Accelerate Your Digital Transformation with Flexible Automation Infrastructure Podcast

by , | Jul 31, 2023 | Control & Safety Systems | 0 comments

Accelerate Your Digital Transformation with a Future-Proof Automation InfrastructureManufacturers in the life sciences, specialty chemicals, and other predominantly batch-based industries are under continued pressure to improve operational and financial performance. To do so means preparing for the impact of emerging technologies and beginning their digital transformation. Some of the ways they are addressing these challenges include increasing capital projects that use modular manufacturing equipment, switching to single-use equipment in smaller, more customized production, and pushing toward continuous manufacturing where possible.

In this Emerson Automation Experts podcast, Molly Firkins, DeltaV Product Marketing Manager for Batch Solutions, joins me to discuss these trends and ways technology is supporting these manufacturers as they address these challenges. Molly discusses how DeltaV Batch solutions can make operations more flexible to satisfy market demands, simplify regulatory compliance, accelerate time to market, and improve product quality.

Listen to the podcast and visit the DeltaV Batch section on for more on ways to improve your operational and financial performance.


Jim: Hi everyone, I’m Jim Cahill, and welcome to this Emerson Automation Experts podcast. A lot is happening with the batch processing-based industries, and I’m joined today by Molly Firkins to explore some of the trends, challenges, and solutions to help improve overall manufacturing performance. Welcome, Molly.

Molly: Hi, Jim. Thanks. I’m happy to be here today.

Jim: Well, I’m glad that you could join us today. I guess, to open things up, can you share a little bit of your background and path to your current role with us here at Emerson?

Molly: Sure. Well, I’ve been at Emerson for over 20 years now. I’m originally from Northwest Iowa. I got a degree in chemical engineering from Iowa State and then I moved to Texas straight after college, and I went to work straight for Emerson. And during that time, I’ve held a number of different roles within the industry. So I started off doing DeltaV technical sales, so when DeltaV was in its infancy, I did a lot of the product demonstrations and presentations and everything for around DeltaV, and then from that role, I went and I worked in the life sciences industry center, so I was a control engineer, so I actually got to sit down and configure the DeltaV system in there, specifically in the life sciences industry. So I worked with a lot of customers, usually in California or in the Southeast areas.

From there, I went into more of a marketing role and I looked at the DeltaV graphics product and worked on some of the precursors to the DeltaV Live product. From there, I kind of took a little bit of a detour and went into business development and worked kind of in a support role for customers, but that was kind of in the refining industry. So that was a little bit of a departure from my traditional batch background and recently I have now moved into the batch product marketing role and that is where I’ve been for the past four years.

Jim: Now, before we turned on the recording button, you also said you like to get around and see all over this country. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Molly: Yeah, this is one of my favorite topics to talk about. So I realized a few years ago that I was close to visiting all 50 states and in the U.S. and this past March I checked that box and I got to my final U.S. state. It’s a little bit of a random state, it was New Jersey. I happened to be in Philadelphia and because I wanted to get New Jersey off that bucket list, I was in downtown Philadelphia, and I actually walked across the bridge into New Jersey and kind of like took a look at New Jersey and then took an Uber back.

Jim: Well, there you go. You can say you planted yourself in New Jersey. What a great deal there. Well, let’s get into what we’re here to discuss. You know, there’s a lot going on in the world, the global economy, and in life sciences and specialty chemical industries. Can you tell us a little bit about some of these industry trends and how they may be affecting batch manufacturing customers of ours?

Molly: Yeah, sure. Well, when you’re looking at trends that affect the industry, there are a lot of contexts that go into shaping it. So at a high level, you have some macro drivers which just about everyone is aware of and they’re affected by. You’ll even see stories on the mainstream news about things like that and some of those key trends that are affecting the batch industries include the changing demographics of an aging population and a growing middle class. Sustainability is also a huge deal, so there are really a lot of initiatives regarding around keeping the planet safe for the next generation.

And then thirdly, there are security concerns over cyber threats. So you always see the cybersecurity and the data privacy concerns kind of at that big global level. And now at the next level, you’ve got some drivers that are more specific to these industries which are really around aging plant infrastructure, data explosion to the point where you have access to more data than you can actually deal with. Then there’s always price pressure from both governments and competitors of your products.

