Cars are already regularly on cruise control, and work is underway to produce them self-driving to take the passenger from A to B in the future. This also applies to industry. At the moment, a factory is still often controlled by human activity, but eventually it will be able to operate independently and autonomously.
These developments have been tested in our industry by means of the study 'The Outlook for the Shift to Industrial Autonomy' among end users. "We found it interesting to investigate how the market itself looks at the autonomy of industry," says Patrick Kools, Yokogawa's business transition development expert on industrial autonomy to a journalist for the article 'Analysis, Innovation in Industry' of a magazine in the Netherlands. "The market is not only changing because of COVID-19. There was already enormous pressure on the major oil & petrochemical and pharmaceutical companies to emit less CO2 and meet climate requirements. On the other hand, there are also all kinds of new opportunities, such as Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. And there's more to come.”
Process industry wants to reach the highest level of industrial autonomy
Of all the companies surveyed, 92% indicate that they are all on their way to the highest level of industrial autonomy, where processes are carried out without the intervention of personnel, Kools continues. "That is very ambitious. But it is clear that the ambition is there. Two thirds of the companies want to achieve industrial autonomy by 2030, and a very large proportion is actively working on that. Increasingly, individual tasks are being automated, but we must not forget that jobs in factories also have to do with safety issues. Procedures must be carried out safely, even if they are automated. At the same time, to return to the example of cruise control, a car drives more efficiently with it than if someone presses the accelerator every time. The more stable, the more efficient and energy efficient, and that also applies to an autonomous factory.”
Moreover, stability also means that there will be fewer quality problems, according to Kools. "Making mistakes is humane and by making factories more autonomous you ensure better quality control so that fewer mistakes occur. I also relate this to our climate. Gas, for example, is largely the backbone of our energy supply, but society has the ambition that by 2050 every Dutch person will be rid of gas. As a result, the petrochemical sector faces quite a challenge. It not only has to cut back and produce gas and oil in a cleaner way. At the same time, the Shell and BP's among us must also build a new energy system that can run autonomously, such as solar and wind farms, in which few people will work".
It will be a huge challenge to provide everyone with energy from the new energy systems in a stable way, Kools continues. "We now have the luxury that there will always be gas and/or electricity in our house, that is what we also want when the energy is produced by new energy systems. Politics plays a major role in this. Stable policy is needed, because it requires major investments. Europe is already lagging behind in terms of investment compared with the Middle East, for example.”
Automation offers opportunities such as efficiency and cost reduction
Automation offers opportunities such as efficiency and cost reduction.
Technically speaking, the next 30 years will be very interesting, concludes Kools. "Manual jobs are going to disappear and instead we need people with a different profile. In addition, the industry can make great steps in efficiency and cost reduction through automation and it will pay off for companies to adapt their business plan accordingly. Automation is not only scary, but also interesting and offers opportunities such as efficiency and cost reduction. That is what I am working on together with my colleagues: making a factory more efficient and smarter. Initially with testing and measuring equipment and now also with industrial automation. In this way, we help Plant Managers to keep pace with technological developments so that they achieve their objectives".
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