Podcast: How AI, cybersecurity, and sustainability are affecting industrial asset management

Podcast: How AI, cybersecurity, and sustainability are affecting industrial asset management

March 13, 2024
In this episode of Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast, Inderpreet Shoker from ARC Advisory Group examines how new technologies and priorities are changing asset management.

Inderpreet Shoker is the director of research as ARC Advisory Group. As a member of the asset performance management team, Inderpreet leads research initiatives related to APM, asset integrity management, plant asset management, and asset reliability. She has authored and co-authored several Worldwide Market Research reports, as well as researching augmented reality and other extended reality technologies. Inderpreet met up with Anna Townsend, managing editor of Plant Services, at the 2024 ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, Florida, to talk about the changing landscape of asset management and what you can do to get and stay ahead of these disruptions.

Below is the transcript of the podcast:

PS: So the theme for this year's conference is Accelerate Transformation in the Age of AI, Cybersecurity and Sustainability. I’d like to break that down a little bit in terms of what each of those means for asset management and plant maintenance. That's our core readership. So how would you describe the maturity level of AI technologies for asset management? How many companies are ready for them, and can you make an overall assessment for how the industry is doing as a whole?

IS: Absolutely, I think and not only at this forum, I think, in general, we are seeing that to be the theme, AI, sustainability, cybersecurity, to be the theme in industrial manufacturing. And I would say in the last few years as well, that theme continues to go on itself and improve. And the reason is, 10 years ago, if any end user wanted to adopt artificial intelligence, it was hard to do that because you would basically have to be starting from scratch. You would work with an AI company, and then, you would need to hire a bunch of data scientists and build your application from scratch.

I think what has changed in the past few years is that a lot of industrial software providers, they are adding AI capability to their solutions. So what this has done, this has made the adoption really easy for end users, because now they don't have to do anything. That's the industrial software provider that is working to incorporate AI into their existing solutions. And this increases the value proposition of their software solution and simplifies things for end user. I would give an example of field service management solution. FSM software has been around for many years. And if an end user have a lot of equipment, or like a lot of assets spread throughout a geographic location, they would use field service management software to tackle the work orders, assignments, dispatch, and all those things, and it helps them. Over the years, we have seen that FSM providers, now they are incorporating AI into their solutions, so they are including features like route optimization, skills matching, and all these features are now available to end users. So it simplifies adoption for them. For suppliers, it adds value to their solutions. It's like a win-win situation and for both of them. So I think that has really changed how end users look at AI. And that has really helped pick up the adoption of AI for end users in various different industries as well.

PS: Yeah, we heard a lot yesterday in the opening session about the next steps for AI, particularly generative AI and how that's going to reshape industrial automation. But a lot of that still feels so way off in the future. So it's nice to hear those case studies of what people are actually able to do right now. 

But I do want to dive a little bit into the future and the ways that we hope AI will shape us in the future. I do want to cut through a little bit of the hype around artificial intelligence. It's one of those buzzwords you hear everywhere you go, but really using algorithms and data analysis to improve operations or for predictive maintenance, is not new. Operators have been doing that for a long time. We talk about the keys to AI next’s transformation is really using machine learning generative AI applications. So a lot of people that I've talked with about this even before I came describe that transformation as being our copilot. I think we even heard that that term used yesterday. So how does that translate to industrial equipment and asset management? And where do you see AI making the biggest impact in the future?

IS: Absolutely. Anna, what you're hearing is absolutely what I am hearing, as well as what I'm seeing as well. AI was a buzzword. I absolutely agree, but slowly because we have started to see a lot of use cases that take it to the next level. And it's not just a buzzword anymore. And I think in the industry, one of the biggest challenge we have is skills gap. A lot of boomers are retiring, and as they're retiring, they're taking all their knowledge away from the industry. And we need to fill that skills gap, and technology and tools are helping us bridge that skills gap. 

We have tried to capture the data from various different devices for a very long time, and that is going on well, but that only solves a part of the problem. You are capturing the data but how do we retrieve that data? How do we access that data? That still remains a problem. And I think this is the area where generative AI, or you can say copilot or AI-enhanced assistance, which really helps. Because when a field worker is out there, although they have a lot of data available, how do they access that right data at the right amount of time? I think that's where GenAI is going to really help push and solve the skills gap problem from both ends.

