IoT has been the talk of the town in the consumer world for quite some time and today, we are talking about Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Similarly, the oil & gas and chemical industry, too, is on the fast track of evaluating new technologies and trends. Apart from Big Data analytics, industrial IoT provides a means to achieve optimised machines, factories and plants. These could include various technological advancements, such as predictive maintenance, energy monitoring and data acquisition to name a few. These next generation automation solutions help in asset performance managements, condition based maintenance, improving Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and reducing wastage. These solutions definitely play a vital role in the process industries, along with technology advancements that help plants achieve higher profitability and efficiency. For example, any unplanned downtime in the process industry is a dreaded factor, as it is always associated with the immense costs of maintenance and production loss. However, with industrial IoT, one can significantly boost system availability and reliability.
Opportunity areas within the industry
When we look at a greenfield process plant, it needs high investment and planning but has all the latest technologies, products and software at its disposal. In contrast to a brownfield plant, the automation solution is not with latest technologies and might even be decades old. Industrial IoT has solutions for both the cases.
In greenfield, to reduce costs, the plant owner can look at advancements, such as digital twin and virtualisation. This would help drastically reduce the cost of installation and commissioning. A digital model of the entire plant would be available even before the plant installation begins. This can be coupled with various automation solutions to check the feasibility of the plant. This can be done even before ordering the automation systems right down to I/Os and sensors. The digital model also helps in providing performance of the assets over time. Even in brownfield plants, industrial IoT solutions help to retrofit the legacy and digitally isolated equipment to create an IIoT ‘green patch’ in a brownfield plant, without any changes to existing hardware and software. In this scenario, edge architectures is a perfect fit for transferring data securely from field to the cloud, making machines and factories smart. An end-to-end connectivity helps integrate the IT systems of the plant with the process, providing the management with a holistic view of operations.
Challenges faced by Indian plant operators
The most pressing challenges arise from the conflict between increasing demand and shrinking reserves. Mastering this balancing act calls for increased investments in more efficient extraction and handling technologies, such as gas to power, so that decommissioned oil and gas fields can be reopened to utilise remaining resources. The same goes for underutilised resources, including fields that were not previously economical to exploit, such as oil sand, fractionation and deep-water drilling. The supply-demand conflict also increases the importance of storage, Liquefaction of Natural Gas (LNG) and long-distance transport routes (for example, oil depots, LNG plants and extended pipelines). Intensifying environmental regulations is also becoming an increasingly important factor.
Prospects for small & medium chemical businesses
Primarily, India has been a cost sensitive market and it is a perception that the latest automation solutions are expensive and need immense investments. However, investments are needed but they need not necessarily be high. Technology advancement will happen, and in today’s age, the rate of technology changes is much faster as compared to what it was a decade ago. We would advise businesses that they should first identify their problems and then look for solutions brought in by industrial IoT. This approach will help them understand its power and reap benefits. Apart from basing the solutions around problems in the plant, another point to keep in mind is to have a systematic approach. Implementing many solutions together at once becomes easier from the execution perspective but the management might not understand the impact of independent solutions. It could happen that the impact of one solution would be much higher against the invested cost over the other. To judge this, it is important to implement one solution, observe its benefits and then move to the next. In case plant availability is an issue due to process downtime and shut down, then monitoring the asset on the field would be the first decision. Once the monitoring solutions are successfully implemented, the next phase would be to gather data for the process and analyse it for trends, looking for optimisations and taking corrective actions.
Our goal at B&R is to achieve integrated automation of all functions (as a ‘fully integrated asset’) for hydrocarbon-based energy sources, like gas, crude oil and distillates – regardless of whether they are used by industrial or private consumers. All of the necessary information is available anywhere and at any time, which ensures that all processes are transparent and that requirements can be met efficiently. This information can help in increasing system availability, optimising processes by evaluating effectiveness (key performance indicators), finding and eliminating capacity bottlenecks, reducing costs by increasing energy efficiency and saving, modernising equipment during operation, utilising water efficiently and cleanly, increasing customer security through the use of gas, oil and refined product depot & combining processes and power generation increase system availability.
Industrial IoT focuses on data generation and associated analytics. The amount of data is not the problem in IoT but how one uses it might be one. Converting this data into meaningful information needs the right system. The real issue about generating data is guaranteeing its security, integrity and confidentiality. Providing an environment for cyber security is the need of the hour. We recommend plants to opt for edge architectures over cloud-based computing. Edge computing makes convergence of IT and OT a reality. With edge architectures, plants can have full control of data and guaranteed full access to it. Edge architectures from B&R enable machines, factories and plants to gather the data from the field as well as perform energy monitoring and condition-based maintenance. These edge architectures are coupled with open source networking, such as OPC UA, MQTT, AMQP, enabling plants to move data to IT infrastructure at any point in time. This provides an easy access to IIoT implementation for plants.
More trends and development
There could be health hazardous areas in a plant. With IoT, it is possible for the management to restrict access of humans into these areas or grant access to authorised personnel or personnel with appropriate gear. In case a human enters a restricted area without the necessary gear, it can trigger an alarm and alert the plant managers, who can then take necessary actions. There are many such use cases which can be deployed in plants in order to improve worker safety. However, many times, taking the first step is difficult. In our personal lives, too, changing from our older generation phones to smart phones took the many of us a lot of time. No doubt, a cautious approach is necessary; however, more importantly, it is necessary to have the right partner for implementing these latest technology advancements. Today, everyone wants to adopt next generation automation solutions. However, they always face a challenge of not having a suitable partner in their journey. B&R enables machine builders, factories and plants to successfully implement advanced automation solutions, helping them optimise operations, improve efficiencies and increase profitability.