"You can't perfect what you've been doing": 6 key quotes from the 2015 Emerson Exchange

Oct. 14, 2015
At a critical juncture for industrial production, a fundamental rethinking of processes is needed, panelists say

"Elevate Your Expertise" is the official theme of the 2015 Emerson Global Users Exchange, taking place this week in Denver, but the call to action echoing through the conference's sessions could perhaps better be described as "Do epic s(tuff)."

"We've been relying on processes and procedures that were established decades ago," said Sandy Vasser, facilities instrumentation and electrical manager with ExxonMobil Development Co. (an Emerson customer), during a press event for Emerson's new Project Certainty project management initiative. "You can't perfect what you've been doing; you have to come up with a totally different approach."

Forget baby steps; forget incremental improvements toward greater asset reliability and making better data-based decisions, panelists in workshops and educational sessions suggested. The technology is here now, they noted, and it's becoming ever-more-affordable, to wirelessly monitor plant assets large and small—and then to extrude from the data those monitors collect the right information that can help plant managers reduce unplanned downtime and potentially save millions in labor, energy, and maintenance costs annually.

With that rally against inertia in mind, here are six statements highlighting this year's exchange so far:

1. "What we would like to have is a situation where we are no longer asking why would we measure this thing, but why wouldn't we measure this thing." –Paul Maurath, The Procter & Gamble Co.

For tracking return on investment, it only makes sense to collect data on how well a piece of equipment or a service that your facility purchased is performing. But the tools that make that relatively easy to do—wireless sensors—have been too expensive or otherwise out of reach for many manufacturers for all but their most-critical assets. Just as we see with consumer technology, though, devices are becoming more capable and more connected, and market pressures stand to push prices down.

"Disruption is coming," Maurath said. The expanded use of sensing technology in the consumer space (e.g., wireless home monitoring tools) also will help spur expanded sensor use in industry, he said. "We've been down this road before" in terms of crossover from the consumer to industrial spheres, said Maurath. "I firmly believe that will happen in the sensor arena."

2. "We've learned that customization is really what kills us." –Sandy Vasser, ExxonMobil Development Co.

We don't need unique: That's the refrain in Denver, and it was articulated early in the week by Vasser, who noted that when teams try to scale down a huge, custom-built project or initiative, they'll often meet resistance. "We've got to rely more on standardized designs" and build from the ground up, justifying additions as the project proceeds, he said. And when it comes to CMMS and asset management tools, disparate systems have to play nicely together, because there's not one vendor that's going to have a solution to meet every need from a controls and asset monitoring/management perspective, panelists said. As Maurath said of P&G on Tuesday: "We're not really interested in being proprietary; we're interested in standards and interoperability."

3. "Reliability doesn't get the respect it deserves." -Steven Sonnenberg, executive vice president of Emerson and president of Emerson Process Management

Maintenance-engineers-turned-reliability-engineers who've tried to make the case to upper management for capital investments in reliability initiatives may nod in agreement. (If you find yourself in that group, check out Joe Anderson's feature story from Plant Services' October issue on selling maintenance as a profit center.) Too often today, Sonnenberg said, reliability is still seen as a focus for just a few large pieces of equipment. Expanding the focus of reliability efforts can, in the simplest terms, lead to less downtime and more profit, he said.

4. "Move the data to the expert, not the expert to the data." –Doug White, principal consultant with PlantWeb Solutions Group, Emerson Process Management

Remote monitoring and plant virtualization hold the potential to improve worker safety (and reduce safety-incident costs), by providing the data that precludes personnel from having to go out into dangerous field conditions to gather measurements or inspect an asset. It allows for faster and stronger decision-making, as experts don't need to be on-site to be able to help diagnose an issue. ("Expertise isn't always available where the problem is," Emerson's Mike Boudreaux noted in an Industrial Internet of Things roundtable on Wednesday.) And not having personnel on the road as often cuts travel costs and may keep younger employees, many of whom are keen on maximizing time at home, happier.

5. "You can't fix what you don't know." -Duncan Schleiss, vice president of platform strategy, Emerson Process Management

It's a truism that you can't manage what you don't measure. But between measuring and managing is the crucial piece of understanding the data being collected, and that's a big challenge for manufacturers given the volume of data they can now more easily collect. Aiding in that understanding piece is a top priority for Emerson, its competitors in the process management space, and OEMs getting into remote monitoring of their machines.

Better understanding of Big Data will come from more-intuitive data collection and easier-to-navigate dashboards, Schleiss suggested. For Emerson, he said, this means letting users group information about individual assets into conversations (as Gmail users are familiar with) to make it easier to track discussions and diagnoses, and allowing users to enhance these conversations with photos taken from the field. And to help prevent the confusion created by alert overload, it means changing default values for alerts so that number of alerts generated is slashed by more than 80%. "It's not just getting big data; it's getting the right data," he said.

6. "The way we've operated forever needs to fundamentally change." –Jim Nyquist, group vice president, PlantWeb Solutions, Emerson Process Management

What if GE sold propulsion as a service rather than selling jet engines? P&G's Paul Maurath floated the concept during his discussion on Tuesday. Panelists in Wednesday's IIoT roundtable, too, touched on the business disruptions (and security and liability concerns) that likely will occur with the move toward selling services rather than products.

Nyquist, for his part, sounded the call for more-drastic change during Monday's Project Certainty press event, where he said too many companies aren't challenging the status quo. "We have to create a sense of urgency about change," he said. Echoing Vasser, Nyquist emphasized that it's not about polishing processes and procedures that plants have had in place for 30 years—it's about making changes that will affect what's done, where, when and by whom.

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