Industrial Autonomy: A Business Value Decision of
Impact and Significance
Technology developments can be exciting, but they are not an end unto themselves. Ultimately, manufacturers look to technology to create new opportunities or enhance the way things are currently done. This is similarly the case where digital transformation-related technologies enhance a worker’s experience and remove the undesirable parts of processes altogether. Yokogawa carried out research with a diverse range of industry experts and end users to find out how industrial autonomy can help companies obtain greater workplace satisfaction among employees and promote engagement with customers, while also benefiting the bottom line.
Industrial Autonomy as a Value-based Decision
- Though sharing universal ideals of excellence, each company has unique challenges to be met -
A range of new concepts related to digital transformation have been introduced to industry over the last five years that promise to revolutionize the industrial sector. Even so, it has been shown that almost half of such deployed project are not delivering the value that companies expect. One common hurdle lies in identifying at the outset where and how business challenges can be addressed.
The research illustrated that while some challenges will be common to all projects, others will vary depending on region, industry, company—and even by division or site. For example, a pharmaceutical company with a focus on sanitized environments will emphasize precision, accuracy, and quality, which will be very different from the priorities set for an aging offshore oil rig.
For some companies, improved safety is a focal point, while others are more directed toward reducing product defects. In any case, there are some objectives such as improved productivity and efficiency that are universally desirable targets never far from a CEO’s mind. Industrial autonomy can help in terms of improving output by optimizing processes and reducing downtime, or at the individual level by augmenting workers with additional tools and decision making to improve their productivity.
Filling the Skills Gap
- Technology can fill the gap in skills and experience left by a retiring workforce -
A common challenge highlighted across industry is the large percentage of workers approaching retirement. In the oil and gas sector, more than a fifth of the workforce is over 55 years old. As this group transitions into retirement, companies say they are facing a huge loss of skills and experience, combined with the challenge of recruiting replacements. Here, opportunities to bridge the gap can emerge—say, by introducing robotics to help automate repetitive low-skill activities, along with AI-based solutions to aid in upskilling an inexperienced workforce and augmenting mobile connected workers.
Although concerns about job losses are common when discussing automation, comments from industry experts indicate that in reality such fears are often overstated. With companies struggling to replace existing workforce exits, the concern isn’t that technology will replace jobs; rather, the question is whether technology can be introduced quickly enough to meet the imminent shortfall.
Filling the Safety Gap
- Autonomy saves people from dangerous jobs -
The research confirmed that one of the most significant drivers in the “heavy” process industries is improving worker safety—and more generally, the environment of their work. This may take the form of automating jobs that are dangerous, dirty, or distant, by supporting the centralization of expertise through remote access or remote-control centers; by automating tasks where the risk of incidence is high; or by utilizing technologies such as mobile robots to inspect in hazardous environments, such as drones inspecting flare stacks.
Cost is King
- In the ever-important issue of cost, technology can make a difference -
The collapse of commodity prices in 2015 compelled the oil and gas industry to zero in on cost reduction. While significant improvements have been made on the cost of oil extraction, the latest crisis has considerably amplified this need.
One example is the cost of offshore personnel, which is three times that of onshore staff. Experts in this field commented that alongside the enormous overhead involved with logistics and transport—i.e. flying workers out to rigs—minimizing the offshore workforce with appropriate automation technology reduces not only running costs but also the cost of producing new rigs, where accommodation and facilities for people can likewise be cut or eliminated entirely.
Extending the Benefits of Industrial Autonomy
- Beyond the headline KPIs, a myriad of other benefits can be realized with industrial autonomy -
The research also highlighted other industrial autonomy benefits— for example, supporting sustainability efforts and the ever more prominent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through initiatives such as AI-supported real-time energy optimization. In addition, improving worker safety and de-manning dangerous applications was flagged as being able to reduce insurance premiums, cost from injury compensations and worker days lost, which can also impact the strength of the brand. Others emphasized it can also improve quality by identifying faulty goods on a production line or further upstream, adjusting a production process to ensure quality tolerances are met.
Read more → Enablers and Applications in Industrial Autonomy