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How your system integrator can guide your digital projects

Dec. 14, 2021
In this Big Picture Interview, learn how to kick-start your digital programs in 2022.

Sam Hoff is the president and CEO of Patti Engineering, a Certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). Under Sam’s leadership, Patti Engineering has become a leader in applications of Industry 4.0 and digital twining to improve manufacturing through AI and data science. Plant Service spoke with Sam early last year about how maintenance teams can get their digital programs off the ground, and Sam checked in recently with Editor in Chief Thomas Wilk about what teams can do to kick-start these programs in 2022.

PS: The last time we caught up, COVID was just a whisper coming from outside of the U.S. A lot of what we heard in the past 18 months is that these products are only accelerating. Can you tell us some of what you’ve seen and heard?

SH: Without a doubt, these projects have really accelerated. I think COVID has given Industry 4.0 a kick in the butt, to take it from the concept to practical applications. We’re seeing all types of IIoT projects and IIoT requests. There’s a couple of things driving this: (a) a shortage of workers and shortage of labor, and (b) wanting to keep people off the line and working remotely as much as possible. So, what kind of information can you glean from the production systems without being beside it to be able to track improvement.

PS: When it comes to IIoT projects, you also encourage siloed teams inside the plant to break down, especially the departments like controls, industrial engineering, and maintenance. Can you share some of your thoughts or tips on how teams can do this successfully?

Big Picture Interview

This article is part of our monthly Big Picture Interview column. Read more interviews from our monthly Big Picture series.

SH: You definitely need management buy-in on this. It has to be somebody pushing from above, because with these groups you’re moving their cheese a little bit. They’re going to be doing things differently. They’re going to be interacting with people that maybe they’re not used to interacting with. If you leave it up to all those groups individually, you’re not really going to have success with it. It has to be driven by the operations management at that facility. We’ve seen successful implementations and unsuccessful implementations, and it all comes down to operations management.

PS: Let’s look forward a little bit into 2022. One issue that people fought with this year and which we’ve heard they’re looking forward to tackling next year is cybersecurity. What are some things that plants can do to be proactive in this area?

SH: Test, test, retest, and retest. There’s been some pretty high-level cases recently, where you get the message, “You need to send Bitcoin to this encrypted address, and you get your system back running.” There’s been cases where even when you do that, you might be able to get back up on your backups or your systems quicker. So, you need to constantly make sure that your systems are backed up, you’re prepared for it, you need to test—throw the kill switch some weekend, make sure you’re going to see how long it will take you to recover, simulate what a cybersecurity attack will look like.

There are a lot of devices out there that can do packet sniffing as part of layers of defense, but you have to be testing. A lot of your industrial control components were not designed with cybersecurity in mind, especially older ones. They are the most vulnerable part of your operations.

PS: Let’s say the worst-case scenario happens, and a plant does get targeted. What are some things people can do to be prepared for this situation?

SH: You definitely want a response plan in place but I think more than that, you want to test your response plan, so you want to run some type of simulations. You can even have some people try to hack into your systems to see what the vulnerabilities are. It’s like anything, right? You have to test it in order to see how secure you are.

PS: What kinds of projects do you anticipate working on the most in 2022?

SH: A lot of digital-type projects, a lot of getting information off the plant floor, and a lot of analyzing that information. We’re seeing the need within integrators for doing some data science, you know, Power BI, trying to do some machine learning off the data that you’re seeing, a lot of digital twinning and this kind of stuff. I really think digital technologies will drive a lot of projects in 2022.

This story originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.