Now additionally, it’s specific to these industries. Mergers and acquisitions are putting the pressure on manufacturers to both streamline their product portfolios and actually have the ability to make multiple products in a single facility. Now, when you look at these industry trends and drivers and you take these along with advances in both process technology and computing changes, that is where it really starts to all come together and affect the industry. And some of the key process changes that are affecting the industry are modular design practices, converting to single-use equipment, and a push towards continuous manufacturing. And the IT and OT technology changes most people are familiar with include the connectivity of multiple systems, cloud computing, and virtualization.

Jim: Wow, that’s quite a bit of different trends going on, so I guess what does that mean in the way of creating some challenges for these batch manufacturers?

Molly: Well, in looking with this and trying to put it all together at the really biggest challenges that I see for batch manufacturers are within flexible manufacturing designs. And starting off, there are two levels of challenges here. First, you’ve got your skid-built site. So this is when you have equipment that’s been built to focus on optimizing a single-unit operation. And the challenge comes in when you have to put all of these units together to make up an entire production process. You’re integrating data together from a variety of different sources and different formats, and you really have to make those work together to have a complete production line.

Now, you’re ready to go when you can produce one product, and you solve that challenge, but some facilities are going to the next level of complexity. So production is no longer about creating a facility that creates one product and runs forever making the same thing. Now you’ve got limited runs of different products, in a lot of cases, that require a completely different process flow. So now you’ve got to change the physical number order and size of your equipment line, and you’re basically creating a new facility with the same equipment infrastructure, just using it in different ways and that’s a huge issue to manage and make sure that production continues quickly and efficiently.

Now the other big challenge I see is around increasing production. Our customers are using various methods to increase capacity, they can scale up, which is essentially making larger batches, increasing the size of their equipment or they can scale out, which is becoming more and more uncommon and that’s really adding just more identical units to your existing equipment and just running more product in parallel phases that way. Now once you do that, you’re making changes to your existing control system, and you have to make sure that it has the ability to meet these modern challenges.

Jim: So I know you had mentioned some of these manufacturers are dealing with legacy automation systems, you know, ones that have been around for a really long time, and that can create some challenges in the ways of availability and performance of those control systems and I guess the overall automation infrastructure and even their operation. So what is the importance or criticality for batch operators in preparing for the future, you know, looking forward towards perhaps digital transformation?

Molly: I think I’m going to answer that in a little bit of a different way. One of the things is I think it’s really critical to engage and understand what your baseline is in your facility and it’s really about getting that knowledge of you need to just understand where your facility is in terms of digital maturity, so not all manufacturers are in the same place when it comes to digitalization. You could be in a digital silo where you have many islands of automation with disconnected data that you have to go back and physically import in and get that data or you could be closer to a predictive plant where you’ve got fast access to data throughout the production life cycle.

Now, once you’ve established your baseline or even before that, I’d recommend engaging industry experts to help you plan your transformation. It can be really easy to have blinders on or do things based on what you’ve always done, but industry experts have seen a lot of different attempts at digital transformation. Some have been successful, some not so much, but I would really emphasize for you to leverage their lessons learned to become more efficient in your transformation efforts.

Jim: Yeah, I think that’s important to really get some of those outside perspectives just because you’re right, you know, you do things the way you do things so you may not be able to see more broadly. So that’s a really good point. How can the DeltaV distributed control system and DeltaV Batch solutions help in the way of setting them up, these manufacturers up for success in the future?

Molly: Well, like I mentioned before, I’ve really grown up in this industry and really specifically with DeltaV since the early days and I really think that the fundamental tenants and architecture of the DeltaV system have held up and allowed the system to grow and expand with both our customers and changing industry demands. The first one is that DeltaV started out as a small system, but it was intentionally expanded and that was kind of the basis of a modular system that keeps adding new technologies and allows our customers to continue growing and take advantage of things that weren’t out there when they first purchased a DeltaV system.

Another big asset was putting an emphasis on standards, DeltaV embraced standard design, off-the-shelf technology, and integration using accepted protocols because of this implementation practice, like when you had new standards that are created, developed, modified, they’re easily integrated within DeltaV. And finally, with our batch system and our batch customers, DeltaV was actually really developed and built for batch. It wasn’t an afterthought or an add-on to the system, there’s no extra steps to communicate or integrate control strategies with your batch recipes. Information is easily available, I mean, it’s structured for communication and reporting.

So DeltaV is really a proven ability to adapt and take advantage of new technology without forcing our customers to abandon their entire automation investment, and I think we will continue to do that in the future.

