Continuous improvement has been a theme in the industrial space since the second part of the last century. It’s not just a sound management philosophy – quite naturally, additional efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility go a long way to adding value in processes that are repeatable and continuously running – it’s a way of life for many an industrial manager.
The technology available today is allowing for a degree of automation and process control that was not imaginable even just a few years ago, applicable in ways that impact not just a process but entire infrastructures. The primary payoff is, of course, increased productivity and more efficient processes. In addition, modern automation systems and OT also provide operators with data that can be used to further fine-tune operations.
Whether they are driving incremental improvements or looking for those breakthrough changes, industrial managers have utilized operational technology (OT) advances to get complete control and maximum value out of their processes. And as OT is aging in many plants, industrial managers are looking for ways to modernize while ensuring returns on any such initiatives. Across industrial plants, there have been several sure-fire approaches to ensure such immediate returns:
- Avoiding additional complexity
- Ensuring visibility and control
- Looking for the big wins
- Preventing major risks and unplanned costs
Avoiding Additional Complexity
The industrial internet of things (IIoT) is already happening. Interconnected sensors are able to monitor every step of every process, and the shared data allows for instantaneous adjustments to industrial operations. Advancements in miniaturization mean these sensors can literally be placed anywhere, which gives operators an unprecedented view inside their plants. A combination of systems, software, networks and computing power are necessary to make it all happen. At the same time, such advancements are driving increased reliance on technology. They may require technological skills that may not be available within every plant. Furthermore, some advanced technologies may create a level of complexity that adds costs, implementation headaches and has uncertain payoffs. Not only that, but in many a case, the additional data generated remains unused or misunderstood. So industrial managers need to make sure their new solutions are simple to implement and operate in order to avoid the extra costs and assure immediate returns.
Ensuring visibility and control
Modernized industrial technologies are promising higher visibility into processes, additional data points as well as control mechanisms to be able to constantly optimize. Ongoing monitoring allows for real-time, or almost real-time, adjustments. For instance, Naveen Kumar – a senior industry analyst for Frost & Sullivan who focuses on industrial automation – points out how “…with sensorization of industrial assets, failing parts in an asset can be spotted very early to avoid undesirable downtime consequences.”
However, with multiple systems and new sources of data, it sometimes takes additional time for the data to be assembled, consolidated and analyzed before corrective action can be taken. Which, of course, means that processes have been running at sub-optimal levels for a while before that insight was uncovered. So, industrial plants need tools and technologies to ensure that all systems are monitored, “a single pane of glass”, so that operators can make decisions in real time. Furthermore, they need tools to ensure that all systems and monitoring software are continuously running – any outages or downtime in such systems would lead to the dreaded situation of “flying blind”, i.e. resulting in unmonitored and sub-optimal operations. In addition to the lost optimization opportunities, such downtime incidents create significant risks from an operational, safety and environmental perspective.
Looking for the big wins
Continuous improvement and efficient operations is often about the incremental changes. While those are still valuable, the operational and financial gains that can be generated with certain modernization initiatives can also result in major leaps in either improving yield, flow-through and output, or significantly decreasing costs. It is those “big wins” that are most assured to generate immediate returns and the kinds of modernization projects industrial managers should be considering.
Preventing major risks and unplanned costs
It is easy to picture such “break-through” improvements in the form of extra output or decreased consumption of raw materials, energy or resources. What industrial managers don’t always appreciate are the hidden risks, which, when avoided result in massive savings. There are a couple of reasons why such risks may be overlooked. One would be an underestimation of the likelihood of the bad event happening. The other: lack of information or inaccurate assessment of the extra costs incidents result in. And quite so often such costs are hidden or unpredictable. Knowing the size of such unplanned costs and having accurate historical information on the frequency of such incidents in the past are the main tools to assess the immediate returns of technologies they can use to prevent them.
Consider the case of unplanned downtime: on average, an industrial plant experiences 3.6 unplanned downtime incidents per year. In money alone, each incident is a potential disaster; the estimated hourly cost of unplanned downtime ranges from $10,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour, especially in discrete and process industries. Multiplying the two results in an estimated annual cost of unplanned downtime that few plants can afford to ignore. And while unplanned downtime is primarily measured in money, it can also impact relations with customers, lead to environmental and safety risks, and ultimately impact a company’s reputation.
With modernized operational technologies plant operators can generate gains in efficiency, prevent unplanned costs and monitor operations better. Addressing the big opportunities and avoiding the big risks by simple to install and run solutions are the most proven approaches to achieving immediate returns on such modernization.
To learn more on how advances in modern operational technology are reshaping plant operations for maximum efficiency and uninterrupted operations, download the Stratus Best Practices Kit for Modernizing Automation. To learn more how Stratus can enable your continuous ICS availability, visit stratus.com