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What to watch for next year in automation

Dec. 14, 2016
In this installment of Automation Zone, interconnectivity, wireless, mobility, digital sensors, and smart MRO lead the way.

For this year-end edition of Automation Zone, the Plant Services editors asked several industry professionals a simple question: What automation trend should MRO teams keep their eye on in 2017, and why?

Jose M. Rivera, CEO, CSIA (Control System Integrators Association)

Interconnectivity will continue to be the main automation trend impacting MRO. Here is why:

  1. Interconnectivity is not only bridging diverse systems – it is also forcing a closer collaboration between departments. There is significant value in sharing predictive maintenance requests with the production teams, as it empowers them to schedule a shutdown with the minimum impact on productivity.
  2. Interconnectivity also means that information is inputted once and leveraged. This includes information captured in the field by service technicians. New systems are making the data acquisition and data download process very easy. This translates into higher utilization and better data to drive decisions.
  3. Interconnectivity will allow technology to bridge the loss of expertise and experience from the retiring baby boomer generation with the abilities of the “digitally native” younger generations.

Scott Kortier, InduSoft web studio senior technical engineer at Wonderware by Schneider Electric

Mobile access to machine interfaces will play a critical role for maintenance and reliability teams. Not only does a fully mobile remote HMI make it possible to troubleshoot, diagnose, and service machines from anywhere in the plant, it also allows OEMs and value-added resellers to offer more capabilities for maintenance as a service (MaaS) from remote locations. Better mobility allows maintenance operators to run updates outside of business hours and allows operators to request remote assistance from maintenance personnel at another plant.

We also expect to see Andon applications going into wider use in manufacturing beyond the automobile industry. (Andon is a visual system designed to notify management, maintenance or other workers of a quality or process problem.) These Andon solutions offer best practices for getting the right team to the right location quickly in order to solve maintenance and reliability issues. With plug-and-play Andon templates available, there’s no reason not to implement these types of solutions in manufacturing.

Bob Karschnia, VP and general manager of wireless, Emerson Process Management

Wireless monitoring of plant equipment and instrumentation will be a major trend in 2017. Wireless applications give the right information to the right person at the right time. For example, wireless monitoring of steam traps or pump health gives a maintenance technician insight into the problem before going into the plant. He or she will “know before they go.”

Wireless monitoring is growing exponentially. Emerson has installed more than 27,000 WirelessHART networks. Battery-powered wireless devices can be installed anywhere to monitor anything—especially on equipment where the cost of installing wired devices is cost-prohibitive. And, because WirelessHART provides access to all the diagnostic and status conditions available in HART instrumentation, plant engineers and technicians are now able to detect pending problems before they become serious enough to shut down a process.

Michael Risse, vice president at Seeq

The locomotive pulling all other trends is commercial off the shelf technology, and the locomotive’s engine is Moore’s Law; this is not just about doubling the density of transistors on a chip every 18 months. Instead, it’s the basis of a new model for computing hardware, software, and networking.

In this context, Moore’s Law results in smaller computing platforms and higher-capacity hard drives, faster chips and cheaper components, and more pervasive connectivity. What this means for 2017 is the tradition of expensive, proprietary, on-premise, and centralized systems in manufacturing facilities will continue to crumble.

In its place will be less-expensive open systems, often cloud-based, giving new advantages to customers in terms of cost, user mobility and interoperability. Certainly Exxon is giving the open systems initiatives a push through its Lockheed partnership, but it’s the engine in the locomotive doing the real work by driving down costs and setting expectations of end users for a new type of plant computing ecosystem.

Ryan Williams, product manager, Rockwell Automation

From an MRO perspective, asset intelligence from converged information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) systems can help organizations streamline maintenance and storeroom activities, reduce reliability risks, and create proactive maintenance strategies.

Implementing this “smart MRO” approach begins with a comprehensive understanding of a company’s installed asset base. Although this can be done through a manual audit of assets, a better alternative is a diagnostic reliability service that automates the data-collection process. This involves using a control-layer application that can scan and auto-discover all active networked devices. The application collects identity information for each asset, such as its location, series, catalog number, and firmware. It also collects health information, such as current, temperature, and voltage, which is crucial to understanding asset integrity.

Once collected, the asset-intelligence data can be sent to a database where it is stored, analyzed and modeled, and then delivered to workers in the form of actionable information through reports, dashboards, alerts and notifications. The data also is continuously scanned and updated to support ongoing asset tracking and monitoring.

These automated, device-identification and health-monitoring capabilities are at the heart of a smart MRO approach, and in 2017 and beyond will provide the foundation for creating data-driven maintenance and storeroom strategies.

Tracy Doane-Weideman, product manager for analytics, Endress+Hauser

In 2017, digital sensors will reduce maintenance costs, improve reliability and minimize process shutdowns for sensor replacements. Analytical sensors, such as pH, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen instruments, all have to be cleaned, calibrated, and periodically replaced.

Maintenance of sophisticated sensors is proving to be a problem for some companies. Digital sensor technology solves the problem. Endress+Hauser installed pH sensors in the company’s chlor-alkali process with digital Memosens technology. Memosens probes can be precalibrated in the laboratory.

The smart sensors also provide information on their state, allowing technicians to replace the probes only when necessary and to clean and calibrate them in the lab. And the process only has to be shut down for the few minutes it takes to replace a sensor.

Bill Dehner, technical marketer, AutomationDirect

As data collected from production lines and automated systems accumulates in plant historians and databases, the automation industry will continue to become more and more data-driven in the years ahead. Maintenance and reliability teams will undoubtedly be able to collect and analyze data from many new plant floor components such as smart motor drives, sensors and valves.

These components will supply new information that automation engineers and technicians may not have realized they needed or knew they wanted. In 2017, these components will continue to be produced, along with others not yet widely accepted, and will provide a wealth of additional production/system data to be analyzed locally or delivered to new higher-level data analytics software.

Additional insight which can be gleaned from this data will be used to reduce production losses and system inefficiencies. It will also increase the demand for more smart devices, thus completing the circle of more smart components, more data and improved operations.   

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