Workflow Automation and Shifts Tools and Platforms
Published on : Sunday 09-08-2020
As the enterprise automation scope and opportunities expand in the field, the need to collaborate between systems is increasing exponentially, says Jagadish Naik.
With IT and OT convergence trends growing, there are plenty of workflow automation opportunities that can bring increased value to customers. Workflow automation discussions are often overshadowed by analytics use cases. Workflow automation can help optimise engineering/services labour and redistribute it towards better purpose that can potentially reduce overall operating costs. This can be an attractive productivity option for business operations. Workflow automation can also eliminate large cycle times for on boarding new staff and provide better service for customers in emerging economies from growth perspective. Emerging economies usually have large workforce churn due to higher growth rates for the economies and businesses. Skill ramping in a short time is a key need.
Here are a few familiar workflow use cases that may illustrate this:
If you look at container operations in shipping industry, major stage-gates in the workflow are container entries at port of entry, subsequent geographical travel and then dispatches at port exits. Container automation requires that the containers are geo-located accurately, traced through overall surface movement, and most importantly, they are stored according to the dispatch schedule of the shipments out of the ports to the ultimate destinations.
Once in port, containers need to be stacked in the order of their clearance (first in first out) from customs procedures and then through loading and dispatch schedules. If not executed properly, it will result in increased cycle time for dispatch as well as energy waste during the efforts to reorganise storage to match the dispatch schedules. (The container ready to dispatch must be stacked closest to the loading bays). RFID sticker identification tag-based tracking automations, geolocating the container, mapping them in the storage area, interlinking this information to dispatch and custom clearance registers is a key workflow automation need.
Vending machines are another great example of workflow-interfaced to stock-holding systems where vending machine stock can be tracked in real-time and linked to supply lines. This helps in optimising truck (those carry the stock) routes and movement. This can improve logistics efficiency and the consumer satisfaction. Vending machines do not use standard protocols in building or industrial automations. It uses MDB (multi-drop bus) protocol and interfacing these new protocols to create path for workflows is a key.
There’s also an opportunity to manage workflow of waste disposal truck routing in cities. Municipalities could dispatch trucks only to those locations where the bins have been filled making the whole operation efficient, traffic routes optimised, and fuel consumption optimised. In yet another smart application, bus routing is linked to ticket sales. This involves IT systems, real-time automation equipment, geolocation sensors and movement visibility in a command and control centre that is all stitched together in a workflow.
In the buildings industry, workflows are often required for facility management operations. An occupant or visitor may complain about temperature in a specific area of a building, which can be submitted via an app available on their mobile phone. This compliant is routed to facility manager who assigns a service task to an available technician, via an app that displays the technicians’ schedules for the shift. The service technician confirms task receipt via the app which provides the detailed information about the asset to be serviced. When the service task is completed, the technician takes the picture of the repaired assets and uploads it via the app and it is routed to the facility manager to close the job.
While automation has progressed, controls equipment manufacturers’ priorities are usually to use or develop a protocol which work with the end customer's use cases first. The responsibility to provide interoperability between the different protocols increasingly lies with the platforms.
Software platform and architecture transformations
Automation started with pneumatic control systems: controller subsystems and sensors as well as controller algorithms connected through pneumatic signals. These slowly graduated to electronics-based subsystems aggregating to client server computing and to now, with into cloud
infrastructure supplemented with edge.
Device and sensor monitoring, real-time control loops, single pane of glass operations, trends and history storage have created change. Collaboration with peer systems or IT systems was previously unnecessary due to the limited scale of data and communications.
As the systems evolved, data gathering, aggregation, storage support and analytics have been in the forefront, but workflow automation hasn’t received as much attention. This may be largely due to constraints in older platform architectures. Workflow automations are often managed using current tools which stitch workflows together using conventional logic stitching algorithms. This is difficult to scale.
As the enterprise automation scope and opportunities expand in the field, the need to collaborate between systems is increasing exponentially. The interfacing and collaborations tools provided by older generation systems can still do a lot but often at a high cost.
Developing interface costs can be lowered if the platform architectures and middleware are built to meet that vision. Often, when customers ask for open systems, they expect the ‘lowest life cycle integration costs’ as the core value expectation. This is simple to understand as we all know that system integration is a lifelong activity and costs through that lifecycle can be lowered by smart platform architectures. There are several ways that may help to lower the long-term costs:
1. Provide workflow engines in the architectures
2. Build vertical-specific platform services and models
3. Create tools and structure that lower interface development cost is important.
Smart platforms are expected to have these tools and architectures.
Business model transformation support
Based on current architectures, most automation systems can drive solo-driven business models well. Solo driven implies efforts of a single automation OEM supplier and limited collaboration with other OEMs is involved.
On-premise controls, monitoring and optimisations, remote monitoring and controls are some examples, but more services can be offered, and service revenues generated if the systems are able to collaborate with other systems or IT systems at lowest cost of interoperability. This is because customers are extending the values chains.
In a facility that uses a service management app provided by an automation provider, the app could generate revenue streams based on the transactions executed as well as it could provide the owner with accurate count and volume of the services provided by the facility management staff
to be able to reconcile service charges by facility management teams. This type functionality requires platforms to make a provision for monetisation tools. To deliver this functionality, the services in systems platforms need to be linked to service transactions with pricing determined by the app provider and credit card payments.
Workflows are straightforward to understand, have a substantial automation value, and need to be equally, if not a greater priority in comparison to analytics.
Jagadish Naik is currently Global Director for Offerings at Honeywell HBT (Honeywell Building Technologies) with 30 years of global experiences in Business Development, Engineering, Product Development and R&D, in both Industrial and Buildings Automation Industry. Jagadish has lived in 4 countries (US, UK, Japan and South Korea) during the course of his career and with his customers are spread globally.