Jim: Yeah, I think that modularity from the start really aided it in into, you know, expanding capabilities over the years. Now when you, earlier were talking about some of the challenges, I know you mentioned security and compliance. Can you expand upon that a little and provide some insights into DeltaV’s built-for-batch suite of solutions and how this helps with security and compliance?

Molly: Yeah, sure. So one of the brand images of DeltaV is easy, but neither security nor compliance is an easy task for manufacturers. So we’re trying to make that a little bit simpler by using the DeltaV system. So within DeltaV, we have embedded functionality to help with both of those issues. For security, DeltaV is ISA secure level one certified and that’s to ensure we’re providing a robust secure implementation, and we’ve got a lot of porting out of the box features for security, which include a domain environment, an integrated user manager, we can lock down USBs, workstation hardening, you’ve got a segregated control network and Achilles certification for DeltaV nodes.

There’s also a set of supporting applications and features with things like virus protection and application whitelisting. It’s really a multifaceted approach to ensure the security of the DeltaV system, and then you’re looking, so that’s kind of one side of the coin and the other is helping to achieve regulatory compliance, and that’s also been deeply ingrained into the product. So first thing is, we’ve got a configuration audit trail which tracks all of the configuration changes made within the system, you know, who changes the code when they changed it, and what they changed. Once you enabled this feature, all the configuration changes are tracked, you don’t have to remember to opt in or make sure that you’ve included all the relevant information, it’s already there.

Of course, we’ve also got alarm event tracking that keeps track of all your operational changes to the system, and it’s something that you get within the system, and you don’t have to individually opt-in for specific parameters. Now, another area of that that’s important for compliance is knowing who makes the operational decisions in the system, so we have electronic signatures directly embedded into the product and electronic signatures are something that you need to deliberately plan for and align with your production process. We have a wide range of flexible options.

You can require a prompt at certain areas or just an operator confirmation or you can also include supervisor verification on any type of batch command as well as changing specific values within this system. Now, all of these items are tightly integrated beneath the surface of DeltaV, so it’s one less thing that you have to worry about, and you can focus on improving your production rather than regulatory compliance.

Jim: Yeah, that’s nice that it’s working in the background like all your configuration changes, your operational changes, you know, the hardening you mentioned for cybersecurity and everything like that, that’s built in.

Molly: There’s one thing I didn’t mention, one of the things about electronic signatures is we recently had a project and it was to do a little bit of improvement onto our electronic signatures where we wanted to add an additional comment box onto the system and while that seems like something really minor and really simple to do because that’s so embedded within the product, actually our development time we had to modify seven different applications, do 400 different events that we change and we did 100 different user interface changes to that.

So we did all of that work and all of that groundwork, so it’s not something that our customers have to do and have to take care of themselves. And I thought that was just an example that, you know, we were thinking at first, oh, this is gonna be a super easy change, super simple, but then once you dive into the details you see really how embedded that is in the product.

Jim: Yeah, if you’re trying to expose it as easy in there, then there’s a lot of work that has to go into that on the development side to make sure it is that because you’ll have that trade-off, that’s a great story. I know for, you know, the life sciences and, you know, a lot of the specialty chemicals that the quality of the products they manufacture is critical. Can you go into a bit more depth about what are some of the things in DeltaV Batch that can help with that?

Molly: Yeah, sure. There’s one thing, I was at a conference last week and I came over with an insight about quality that I’d never really connected in this way, so we know that one of the trends, I didn’t really mention earlier, but there’s been a global supply chain issue for a lot of items like computer chips, consumer goods and raw materials. And because of these shortages in the supply chain, product quality actually becomes a lot more important because it’s not as easy to source the raw materials. So you might not have access to the quantity you need at the time you need it, and in order to meet your production demands, you really need to have high product quality to minimize the waste and need for more raw materials.

So what DeltaV Batch does, it can provide help with quality in many different ways. So first we have standards and class-based engineering philosophy which allows a product to be repeatable time and time again. Now second, we provide easy access to production data through a standardized structure and contextualization of batch data in the batch historian. And recently in this past year, we’ve introduced a new feature that’s aimed at closing the control loop for difficult-to-measure spectral data. So we have DeltaV Spectral PAT, where it takes models that have been developed using either the Sartorius SIMCA software or Aspen Unscrambler and it runs those models directly into a DeltaV function block.

