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A perfect storm of technologies get the best out of data

23 August 2016

Big data is just one of a host of popular industry buzz words. When put together with other enabling technologies such as IIoT and the Cloud the benefits of big data really start to become apparent. Suzanne Gill reports.

A recent survey of 250 process and manufacturing industry executives by PricewaterhouseCoopers identified that one-third of enterprises are already using data analytics to improve business performance in some way. Two-thirds said that they are using data analytics capability to monitor assets to drive a proactive maintenance programme. Two-thirds also said that they were investing heavily in IT infrastructure in order to allow them to collect more data from their facilities or remote assets.

There is clearly a growing interest in data. However, alone it has no value. It needs to be translated into actionable information. Users that are able to aggregate their data can go on to use it to monitor applications and identify potential safety and performance issues. 

For many years industry has been analysing data to some extent. What is new is that we now also have the ability to move data around and even out of the plant and into the Cloud… Again though, some industry sectors have been doing this for years, because they had to. Refineries, for example, often have expert knowledge grouped in one place with the actual refineries being some distance away, so there has been no choice but to remotely analyse data to solve process problems.  The gas industry also needs to remotely gather data from its long pipelines and to control pipeline flows from a central location.
Renewed interest
There has been a renewed interest in data analysis from the oil & gas industry too. As the price of the product has dropped in recent years there has been a move towards improving efficiency and productivity as a way to maintain profitability. IIoT, big data and the Cloud technologies are now being adopted by this industry sector to help solve production and supply chain problems that in the past may not have been considered worth addressing.

“Today we have the ability to move data around in the cloud cheaply,” said Andrew Hird, vice president and general manager of Honeywell’s new digital transformation unit.  “The technology that allows us to do this and the software applications that allow us to analyse the data are now much more sophisticated and this is leading to increasing interest from SMEs as well as multinationals and this has created a tipping point for wider adoption of big data management solutions.” 

When combined the IIoT, big data and the Cloud are enablers that can help unleash the power that is already available in control systems and smart plant devices which have been sitting on the plant floor for some time. 

 “The big data trend is not really about creating more data,” continued Hird. “It is about contextualising the data that you already have. However, often all the data needed to answer a question, will not come from just one area of the plant. The IIoT brings together a variety of disparate data from systems such as asset data, vibration monitoring systems, and environmental data which can offer greater perspective. For example, if you are looking to find out why a pump failed, you will not have all the information in just one set of data to allow you to come to a conclusion. You need vibration monitoring information as well as knowledge about what type of fluid was running through the pump and at what pressure. You might also need to add some other environmental information to get the full picture. Contextualising data from a variety of different sources gives a much better understanding of the events that led up to a failure.” 

Another issue that needs to be addressed when trying to gain an accurate picture about an event is that the ability to understand the meaning of much of the asset information is often limited by the number of people at a site who are able to interpret all the different streams of data. “However, we are now able to bring all the data together in the Cloud, so it is possible to get input from a variety of experts from across the enterprise to gain a full picture of an event and to help solve problems,” said Hird. 

Available data
Much of the data needed to achieve big-data solutions will already be available, sitting in processes and monitoring systems across the enterprise. Bringing it all together has recently been made much easier thanks to advances in communication technologies and protocols such as OPC UA, which now makes it possible to bring data together in a single format which can be presented in a meaningful way to the right people at the right time. 

All plants will contain a mix of old and new control systems but this should not be a barrier to benefitting from big data management solutions. The continuous evolution process that Honeywell has applied to its Experion DCS solutions, for example, means that its new analysis software solutions will work seamlessly even with the original DCS systems that were installed in the 1970s.  “These systems are still fully supported within the current architecture,” confirmed Hird. The raft of new data software solutions from control system vendors are designed to sit on top of existing DCS systems, and do not interfere with their day-to-day operation, but offer an elegant way to bring plant data into the IoT world from any control system, allowing engineers to present their data to the enterprise. 

Hird’s advice to those looking to make better use of their existing data is to look at where the biggest return on investments would come from. “Look first at what is impacting your profitability the most,” he said.  “Anything that is stopping the plant from achieving 100% production should be looked at more closely.  It could be as simple as analysing information about different shift performances. If one shift achieves greater productivity it would not cost much to identify how this is achieved and then to pass this information on to all operators, helping to implement best-practice across the enterprise.”

Downtime reduction is another area that could benefit from big data analysis. Today most plants will operate at between 88 and 92% OEE. So, if typically, 5% of downtime is due to planned shutdowns, the rest is unplanned. Big data analysis can help find out what is causing these shutdowns, allowing plants to increase their OEE by better predicting potential problems.

The new digital transformation business unit created by Honeywell Process Solutions aims to offer help and guidance to manufacturers wishing to harness the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and to more rapidly deploy technologies to allow them to better manage and analyse data.

Among the technologies at Honeywell’s disposal to achieve this is its DynAMo alarm and operations management; Industrial Cyber Security Risk Manager, which proactively monitors and manages cyber risk for industrial environments; Assurance 360, a cooperative service arrangement to maintain, support and optimise the performance of Honeywell control systems; and, Honeywell Pulse, a mobility app that allows plant managers to monitor real-time operations from a smartphone.

“We are now in a position to help our customers solve big challenges by assisting them to consolidate disparate data in the cloud, applying high-level analytics and utilising experts who are often physically remote from the customer site to make a real difference to productivity, efficiency and profitability,” concluded Hird.

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