Industrial Automation

Forging a new path for asset performance management—and skills-gap management—at HUG 2019

As manufacturers scramble to find the expertise they need, software tools for people who need people in focus at Honeywell Users Group conference.

By Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor

Can your organization embrace the idea of control-as-a-service? Cloud-based, third-party-supported management of industrial process control to help reduce the need for on-site control infrastructure and expertise, and to enhance flexibility when it comes to control engineering and device commissioning, was one of the are-you-ready-for-this concepts put forth at the HUG (Honeywell Users Group) 2019 conference in Dallas this week.

New, flexible control systems technologies—Honeywell officially debuted its Experion PKS HIVE (Highly Integrated Virtual Environment) platform at the conference on Monday—enable the “decoupling” of hardware from software and support remote, agile control. And a driving force behind the development of these new automation solutions? Workforce challenges, of course. Necessity is the mother of invention, and at a time when, as Honeywell Process Solutions CTO Jason Urso noted, many young people would rather go work for Google than become process engineers, automation-based solutions help fill a critical skills gap for industrial organizations.

“Skills availability is increasingly a challenge,” Urso said in a panel discussion Tuesday. “We just don’t have enough people, period, in the places that we need them.” And while industrial control players are doing a great deal of good in terms of helping plants run more efficiently and improve their environmental performance, in terms of public perception, “it’s still not that glamorous,” he said. The solution, then, will be “either more promotion of the industry or, more likely, how do we use technology as a way to overcome that.”

  • See our sister publication Control Global’s full coverage live from HUG 2019.

To that point, following are three key quotes from HUG 2019 on technology as an enabler in helping manufacturers address optimize use of stretched-thin workforces.

“The goal is to remove burning fires altogether. The goal is to find where the matches are and take them away.” – Steve Linton, director of programs and contracts for lifecycle solutions and services, Honeywell Process Solutions

Less time spent in reactive, “firefighting” mode is a primary objective for any reliability initiative a plant undertakes—not only because firefighting is time- and cost-intensive in comparison with more-proactive approaches to maintenance and asset management, but also because it’s not an optimal use of the time and expertise of some of your most-valuable team members. The heroes who swoop in to put out fires also have some knowledge of how best to prevent them. Where is that knowledge captured? How is that knowledge disseminated? How is it contextualized as part of a process for avoiding emergency scenarios in the first place?

Mitigating risk—the risk of asset failure, safety risks, cybersecurity risks—through automated condition monitoring tools that offer users clear visibility into the status of their assets, control systems, and networks—was an overarching theme at a conference that saw the announcement of several Honeywell product evolutions. And institutional knowledge capture/evaluation/transfer helps lay the foundation for all of this.

“The things that get done in an organization, that have always gotten done that way, (part of it is) questioning that tribal knowledge, is that really the optimal way of doing things?” said Linton in an interview.

“I had a guy retire last week, 47 years at Honeywell. There is no way I can replace that knowledge. The best thing I can do is try to get that into the system.” – John Rudolph, president, Honeywell Process Solutions

In a session with members of the media, Rudolph discussed the urgent need to capture “tribal knowledge” in automated platforms accessible to newer members of an organization’s workforce. That need, which has accelerated as more long-time industry veterans retire, is a driving force behind development of new automated products, and it also compels new approaches to training.

“You have to think about training differently going forward,” Rudolph said. Digital twins, for example, can offer an excellent training platform—users can manipulate different aspects of a digital model and assess the implications of assorted actions taken under assorted operating conditions without playing trial-and-error on real, physical, expensive assets

“That’s what you’re trying to get to is where people can make mistakes and they learn from their mistakes,” said Rudolph. “You’ve got to have digital twins to pull that off.”

“What we have talked about is, it’s not to replace you, it’s to help you do more.” – Elinor Price, senior product marketing manager, Honeywell Process Solutions

The concept of respecting institutional knowledge and then telling employees with 20 or 30 years of experience that there’s a better way to do things can seem in conflict, to put it mildly. And Price, who began her career as a process engineer at a Texas petroleum company, sees and understands the frustration of veteran employees who have spent years managing Excel spreadsheets and working to adhere to longstanding processes. Bringing in automation and analytics to take over tasks and skills an employee has spent years refining surely can register as devaluing an organization’s “most valuable asset”—its people. To overcome that skepticism, Price noted, help individuals understand their “value add”—the piece of the economic opportunity pie that they contribute by applying their most valuable skills and insights to strategic planning or more-proactive asset and enterprise performance management.

Furthermore, giving maintenance and operations team members greater visibility into how a particular asset or line is performing and how that’s affecting their team’s KPIs can generate organic interest in finding new ways to address performance gaps.

“Part of the element of the adoption and acceptance of the technology is taking it step by step, having people understand it, get the buy-in,” Price said. “The acceptance hurdle, then, you’ve already gotten over that.”