Tell us more about the FieldComm Group and its activities.
The FieldComm Group combines the resources of Fieldbus Foundation and HART Communication Foundation to focus on and deliver digital tools and solutions essential to improved plant operations based on the Internet of Things (IoT). FieldComm Group is a global standards-based non-profit member organisation consisting of leading process end users, manufacturers, universities and research organisations that work together to direct the development, incorporation and implementation of communication technologies for the process industries. It is leading the digital transformation of process automation, providing information models, protocols, and standards for connecting device information from instruments and sensors to automation systems and beyond. These technologies build growth opportunity for our member solutions to connect and integrate data from industrial assets across user enterprises to capture the value by improving asset performance.
Do you think the industry has made adequate efforts towards integrating digital devices into automation system architectures? If no, why?
The process automation industry certainly has tried to do just that. In fairness, process automation is a much more complex environment to insert digital solutions into. Consider that a process plant is typically built to operate for 20+ years. Additionally, consider that the plant when shut down generates no revenue or profit. Adding a digital device is relatively easy these days but integrating it into your plant operations typically calls for not just physical integration but additionally software integration. Secondly, it is not just adding a digital device but rather utilising the information the device provides to make better decisions in operating the plant. So, when adding digital devices, one has to take a systematic view and a solution view. We still have a long way to go but a lot of progress is being made. Our latest efforts with field device integration (FDI) is a huge leap forward in providing a solution for integration of disparate system components and software. The digitalisation of process operations is growing. A great example of the benefits of digitalisation exists right here in India. The Reliance Jamnagar complex, the largest refinery in the world, is a great example of process automation digitalisation and the myriad of benefits that can be realised.
How do you look at the Indian market in terms of the potential for automation?
We enjoy strong acceptance in both the public and private sectors. I guess you could say our products are Foundation Fieldbus, WirelessHART and wired HART. All of these technologies are widely deployed across the country in a number of industries. We look at India as the potential market with an enormous opportunity and a big potential for growth within public infrastructure as there are lots of water and waste water plants and power generating plants getting added in the country. Within the private sector, new gas plants are on the horizon, in refineries, chemical plants, pharmaceutical plants, etc. The economic future of India is very promising and FieldComm Group believes that they can play a valuable role in that growth.
What is your plan for the Indian market?
Our plan is to continue to support our member companies with broad marketing of our core technologies. We are very pleased to be a major participant in the Automation exhibition and plan on continuing to be a participant. What we realise is that a continuous education is required here; so we will investigate all our options to launch more and more training of both suppliers and end users. We have been fortunate to have a marketing committee that is comprised of leading manufacturers and are making efforts to increase the participation. In short, we are here for the long haul and looking forward to strong success.
What more can be done for increasing automation in Indian enterprises?
As I said, I believe that the India market has a strong appetite for digital solutions in automation. Our member companies need to continue the education of their clients in terms of the automation solutions available. It is not simply about digital devices but about which basic technology delivers the functionality they require and how best to integrate that device into a digital architecture.
Being an expert in automation for so many years, what would be your advice to organisations who are planning to increase automation in their operations for optimising business growth?
I truly believe that education is the key to successfully integrating automation into their business plans. Economies today are globally competitive. Product price is important but so is quality of product. Automation plays a role in each of these. As an example, unscheduled shut-downs due to equipment failures or perceived failures cost millions to a large petrochemical plant, or refinery, or pharmaceutical facility or a food processing facility. Product quality has a similar impact. A well-educated process engineer can make the right choice for the selection and use of automation products to eliminate and/or reduce downtime or quality issues. Many of our member companies offer excellent and thorough training in all our technologies across several levels from engineering to project management to maintenance. The second piece of advice I would provide is to involve all essential parties early in the process. This provides a sense of ownership in the decision which contributes greatly to buy in by all parties.
What do you see as the next steps, beyond IoT, industrial automation and M2M? Where is the next innovation coming from?
As I said earlier, process plants are built for 20+ year lifecycles. I think there is still a lot to be gained with the technologies we have today as we build more and more Artificial Intelligence into these systems. We have a very bright future with a new generation of young engineers that have been raised with digital products, that understand them and see uses we haven’t yet imagined.