How Digital Transformation impacts Plant Availability

Digitization, which originally meant the conversion of analog information into digital formats, has now been almost completely implemented. As standard, data and media are available in digital form. More and more companies are paperless, archives are becoming a reminiscence of […]

digital transformation

Digitization, which originally meant the conversion of analog information into digital formats, has now been almost completely implemented. As standard, data and media are available in digital form. More and more companies are paperless, archives are becoming a reminiscence of an analog age. Digital data is not only faster, more accurate and available to everyone with the appropriate access rights, digitalization also leads to resource savings and helps us reduce our environmental footprint. The next phase is the digital transformation.

This is about designing digital technologies to improve the well-being of all people in all areas in a sustainable way. Examples are Big Data, Cloud Solutions, Internet of Things and Smart Services. The awareness for digital transformation and the will to implement it is constantly growing in companies. Digital transformation is also increasingly becoming a top priority at the management level. At the same time, a strong ambiguity can be felt: Where does one start with the digital transformation? Where is the starting point?

Digital Transformation: Where do we start?

Many companies find it difficult to get the ball rolling. The decisions to be made should be based on data and achieve the greatest possible benefit for the company. Extensive research and evaluation on new technologies such as Machine Learning, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality are carried out. Proof of concept -studies (PoC) are carried out in order to evaluate the results correctly and put them into a meaningful context. The fundamental feasibility of a project is thus proven and potential risks minimized. Those industrial companies that go one step further and question the meaningfulness of new concepts are already conducting proof of value studies (PoV). Here, the added value of a concept is checked and validated. What are the benefits of new technologies for the company?

Improved Plant Availability can mean immense Savings

Plant availability could play a key role in digital transformation. According to several studies, the process industry loses around 5% of its production capacity annually due to unplanned slowdowns and downtimes. This is a huge sum of money that can be converted into almost 100% profit. In many cases, it also has a major impact on efforts to mitigate climate change, as such shutdowns tend not to reduce energy consumption. Fewer downtimes could also lead to less energy loss, i.e. lower CO2 emissions. Improving plant availability can become a major driver of digital transformation. In addition to the saving of resources and sustainable production, the economic benefit is also an advantage of optimized plant availability. After my explanations as to why plant availability should be improved, I would now like to discuss which methodology should be used.

Benefits of existing technologies

First of all, I would like to clarify one thing: I welcome the digital transformation very much. In the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to get in touch with many different companies and actively seek dialogue with them. Especially the mutual exchange means an enormous added value for both sides. However, when it comes to the topic of “digital transformation”, I notice that often a wrong or not optimal approach is taken, which is not in the cost-benefit ratio. Often the wood for the trees is not seen. The exclusive focus on research into new technologies bears the danger of wasting existing potential. Existing technologies are not remotely used in an efficient way. Let me give you a practical example: An Integrated Control and Safety System (ICSS) indicates that all systems are an integrated platform. So far in theory. The reality, however, is different: instead of a single integrated platform, the technology consists of a large number of isolated monitoring applications. Why not network the monitoring applications instead of replacing them with completely new technologies? Why isn’t there a connection between the technology and the process  / the staff?

What we can learn from an event log

Another example to illustrate. Do you sometimes have to reset your PC? If so, why? When you check your PC’s event log, the reason should be clear. Dozens of warnings and errors are displayed.

Picture Event Log Digital Transformation

Actually, a great thing if you react appropriately to the warnings before the system crashes. But who regularly examines and takes care of these event logs? Your IT department? I suspect that most of them will shake their heads here. You may call it habit or inertia, but hardly anyone takes the trouble to check the event logs regularly. The solution is actually trivial.

I know many customers who have invested in field management software such as AMS, FieldCare or PRM, as well as in redundancy on hard drives (RAID) or DCS controllers. They use software packages to monitor their networks. There is great interest in monitoring the performance of virtual machines. But having access to data is only one side of the coin. What conclusions are drawn from this? Who monitors and analyzes the data? In most cases, the action is only taken when a problem actually occurs. The horse has already left the barn. How can we prevent it in the future? It would be better to react directly to signals that indicate that something could develop in the wrong direction. Preventive measures should become the rule to prevent the development of errors.

Plant availability as the key to digital transformation

Let us now come to the last example. Most of the industrial plants I visit are exposed to a number of safety risks. That is why there is a lot of effort, some cost, to make them safer. At the entrance gate, there are often huge signs or screens with information such as “250 days without an accident” prominently placed. Although this may seem important, you should be aware that this is a lagging indicator.

Why is a lagging indicator displayed? Is a data source related to process reliability connected?

Typical sources are:
– Number and duration of overloads. How are they related?
– Number of alarms per operator
– SIF test compliance
– Asset health
– Safety conformity
– The skillset of resources (certification)
– Change Compliance Management
– Number of operations in the manual

Interpret your data correctly

All these data are available in most plants. You can use it to build an early indicator of information and start improving your safety, which ultimately has a direct impact on plant availability. Take your existing data and contextualize it. Digital transformation does not mean replacing all your existing technology, but having all your systems on an integrated platform and analyzing the collected data to enable defined preventive measures that improve the availability of your plant.

Take my recommendations to heart: Harness the true potential of the data! Convert data into information. Last but not least, connect the collected data to processes or to employees.

Want to learn more about digital transformation in the process industry? If so, then look out for upcoming blog articles from me!

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