. And our sustainability strategic framework commits to solving for net zero in essential industries. And the monitoring and remote support features that are embedded in our program enhance our customer strategies for emissions management.
It drives energy efficiency and optimization with solutions on steam loss. I mentioned capturing CO2. I mentioned reducing energy costs on rotating equipment and many more.
Jim: Now, you mentioned remote services enabling the transition to digitalization. Can you tell us more?
Vladimir: The word remote is key there. There are critical elements that we need to deliver these services remotely.
First of all we need connectivity models that are safe and flexible at the same time. And here is where our latest announcement on Boundless Automation might give more insights on that philosophy. On top of that, we need software applications in the cloud. We might even need on-prem hardware for age data analysis.
And of course we need the data. We need historical diagnostics, we need trends, we need time series and so on. All of these are or have been on the agenda of our users as part of their digital transformation journeys and some more successful than others. And having remote services associated with these technology investments means that a team of experts is supporting not only with advice on your equipment, but also on the integration and the best performance of these new digital features.
There is certain consumption gap that occurs here. Having a powerful cloud application or a smart device on site, like a new generation valve positioner, for example, but without the actual knowledge of using it properly, it could mean not using the full capabilities of those technologies.
Jim: Yeah, that’s a really good point. You could have that technology installed, but if you don’t have the expertise to take advantage of it, that’s a problem there. You mentioned technology trends, so how do you see the future plant? What should our users be ready for?
Vladimir: Many industrial plants are really on the verge of expanding and rearchitecting their operations environment.
Intelligent automation hub starts to be a natural concept. We start to see collaboration from hub to hub on top of expert to one another. There are three aspects that adopting remote services will help you. First, and very important, it’ll help you assimilate new technologies. As an example, we talk about the inevitable upgrades in how plants function generated by Ethernet-APL.
For example, sending data flows much faster than ever before. We talk about edge computing. We have cloud architectures and many more. And having the local teams familiar and comfortable with someone connected remotely, trusting a cloud connection or a data flow will eventually generate also a new mindset, when new technologies will be implemented. Then it helps with keeping the pace with the IT engagement.
We have cybersecurity standards, broad, always changing, upgrading. You have digital commerce. You have the relationship between suppliers and customers changing to applications, communicating directly enhancing the inventory management practices not to mention Power BI analytics applications, and many of us could start, be overwhelmed with all of that.
And finally it helps with preparing our users to run their plants in hybrid mode. Now, eventually we will have to do that and software as a service gains traction in all industries. Cloud applications will eventually be plug and play and with 5G and safe wireless networks, we are really not far from managing a live process with reduced expertise on site.
Jim: Those are some great points, Vlad. So what about the economics behind a remote services program?
Vladimir: Jim, I’m glad you asked. Actually, remote services will balance with traditional site services as I mentioned before. They will not replace one another, they will literally converge. That means that costs will not vary too much. Investments in new technologies can become an operational expenditure, OPEX. For that you see as a service models today for either software, hardware, or infrastructures.
And we have all of those available. It is also highly scalable. Starting with a few critical devices like the control valves, then you extend into process assets like monitoring corrosion in a pipeline or even reaching out to a full monitoring program, alarm management, full remote system support.
All our leveraging investments already made most of the time. And moreover, It actually reduces costs with either travel or with the speed of an emergency intervention by avoiding unplanned downtime at a higher pace.
Jim: You’ve made some great points throughout this podcast of really what are some of the benefits and how you can take advantage, improve sustainability, run more efficiently, just overall getting better use out of your technology.
So let’s wind things down. Where can our listeners go to learn more? And what do you recommend as the starting point for them?
Vladimir: We have very good coverage on all our solutions in the media. And on our Emerson.com website, of course, you can find a lot of information on all of the solutions I just mentioned. But I also recommend our users to challenge our teams with, “What can you do for me remotely?”
Terminology, all of our teams are well prepared to drive the discussion to the right expertise or to the right subject matter expert and can support a program kickoff. As for where to start, I’d say you need to investigate your investments. Where do you already have smart devices? Where are you short on expertise?
Where do you have assets in a planned maintenance schedule and always show no need of intervention once taking out of the process? And we did not talk a lot about connectivity models as we see that only as a step in the delivery. However, a cybersecurity assessment or an audit is always a good start and can also benchmark where you are from a readiness perspective.
It is a simple, low-cost effort that surfaces the avenues that we can take to start offering remote services.
Jim: I hope our listeners got some good guidance there of some next steps to take to drive more efficient operations in their journey. I want to thank you so much for joining me today and sharing your expertise with our listeners, Vlad.
Vladimir: My pleasure, Jim.
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