So this allows you to take these quality attributes for critical things such as product concentration and run those directly into any type of control scheme, you can put them into multi-variable control, you can put them straight into PID control, and you don’t have to worry about the complex architecture, the integration and security implications of passing that information between multiple systems, not to mention the disparate operator interfaces that you have to worry about within production. So that way, DeltaV has got a number of different areas where they can help achieve product quality.

Jim: That’s great. Now I guess as an individual manufacturing facility is looking to the future and maybe perhaps expanding its operations, what are some of the challenges they may be dealing with? And I know it can be in a broad number of areas here.

Molly: Right. So I think the first thing I touched on earlier is knowledge transfer from people and systems, so when you are looking at an existing facility, and you’re trying to expand, you have a lot of expertise, and we’re kind of in that area where there are people that are retiring, they’re not gonna be around longs, but they have a lot of specialized knowledge. So you have to figure out how to get that out of there and not only that is the knowledge from people, sometimes you’ve got some really old systems hidden back in a corner that’s sort of one important function that nobody knows anything about, but you don’t want it to stop running because it was put in 25 years ago and you don’t really know how everything works.

So those are some considerations with integration with data sources and getting knowledge out from your people and your systems. Now, another thing is looking at scaling up and scaling out. So one of the things you need to take into consideration is if you’re worried whether you’re gonna just increase your batch size to make more product or you’re going to replace equipment and make things bigger, if you’re gonna move from continuous to single-use or if you’re gonna do just to scale out, which is becoming increasingly more popular. So the scaling out where you just increase the capacity, be like putting more units in there.

Now along with that, as we’ve been looking, we see all this continuous change that keeps happening over and over and over again and, you know, just as soon as you have something implemented, all of that technology is obsolete. So another thing that customers should be concerned with is continuous change and be worried about preparing for the future as best as you possibly can. So the project that you’re doing today is still valid in 5, 8, 10 years from now.

Jim: Yeah, that’s a really good point there that, you know, it needs to stay around because like you said, within the manufacturing industries these systems go, you know, that life is measured in decades in a lot of cases. And I guess, given some of those that you mentioned, how does DeltaV help resolve some of these challenges?

Molly: Well, I think one of the big things is DeltaV Batch is proven in the industry, it’s a pretty prevalent system that’s been out there in most of the major manufacturers and all of the batch sites. So what that means is you also have a large network of skilled resources with DeltaV Batch experience in the industry. It’s not just Emerson people, there’s a lot of system integrators that have a lot of DeltaV experience, and there’s a ton of customers that have lots of experience with DeltaV on there.

And another thing kind of getting on the people side of it is a lot of our batch implementations heavily rely on the use of standards, so once somebody has worked on a DeltaV Batch system in one site, they have those skills to transfer over to a different site because it doesn’t take a whole lot of ramp-up time to learn that new thing. And the other thing is I think DeltaV really helps resolve the setting of our customers up for the future.

So DeltaV has a track record for keeping up with innovation and bringing our customers along with us, we generally have some new innovation that comes out all the time, and we don’t abandon customers, you can easily migrate from one version to the next in order to take full advantage of that new technology. And DeltaV is designed from the ground up to be built for batch and make it easy for customers to use our system and really all these fundamental concepts of DeltaV help our customers address the challenges that they’re facing today and in the future.

Jim: That’s very well said. Well, let me just wind things down. Where can our listeners go to learn more about DeltaV Batch?

Molly: Well, we’ve been working on a lot of different items to help customers become more aware of DeltaV. So you can go to, and you’ll get a wide variety of information on product data sheets and things out there. And we’re also hosting a webinar series kind of to introduce you to DeltaV Batch, and it’s going on about once a month for the remainder of the year. You can sign up for that and contact your local Emerson salesperson to get more information on that, but that’s kind of an introduction 20 to 30-minute webinar series just to kind of refresh you on all of the qualities in DeltaV Batch.

Jim: Well, that sounds like a great thing to take advantage of. And I’ll also put in a plug because you had mentioned all the customers around the world and Emerson engineering project people, a lot of them are in the Emerson Exchange 365 Community, and the DeltaV Group is a very vibrant group. So we have a lot of people asking each other application questions, so for anyone interested in that, if you’ve not been there, it’s is the community there. So, Molly, I want to thank you so much for sharing your expertise and all this around DeltaV Batch and the trends and the challenges and everything. So thanks a lot.

Molly: Thanks, Jim. I had a great time today.

Jim: Me too.

-End of Transcript-

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