PS: Okay, well, let's switch gears a little bit to one of the other themes, which is cybersecurity, so industrial cybersecurity incidents are big news in the public arena and not just in these industry focused rooms. So we know that threats are out there and possibly increasing in severity, but they're still very singular instances. It's not necessarily widespread across the industry. But it is becoming a bigger issue, and it could be a bigger threat, if we don't stay on top of that. So what do these cybersecurity risks then mean in terms of work safety or risk mitigation? How have cybersecurity threats to equipment changed over the last few years? And how should operations prepare in the future?

IS: So Anna, you're absolutely right. Cybersecurity is a major challenge in the industry. but we definitely see increasing awareness about cybersecurity risk among different end users, larger sized, mid-sized, smaller, all of them are trying to address this risk. So one thing end users are definitely doing is that they are relying more on training. They are internally focusing on training around best practices regarding cybersecurity concerns. If there is an attack, how do they mitigate the risk of that? So definitely, internally, they're focusing a lot more on the training. 

A lot of end users are working with third-party cybersecurity providers to enhance the security that they have. And on top of that, as I mentioned, industrial software and industrial automation providers, these companies are also trying to add cybersecurity, just like they are embedding AI within their solution. They are trying to make their solutions more secure. So when we have industrial software providers working on cybersecurity, and users focusing on cybersecurity, I think it is helping create multiple layers to protect them from any kind of cyberattack. So we are definitely seeing a lot of awareness around cybersecurity. And on top of that, there are a lot of industry associations out there that help end users learn more about cybersecurity risk. Government is also trying to help end users and all of this I think is definitely helping more.

PS: The more you can learn the better. This is my first ARC conference. It's been so amazing to hear so many end users, especially talking about something as sensitive as cybersecurity. And there are a lot of them here talking about their experiences. So I think that's not easy to do, to get all of them here. I think it speaks to the confidence that the industry has in your organization. So I just want to say well done to all.

But we will move on to sustainability. So the problem with sustainability for a long time in business is that it wasn't profitable to be sustainable. That may still be the case in some instances, but more and more technology is making sustainability more profitable. In general, should it really matter even more anymore at this point? Where does managing assets for the best profitability intersect with sustainable operations? And what should sustainability mean for asset managers right now and going forward?

IS: There is so much awareness around sustainability right now, compared to what it was 10 years ago. Again, 10 years ago, if a company wanted to be sustainable, it was tough to do that. There are no resources available. Who do you work with? Who's sustainable? Who's not? It was tough to find all that information. Again, what has happened over the years is that we have more data available. So within an organization, you have more visibility around your own decisions. Say, for example, asset management, now we have so much visibility into the data that we can pick and choose asset management strategies that will help us become more sustainable. And in general, when you're managing assets well, you are being more sustainable, you are extending the life of your assets, you are more energy efficient, but it was not easy to quantify all the benefits. Now, with all the analytics, all the tools that are available, we can quantify that as well. 

And again, it's becoming an ecosystem, and everybody cares about sustainability. I'll just give you an example. I go online and booked my plane ticket for the forum, and earlier, I did not have any kind of data available about which airline is sustainable, which one is not. So I would pick an airline based on the price. And if there were individuals 10 years ago, who cared about sustainability data, did their own research, and booked a flight, which was more sustainable, which was good for the planet. And these days, when I go online, I tried to book my flight, I see the carbon emissions, and I can make the decision, okay, I want to pick this flight, and this is helping the planet, and I do that. So same way in industrial manufacturing as well, just because everybody is thinking about sustainability, it is becoming easier and easier. And more so regulations are helping as well push us in that direction. Europe is way ahead of the United States, when it comes to regulations around sustainability. We are getting there as well. So I will definitely say we see a lot more improvement in next five years.

About the Podcast
Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast offers news and information for the people who make, store and move things and those who manage and maintain the facilities where that work gets done. Manufacturers from chemical producers to automakers to machine shops can listen for critical insights into the technologies, economic conditions and best practices that can influence how to best run facilities to reach operational excellence.

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About the Author

Anna Townshend | managing editor

Anna Townshend has been a journalist and editor for almost 20 years. She joined Control Design and Plant Services as managing editor in June 2020. Previously, for more than 10 years, she was the editor of Marina Dock Age and International Dredging Review. In addition to writing and editing thousands of articles in her career, she has been an active speaker on industry panels and presentations, as well as host for the Tool Belt and Control Intelligence podcasts. Email her at [email protected].

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