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Digital transformation is the only option

11 February 2018

Suzanne Gill spoke to Jürgen Brandes, CEO of Siemens Process Industries and Drives Division, to get his thoughts on the digitalisation journey for the process industries.

I must admit to being a little surprised, but heartened, to hear Brandes initial comments at the start of our interview, when he explained that digitalisation is not necessarily reliant upon the purchase of new technology. He said: “The digitalisation journey should start with questions being asked about what needs to be done differently and how existing data might be used more smartly.”

So, any digitalisation project should start with the use case. However, according to Brandes, this vital step is often missed. “It is important to first look at what you want to do differently and then look at how existing plant data, which you may not have accessed or analysed before, might help you to transform your business,” he said. “There is a great deal of unused data already available on the plant floor. If this can be accessed and, importantly, turned it into actionable information, then the digital transformation can begin.”

Brandes believes it is important that, when talking to customers about digitalisation, vendors should begin with a consultancy approach. “Siemens is able to offer customers – of any size – an initial consultation,” he said. “In the process industry we are working with customers to firstly find out what equipment and technologies are already available to them and then we create a document which offers recommendations about how they might want to move forward and where they should start. There is never a standard fixed way forward and this is why it is important to consider every project individually.

Digital documents?
There are three main priorities for any digitalisation strategy – Knowing what data you need; finding out how to gather this data; and then timestamping it to give it relevance and make it usable. Siemens is able to help at all of these stages. It can provide hardware to collect the data; it has its open, cloud-based IoT operating system, MindSphere, to connect, view, and analyse the data; and it has open interfaces to allow customers to create their own IPs to enable them to use data smartly. MindSphere offers a platform as a service approach (PaaS) where system-generated data can be captured, evaluated and used – for example to optimise plant performance and availability. Because it is scalable, the solution can be employed to capture data from a single motor, right up to a complete process plant, depending on the needs of individual users. “If, for example, you have an issue relating to energy savings, MindSphere could help you make sense of data collected from a smart box retrofitted onto a single motor. You will immediately gain useful process data to act upon,” said Brandes. The data can be used to predict and prevent downtimes and could be employed to develop completely new business models – such as selling machine operating hours and offering less capital-intensive solutions.

Today, around one million devices and systems are connected via MindSphere, and this figure is set to reach 1.25 million by the end of fiscal 2018. MindSphere has also just been made available on Amazon Web Services, which allows users to enjoy the benefits of an even more powerful development environment, additional analysis functions and expanded connectivity.

Going further?
However, Siemens believes there is much more to be achieved from digitalisation. For example, there is now software that allows for the digital documentation of devices and systems that make up the plant. Keeping such documentation together in one environment, and up to date, has, traditionally been difficult using paper documentation. A smarter solution is to have always up to date documentation on basis of a digital twin of the plant. This enables comparisons to be made between the ideal (digital twin world) and the reality world (physical systems), offering valuable insight into how processes could be improved using the technology that is already available in the plant. “Such a digital twinning solution can provide clear comparisons to identify physical process weak points and to show the true potential of your existing plant,” said Brandes.

“In the future, when companies invest in new process plants or improve them they will want to receive a digital document in addition to, or instead of, the traditional paper documentation. The digitised engineering data can be imported and ensures that the digital twin is up to date along the whole life-cycle. This can also help to better understand the effect that new additions to a plant will have on the process.” Brandes went on to explain that it is now possible to create a digital twin of plants that contain legacy equipment that may be decades old. “Siemens is able to help create a digital twin even of brownfield sites,” he confirmed.

Of course, it is important that any digital documentation works in the same way with all automation vendor offerings. Brandes agrees that these solutions cannot be vendor-specific or proprietary. “The environment needs to be collaborative to allow for the addition of best of breed solutions that will work with legacy equipment – from any supplier,” he said. But open systems demand comprehensive protection to guarantee cybersecurity. The Siemens solution is its Defense in Depth concept which has been designed in line with the recommendations of ISA 99 / IEC 62443, to provide all-round and in-depth protection for automation systems on all three levels – plant security, network security and system integrity.

Siemens offers software and hardware tools for all phases of the lifecycle of a plant. The digital twin is based on the data model of the engineering tool COMOS. Closely linked to this solution, and to Siemens scalable process automation system SIMATIC PCS 7, is SIMIT, a simulation tool that helps with virtual commissioning and with the development of operator training systems. SIMIT uses a digital twin to digitally test all the software and control loops – in effect undertaking a virtual factory acceptance test (FAT) to remove any problems before the physical system is installed. With the cooperation of Bentley systems it is possible for a digital twin to also be generated and visualised for brownfield projects. An actual 3D virtual reality twin of the plant can be used for modernisation, virtual plant tours or training projects.

Brandes says that the biggest benefit of digitalisation for the process control engineer is the additional operational data that becomes available while for the design engineer the biggest immediate benefit of digitalisation will be a reduction in project lead times and faster times to market. While he admits that the digitalisation process may present challenges for many process enterprises, he reiterated that doing nothing is not an option! “It is up to every company to find the right place to start their journey – and to first understand what they want to change. However, it is vital that all process enterprises start to take these first steps,” he said.

Everyone needs to find their own place to start the journey. “Find a project that addresses the biggest challenges in your existing strategy. This might be time to market, it might be ageing equipment or engineering staff, or it may be a need to increase productivity. Always start somewhere that offers you the easy wins. When you gain confidence you can start to more confidently expand the use of digital solutions,” concluded Brandes.

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