Setting and achieving your plant's sustainability goals

April 7, 2022
In this episode of The Tool Belt, Oswaldo “Oz” Rodriguez explores the importance of having the right tools to support your sustainability initiatives.

Oswaldo “Oz” Rodriguez is a technologist with a background in software engineering, and is currently the head of product Go-To-Market strategy with Lloyd’s Register digital products. His LinkedIn profile also says one of his goals is to save the world by building one cool product at a time. Plant Services editor in chief Thomas Wilk met Oz several years ago at the ARC Industry Forum, where they talked about the value that a shared library of asset data could bring to industry. In this interview, Oz suggests it’s time for industry to come together in similar manner to promote sustainability and protect the planet.

PS: Could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and some projects that you're working on right now?

OR: Yes. Basically, as you said, I'm a technologist. My background is software engineering, and what I do right now is the link between the technology that we develop at Lloyd's Register digital products and the market: making sure that they're a good fit, that we're really solving a customer's problem, that we're really advising our customers the best way moving forward. You know, with the pandemic, everything is about digital or digital transformation. Sustainability has come into scrutiny and now it's centered on everybody's agenda. So that's what we do, make sure that we build the right products, the right tools to support all of these great ambitions our customers have.

PS: We've had our pick of crises the past couple of years, worldwide. Not only current events over in eastern Europe, but also as you said, sustainability issues and the COVID pandemic. Plant Services spoke to someone recently, he was a control systems engineer who stated that “the sustainable moment is upon us.” If I could focus on that issue to start the podcast, industry has been heading in that direction for some time, a more sustainable direction. Do you agree that currently there might be a different sort of urgency or opportunity in this area for industry?

OR: I agree, and I think that the catalyst was last year's COP26. It was the first time that we really met as an industry, as a planet, and looked at this as something that we need to do. It's not about income, it's not about cost cutting, it's not about safety. It's about we surviving as a species, making sure this planet is fit for purpose.

And I think that by having that meeting and coming out with so many great discussions, thought leaders, presidents of countries making pledges like the Global Methane Pledge, right? Now we have KPIs and we have a timeline, so we have really smart goals and your publication talks a lot about to maintenance people, to inspection people, to business leaders, that you have to have KPIs.

I think this is the first time – am I being correct? because it feels tangible – the first time that we actually have a goal we want to reduce this much by this time, and that makes it real. That brings it to perspective. It's not a politician saying, “we're going to reduce methane emissions by 2050.” You have no idea what's the goal. Now, I feel like with that goal in mind, it has come into scrutiny because now we can measure ourselves, “did we do a good job on meeting those goals?” So I think that's why it's front and center on everybody's agenda, to be honest.

PS: I'm feeling that too. We've had a columnist writing for us every other month for some time now about energy issues and sustainability issues, and even this columnist is pretty excited about the opportunity he sees. He's been preaching the wisdom of developing new energy plans to accommodate goals that were referenced in the COP26 conference. He sees this movement afoot too.

OR: Yes, and the interesting part and where I see the risk lies is that all of these pledges and commitments and goals and ambitions were made at a country level, but it's up to us in the industry on every part of the supply chain to make sure we are aligned so that we can meet these goals. It's not a sense of America or Canada or the UK that is going to meet the goals, it's the industries, it's the companies. It's us as part of this industry that is going to be able to say, “yes, we came together as an industry, we looked for solutions, we looked for innovations, we looked at transforming the way we do business so that we can be profitable, but at the same time that we can help the environment and our communities.” And if in 2030 we're able to say, yes, we did it, not only have we advanced as an industry, I think we have advanced as a society.

PS: Do you think that sustainability efforts will bring a new or different kind of information sharing among plants and in their parent organizations to help promote best practices for goals like methane reduction or zero waste to landfill? I know sometimes plants can keep a hold on that information slightly, but in some ways, without talking to each other, it's tough to know how everyone can work together to move towards that goal.

OR: So, yes, I think so, and I think that the key change is that I don't think the companies view that as a competitive advantage anymore. You want to keep a competitive advantage from others because that's going to make you better, but I think in this case, you are reducing methane emissions or you going into a lower energy consumption or better waste management process, I really hope that it becomes a platform for companies, even competitors, to talk among themselves and say, “do this.”

Because, again, it's not about saving money. It's not about being more competitive and getting more value to the shareholders and stakeholders, but we're all in this together. We're really running out of time to make decisions and changes so that we stop harming our country, our planet, to our earth, and which may be irreparable if we don't stop. So it's not about I'm going to make more money than you. It's like, let do this together as an industry, let's do this as the sites of this region, and let's show that we can work together.

