Pervasive sensing is key to increased business visibility

10 June 2014

At the recent European Emerson User Exchange, Peter Zornio, chief strategic officer at Emerson Process Management, highlighted some of the key drivers for the process industries today and identified a new role for sensing technologies in business critical applications.

The main drivers for the process industries have remained the same for over 50 years – the need for a safe, environmentally friendly and secure facility, followed by the need for the facility to be run at the lowest cost, in a reliable manner and maximising production when the facility is running.

Today there is an increasing need for process companies to be more aware of all aspects of their business as it is not possible to improve what you don’t know. Emerson believes that mobile technology is key to making staff more productive. 

An important new process industry driver relates to a need for greater staff effectiveness to address the problem of a generation of engineers coming up for retirement and taking many years of process plant experience with them. There are also many new facilities being built around the globe in ever more inhospitable places, where no experienced people want to go to run the process.  Running safe and profitable operations is, therefore, becoming increasingly challenging. 

For this reason facilities need the ability to be operated remotely by process experts, from anywhere in the world. This can also increase safety, enabling operators to work outside of hazardous areas.

Predictive capabilities
Processes today also need better predictive capabilities. Emerson was a pioneer in this area with PlantWeb and its predictive diagnostics. We now want to take this to the next level to allow and facilities to actually tell you that something is going to happen. Collaborative working is another key trend we have identified. Every decision made in a process facility would benefit from input from multiple departments. Being able to make those decisions in a collaborative way, quickly, is important to help ensure operational excellence.

Further, because there will be fewer process experts available in the future it is vital to consider how to get the best out of the expertise that is available. This means ensuring that these people are not spending their time physically travelling to a site, but instead are able to apply their knowledge remotely to diagnose what is happening on a plant. 

Integrated operating (iOps) environments can help by bringing together different disciplines, albeit remotely, to enable more informed decision-making. One thing supporting this is data from pervasive sensors. Emerson’s System Health Monitoring can also help, allowing for remote monitoring of DetaV systems, enabling Emerson experts to identify and inform a company of potential issues.

While individual implementations may vary, key ingredients of an iOps model are expected to include collaboration of cross-functional teams, collaboration tools such as video conferencing and other applications, real-time access to process and asset data and streamlined decision-making workflows.

Emerson can, today offer a whole family of sensor technologies that are non-intrusive, and wireless, extending their potential areas of application into business critical applications, to meet the increasing trend for greater operational insight to ensure operational excellence.

The process industry is moving from routine manual inspections to automated monitoring, using smart sensors, often wireless, helping to provide greater plant visibility.
There are many areas, above and beyond the data and the applications needed to run the process, that are critical to running the facility. Going forward, Emerson is predicting an expansion of the use of sensors in these business critical application areas – for site safety, reliability, energy monitoring. Emerson calls this pervasive sensing. 

Traditionally, the cost of adding a wired sensor to gather data has been high – in terms of installation – which has limited many to only collecting data for critical requirements. Today’s innovative sensor technology – such as wireless and non-invasive sensors, however, has made installation most cost-effective to install and the embedded technology inside these sensors now allows them to provide direct actionable information. 

Lower cost of deployment
The advent of Smart Wireless technologies and advances in sensor technology and installation techniques has overcome the cost/value barrier by providing lower cost of deployment, reliable non-intrusive installation and low-lifecycle costs, combined with ease of use in sensor applications. New software applications and embedded sensor intelligence is also becoming available to interpret the data from these sensors and convert it into actionable information, enabling prompt response to potential problems and better insight for improved decision-making.

Our customers want actionable information that can make their lives safer, more predictable and save them cost, risk and time. This goes beyond the control room and optimised process performance. They want clarity and certainty of conditions for business-critical decision-making across all aspects of their operations. To achieve this, a more comprehensive network of sensors is needed. 

A good analogy is the ongoing evolution of automotive sensors, which have evolved from managing engine performance and simple ‘check engine’ alerts to providing actionable information about all aspects of car performance – such as precise tyre pressure and fuel economy – to help maintain safety, economy and provide failure prevention diagnostics.

Emerson believes that the market for pervasive sensing solutions is huge. These sensors will not be plugged into the process DCS. There is an increasingly parallel architecture being created - largely wireless – which collects data for business critical applications, allowing the DCS network to remain separate and secure. 

It is the diagnostics-based pervasive sensing and monitoring applications that will convert data into actionable information that is fundamental to an iOps model. Real-time insight into actual conditions is vital to give personnel the confidence to make better decisions. 

Emerson has recently opened an iOps centre in Austin in the USA to give customers a sense of what is possible in the future of integrated operations. This real-world working model of a production enterprise that allows customers to experience the next generation of collaboration and real-time, multi-disciplinary decision-making. The company has partnered with Dell, Barco, Cisco, Mynah Technologies and OSIsoft on this showcase project.

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