We see an evolutionary approach to digitisation rather than the revolutionary one
Published by : Industrial Automation
Sunil Khanna, Non-Executive Chairman, Vertiv Energy Pvt Ltd.
What is the current status of the process industry, in general, in the digital transformation journey?
Emergence of new sources of energy, new technologies to extract energy in a cost-effective manner coupled with lower global demand has thrown challenges at Oil and Gas industry. Sustained lower prices and lower volumes are driving the industry to improve productivity and reduce cost, be it in upstream, midstream or downstream activities. Against this backdrop, availability of new age technologies like IIoT, Big Data, AI & ML, AR/VR/XR, Digital Twins, etc., can enable this industry to overcome these challenges. However, not every company can take full benefits of these trends as they fall into different stages of Digital maturity. Agile and visionary companies with good governance and Digital mind-sets are investing in Digital platforms for collaboration and sharing, data driven asset performance, virtual plant, enhance operator efficiency and safety and in their exploration activities. Other companies with traditional mind-set are slower in adopting these technologies. You can find some siloed systems across these companies, but they cannot generate efficiencies out of them. In general, we see an evolutionary approach to digitisation rather than the revolutionary one which many IT solution providers expect them to be.
Can digital transformation help the Oil & Gas industry which is under pressure from alternate energy sources and low prices?
If you look at the upstream side, investments in traditional oil rigs are almost nil since 2012 but went up drastically in new technology of extraction like Fracking. But owing to subdued oil prices as a result of alternate energy sources and lower demand, every player is forced to look at optimising production, improve execution speed on the upstream side, and operation improvement in mid and downstream areas to protect their margins. Even while companies accept the fact that digital transformation can help them tide over this situation, depending on the financial ability and the governance model of the companies the efforts to make this transformation a reality vary. While big ticket transformation efforts like creating Digital twins may not find favour with financially stressed companies, other operation improvement efforts can benefit the companies.
Here are some of the areas where digital transformation can help even in this scenario:
i. Marshalling resources to a new site by real time tracking of asset availability and maintenance can help in reducing time to bring new sites into production and lower costs.
ii. In downstream operations, especially those that are customer facing, self-service portals with payments solutions, vehicle tracking systems, etc., can improve service delivery and vastly reduce cost as these are scalable and performance measurement is possible. Once these systems mature, companies can use this data to generate customer insights and develop new revenue generating models or optimise services.
What exactly are the digital trends the process industry can profit from? (IIoT, Big Data, AI & ML, AR/VR/XR, Digital Twins, Cybersecurity)
AI can help companies who already have rich seismic imaging data and high-performance computing assets. These companies are partnering with tech companies in two areas: one, to reduce the cost of hardware resources by moving data and data processing to cloud as they can be expanded on demand depending on simulation loads unlike in-house physical assets; and two, taking advantage of vastly improved AI and image processing capabilities of big tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others to quickly narrow down to profitable drilling or mining locations, reduce cost of exploration and reduce risk.
Virtual plants, also called digital twins, is where management and visualisation of plant configuration data from design to commissioning, maintenance till de-commissioning is done. This can bring savings in OPEX and help in project management and delivery, clean handover to operations, plan maintenance for increased safety, etc. This will transform a company from PDF driven to a tag driven one that promises to deliver a single source of truth for technical information all the time to internal and external stakeholders. The base for all this is IIoT enabled assets.
AI & ML can help in data driven asset performance improvement. Real time process data analytics can help in Predictive Maintenance of rotary machines, corrosion prediction, failure predictions of electrical systems, Wells production prediction and process optimisation.
Robots and drones can help in field inspection, inspection in critical but in accessible areas. This helps in improving safety, in a cost-effective manner especially in a hazardous environment.
Mobile apps and augmented reality can help in on-field assistance and training.
Is there enough local/indigenous support for emerging technology-based products as well as customer training?
There is a need for training in all these new age technologies for successful adoption. Before a company can decide on processes to digitise, training must be imparted to decision makers, IT teams, OT teams and others. This enables the companies to choose the processes that can give them maximum benefits and then match it with the right technology. The approach must be what outcomes can a company at a given digital maturity level get by adopting digital methods. Here technology experience centres closer to the customers helps.
An outcomes-based approach rather than technical tools-based approach is needed. Here members of the solution provider must be able to assess the digital maturity level of the company and suggest solutions in terms of outcomes but not by using technical buzz words. Relevant training is needed in this area for solution providers.
In both these areas local companies as well as solution providers must increase their support to training as this is key to make implementation successful. With the advent of digital tools for training covering a vast group of people is now doable as the necessity for them to travel is now reduced. We can leverage resources available globally thanks to better connectivity and training tools.
Is the multiplicity of standards and intellectual property protection concerns hindering the process of modernisation?
As is the case with any technology evolution, here also multiple standards and players compete till a dominant platform or standard emerges which other players then adopt. This is more so in application areas where technologies like AI, ML, AR, VR, etc., are used. So, Companies are forced to evaluate multiple offerings in these areas before deciding. In mature areas, within a plant for example, multiple players with similar technologies are competing for a larger share of the business. Some companies are apprehensive about the fact that plant data is being exposed to third party systems or external cloud systems either for storage or processing. There is a need for solution providers to keep this in mind while designing their solutions.
How critical is Open Process Automation to the success of this endeavour, and its present status?
Open Process Automation helps many different service providers to come on board a common platform to deliver desired outcomes in process industries especially in mid and downstream areas. Areas such as accounting, field ticket/billing, customer engagement, supply chain and asset management can all benefit from this. Some companies use collaborative tools for idea generation, cut down on emails and work better and become more agile. Since many of these services now are cloud based, companies can focus on their core business more rather than on maintaining IT systems.
Sunil Khanna, Non-Executive Chairman, Vertive India, completed his B.Tech in Electronics Engineering from IIT (BHU) in 1976 and M. Tech in Electrical Engineering from IIT Kanpur in 1978. Mr Khanna is former President and Managing Director of Vertiv India (formerly Emerson Network Power India Ltd.). Prior to this, he was the Managing Director of Emerson Process Management India Ltd between 2006 and 2011. Prior to joining Emerson, Sunil spent 22 years with ABB in various countries and rose to the position of Vice President – Automation Technology.
Mr Khanna is a founding member of Automation Industry Association (AIA) and was its President from 2008 to 2011. He is also a key member of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), elected as CII National Council Member between 2008 and 2010. He was nominated Vice Chairman of the CII Maharashtra State council in 2015, and subsequently as Chairman in 2016. Until recently Sunil was the Chairman of Skill Development Taskforce for CII Western Region.
Since 2005 onwards, Mr Khanna has been actively involved in academia-industry interface initiatives. He also champions rural, social and agricultural development of our country, particularly in the State of Maharashtra. Under CSR initiative, he took up “Restoration of Assi River” at Varanasi which was completed in March 2019.
Sunil Khanna was conferred with Distinguished Alumnus Award by IITBHU in 2017 and Centenary Award in Feb 2019.