Now, competitive advantage would lie on other parts of the supply chain, on the quality of your products, on the engineering expertise, but I think this piece needs to be a shared knowledge. It should be like a Wikipedia where everybody in the industries can look. And not only oil and gas, but everybody outside – car manufacturing and food and beverage and mining. I think it's really important that we start building common practices because once we do that, and once we really adopt them, that's where we start seeing the changes. And that only happens if we come together.

PS: There was a great mining story (since you mentioned the mining industry) that I heard about two, three years ago, just before the pandemic at a conference out in Phoenix. The story was they had put sensors on reconditioned fleet vehicles to make sure they knew where the flaws in the vehicles were when the vehicles needed maintenance, as they were moving the ore out of the mine.

They found though that they had rebuilt the fleet so well that the bumps and vibrations the sensors were picking up were actually flaws in the road. And so, using the IoT, they had not only managed to rebuild a good fleet, but also they could repair the road as needed, and streamline energy efficiency, reduce fuel consumption, and reduce bumps and jostles.

I mean, there was this cascading series of dominoes that fell thanks to the way that the internet was helping consolidate data so they could see not just data about the fleet but about the roads too, and again that led to fuel efficiency and certain sustainability. They weren't even thinking about sustainability savings when they started the fleet project; they thought they wanted to just reduce the need to buy new capital equipment for the fleet. They found out that not only did they avoid that, but they achieved energy savings too.

OR: And what I love about the technology today is that we don't have to reinvent the wheel, no pun intended, but we don't have to reinvent it to be able to be more effective. Not only on the production side, availability and reliability but if we are really honest with our ourselves, if we avoid things like loss of containment on scheduled downtime, we are already helping the planet.

If you run your car the best that you can and you do the best maintenance, emissions are going to be lower and you are going to be helping your environment. I love those stories because sometimes innovation comes from the most unlikely places, or you build something to solve a problem in mind, and then you realize that it could be used to solve some other problems.

I'm a really big advocate of let's use what we have today, and let's take advantage of what we have today. Companies don't have to invest millions and millions reconfiguring plants, putting in IoT. Although I love technology, I love sensor data, I love real-time data because it gives you a completely different view on the operability of your assets, if it's a 1970 plant and it's the core of your operation, there's other methods, other software, other technologies that you can use and you can increase the life of that equipment in a safe way and in a sustainable way.

That that's a strong message I would like to give today, taking the opportunity of this platform is let's take a look at what we have today, processes and people, and IT, and I'm sure that we can come up with great solutions with what we have today.

Listen to the entire interview

PS: That's a really good segue into some research that Plant Services did last year with our readers. It was during the pandemic and it was more exiting the pandemic at least before Delta hit hard. People knew the vaccines were available and that plant processes have been reconfigured as needed to smooth out the hiccups related to COVID absences.

We asked a couple of questions, including the kind of needs that the situation had uncovered among the organizations and our readers pointed towards two specific areas of need. Number one, improved digital operations, so using data better to make decisions. And number two, to your point about using your resources, improved planning and scheduling, because they realized with sickouts and surprise absences and longer quarantines, there was a need for better processes to handle the existing resources.

So my question sort of follows on your point before: are you seeing plants also take concrete steps in one or both of these areas? Either starting with “use what they have” or perhaps add on digital technologies?

OR: I think they are. I think what we are seeing even before the pandemic was this digital transformation movement that in my opinion, the concept is good, but it has been misused. The marketing sometimes is lovely, but sometimes just makes something just for the sake of it. Everything was “digital transformation” and we lost the key message at the bottom, at the core of it, which was, you need to look at your processes and at your people, and those that had waste, those steps or those tasks or those activities that had waste, maybe there's an option or an opportunity for technology to help you on that.

It's not transforming your whole business into a digital platform. It's just basically using digital to help you reduce waste. Because the cycles on a computer, cycles on a server can calculate and can do projections and things much, much faster than a human being, right? That's the goal. So I think companies that got the message well are really taking advantage and are taking a look at specialized applications and software to solve some of their key issues. Now, keep in mind that data silos can cause up to 30% loss on revenue, so you do need to connect.

Now, the other pandemic that now we have is that we have too much data. People are swimming in data, and they want to predict and they want to do a lot things before they get back to basics. Is this data good? Is this good quality? Do I trust the sensor? Do I trust the maintenance of the sensor so that it's providing me with good data? Am I collecting the right data at the right time? It's not collecting all the data it can all the time, because now you're moving the overhead upstream. Now, the overhead is not “I need more data,” the overhead is “what do I do with all this data?” And it's expensive overhead.

But what I was going to say at the beginning is not only automation is not only remote, it's not only scheduling because the other thing that happened with the pandemic is the great resignation. So now you have less specialized people running around the plants fixing the things that you have that need fixing.

The other trend that I've seen is this knowledge drain capturing. How do I capture knowledge? Because let's be honest, the greatest asset of a company is their knowledge. And if that asset is lying in somebody's head, that person is going to retire, which is happening with Baby Boomers, which is happening with Gen Xs because they reach a time where they're like, “we're done,” and with the pandemic it accelerated those plans in many cases. And then you also get people don't want to really work nine to five anymore. So oil and gas is not the sexiest job these days, which it was in the '80s and the '90s but it's not.

We need ways of capturing knowledge, we need ways of systemizing and productizing knowledge so that you do the most important thing that you have to do, which is to make sure you assure the continuity of your business. I've seen that trend too, but I agree with you, improving on scheduling because you need to be more effective because you have less resources and cost constraints, right? And you also need remote technology, and you need to use technology to reduce the waste.

PS: I'm curious about your thoughts on renewable energy technologies too. I know a friend who is specializing right now in motor current signature analysis for wind turbines. He's looking towards the wind sector right now, supporting that side of the renewables business because, again, he's looking at the sustainable moment and figuring this is where he can best support these efforts. Are you seeing a special increase in the area of wind technology and solar technology?

OR: More on the wind side than on the solar side, and I think that I've seen an uptake on this technology. The great thing if we go back into our digital transformation journey, is that because this is new equipment, they come fully sensorized. All the signals and all the information you're getting from these machines, you're able to analyze and optimize. That by itself is a really big step forward, whereas if you had a pressure vessel or a column or a pump, many times these are not sensorized. So then you have to go back and look for another way of optimizing their function.

Now, do we have the enough capacity to build farms that will sustain cities or countries? I think we're still in the process of discovering the expansion needed and the infrastructure needed to make that happen. But in point solutions and point examples and case studies that have come out recently, you can see that the trend is to expand the footprint.

PS: The one technology that I wish was more advanced than it currently is the promise of solar roads, the technology where you would embed (solar) sensors in the roads. And I confess in not keeping up to the technology to knowing if it's a distribution issue or if it's an issue of the materials surviving vehicle traffic. But that's the one I thought was going to race out in front, and I was wrong about that. I’m hearing about wind having the most interest right now.

OR: I haven't heard a lot of that one that you're mentioning, but I can see how there's going to be many factors because if you look at a wind turbine, you can design everything. You can design the load, you can design the position, you can design everything. With this type of (road) technology, you don't know what the traffic is going to be, you don't know what the type of tires. I mean, the foot traffic, bicycles, weather, right? It affects the sensors and it affects the hardware. So, yes, I think that we're going to get there at some point, I hope.

PS: Let me ask you one more question, it's about other trends that you're seeing. You work for Lloyd's Register, which puts you in contact with a lot of different clients across plenty of industry sectors and verticals. Are there any other emerging trends that you're spotting in the area that our readers focus on, which is maintenance, reliability, operations? Either trends coming from one sector or starting to emerge from more than one.

OR: I would say that even though it's not the newest technology and remember that we are in an industry where we are a little bit laggers, so we're not the ones that uptake the first technology that comes out and implement it widely. There's always the front runners that spend a lot on R&D.

For example, consider technologies like data lakes. I think that what happened is before the pandemic, we were looking at a point solution for this problem, a point solution for this other problem, and what ended up happening is that now you have all these data points but no one data point was talking to each other. You could make a decision based on one data point, but it could have triggering effects on other parts of your operations because you never saw information consistently.

I think that companies right now are investing a lot into have a single view, everything that comes into their IT ecosystem has to have the capability to be integrated. These things have existed for a long time, but the fact is that we are realizing the importance of having a orchestrated system that, when you're going to make a decision as a maintenance person, as a plant owner-manager, as a maintenance manager, that you're able to say, “if I do this, what effects am I going to have on different parts of the process, of the supply chain?”

So I think that integration has come into center and obviously, we've touched on this but remote and automation, doing more with less resources. It's pushing everything down the pipe of “I input something and I want you to do a lot, so I don't have to do a lot of manual work, and I want to be able to reach the systems everywhere.” On-premise systems that you have installed within your IT ecosystem that you have to go to the office and plug your laptop so that you can get to those systems, they are facing extinction because the way that the world is shaping right now is I can work from anywhere.

PS: Right, that's something we heard too, was a lot more interest in remote monitoring, and as you say, we're at the point where the data is being collected and now the next frontier is analyzing and taking actionable information from it.

OR: Correlations! If I do this, to this process, what's going to happen with the other processes? I think we need to stop making decisions in isolation because data points are not information. They're just data points.

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