Use cases for AI/ML implementation are increasing every day
Published by : Industrial Automation
Sajiv Ravindran Nath, Managing Director, Yokogawa India Limited.
What is the current status of the process industry, in general, in the digital transformation journey?
Process Industries are used to stable and proven operations. The industry generally prefers to remove the bottlenecks in small and proven ways. Any disruptive changes are generally not welcome in process industries. The situation was no different with digital transformation. It is also viewed as a disruptive, unknown change with not many used cases. Acceptance level was not encouraging. However, the situation emerging out of the pandemic caused by Covid-19 has caused a paradigm-shift.
Lesser demand leading to higher percentage of fixed cost, irregular manpower, uncertainty over future outlook of demand, supply chain disruption are stressing the balance sheet. Every industry segment, including Process Industry is now looking for newer ways and means for improving efficiency, yield, throughput, quality and safety but all with minimal manual intervention. Consequently, digital transformation is finding its way in the process industry, much faster than before. Currently, they are taking cautiously optimistic approaches.
A recent study of 116 corporate executives across 18 countries by SAP, showed that 90% think digital transformation is important for their company’s overall business strategies. And according to IDG, 37% of organisations ‘have already started integrating and executing a digital-first approach’.
Yokogawa has garnered extensive expertise in the Industrial Automation business and support their customers on a long-term basis not only to digitise data on the shop floor, but also to understand and utilise this data for enhanced performance in business operations.
Can digital transformation help the Oil & Gas industry which is under pressure from alternate energy sources and low prices?
Definitely digitalisation and utilising digitalisation to transform is the key to success going forward. Fluctuations in demand and prices are seen in the oil and gas sector, companies are under pressure to limit capital expenditures. Improving plant operational efficiency by maximising existing assets therefore became more and more important. There are multiple aspects which can help the O&G segment to significantly improve the bottom line while driving safety and quality.
Yokogawa is partnering with oil & gas partners in this new journey of digitalisation and co-innovating with them to adapt and transform. Utilising new digital technology, specifically IIoT, to save money on equipment through predictive and prescriptive maintenance approaches.
The existence of the IIoT solution led to new work processes and business models. Few used cases are: 1. Remote pump diagnostics, which saves money by reducing the amount of time spent traveling and servicing industrial pumps; 2. ‘Compressed-air-as-a-service’, which would not be possible without IIoT keeping the cost of maintaining air compressors low.
Digital technologies can be applied to automate more and more operations, optimise supply chains, realise smart manufacturing (using data and analytics throughout a manufacturing process) and improve the decision making process. These developments open-up new possibilities and often lead to entirely new business models and offerings. Access to new information and the automation of previously manual tasks bring about a change of mind-set within the organisation.
What exactly are the digital trends the process industry can profit from?
Virtually each technological development is critical for the process industry and can significantly drive up the profitability – be it IIoT, Big Data, AI/ML AR/VR/XR or Digital Twins.
For example, users from all business segments are increasingly adopting IIoT and AI/ML based solutions to successfully create data lakes and derive critical insights to improve process performance, ultimately leading to better profits.
Use cases for AI/ML implementation are increasing every day and the outcome is adding to the confidence level of those who adopted the wait and watch approach. Newer users are joining the bandwagon at an ever increasing pace.
Digital twin is another area, which significantly benefits the customer, right from the stage of design, engineering and implementation, performance optimisation, operation-training. Descriptive, Predictive and Prescriptive maintenance solutions based on ML significantly enhances the users’ ability to stretch asset’s life while simultaneously pushing each asset to consistently perform at its peak capacity.
Yokogawa has created a future vision that applies advanced technologies to manufacturing plants and is developing related technologies to achieve this vision.
1. Beyond time
Processes in manufacturing plants may operate continuously for several years or even dozens of years, while changing in behaviour every moment. Changes in the composition of raw materials or the deterioration of catalysts may lower the efficiency and quality of production, and in some cases, cause damage to facilities or loss of human life. For managers and operators of a manufacturing plant, keeping a close watch on the ever-changing plant behaviour and never missing any sign of abnormality has long been a long-cherished desire. Yokogawa has already developed a technology of online simulation that predicts future changes based on past data**. Meanwhile, AR and VR can help human operators understand the situation intuitively. Yokogawa is focused on ensuring digitalisation utilisation using these innovating technologies.
2. Beyond space
Many plants in upstream sites in the oil and gas industry are located in harsh environments which are difficult to access, such as polar zones, remote areas, and deep seas. Maintaining production in these environments poses a serious safety risk. In addition, securing skilled field workers is very expensive. Although fully automated, unmanned operation is ideal and huge investments have been made throughout the industry to develop the related technologies, in practice it is difficult to eliminate management and maintenance work by human workers with this approach.
Yokogawa takes a different approach: carrying out works by human workers without going to a site. In this concept, AR and VR technologies are used to extend the human senses, while robots do more of the actual work on behalf of humans.
Is there enough local/indigenous support for emerging technology-based products as well as customer training?
Absolutely, many technology solution providers have realised that tech adoption by the users requires long-term product road map, local domain expertise, customised delivery approach and sustainability of long-term benefit.
For example, Yokogawa, while having Global presence, has developed full scale infrastructure locally in India and in other parts of the globe, in terms of R&D, product development, engineering and customisation and long-term support infrastructure for the local users. These aspects are critical for users to be assured of protection of their investment.
Is the multiplicity of standards and intellectual property protection concerns hindering the process of modernisation?
We believe that the users should undertake due diligence before investing in any form of technology. The developments in technology are at a very fast pace and use lots of open source tools and components. It’s a long journey for any solution to be implemented as a pilot, scaled up to achieve operational benefits. It is a sustained benefit engagement model to drive consistent outcome. Due diligence will help users to ensure protection of and return on their investment. We believe it is natural that any new innovation will have multiple standards and innovators or companies will use IP to protect their innovation. This is healthy but also creates confusion in the minds of the user and hence a rightful evaluation is a must. However we also see multiple standards emerge cohesively over time to form synergies resulting in value to customers.
How critical is Open Process Automation to the success of this endeavour, and its present status?
Open process automation will move forward but it will need time. Users will benefit since they are not dependent on vendors. However this needs careful evaluation, proper testing and also standards to be developed. The synergy is across industries and partners. We are committed with our partners to ensure this successful transition.
Safety and Security remain key concerns, especially in politically sensitive regions. Are there enough safeguards?
Safety and security are paramount in any region. There are lots of solutions which ensure the safety and security as well as compliance with local and global laws.
For example, solutions provided by Yokogawa cater to specific security and safety needs of the users. The solution that we provide can be deployed either as on- premise solution, user’s private cloud or on a third party cloud. Yokogawa also offers managed cloud services to its users which takes care of security, application maintenance, upgrades etc. to ensure users are able to focus on their core activities.
Safeguards will evolve but so also will threats. Hence it becomes important that safeguards evolve faster and we are able to think twice as fast with safeguards than with threats. The way forward is not reactive but predictive.
Sajiv Ravindran Nath is a seasoned professional with over 29 years of experience in heading Business Operations with strong domain & functional experience in Process Automation Industry. A Bachelor of Engineering (Electronics) from Pune University with a Masters in Financial Management from K J Somaiya Institute of Management (Mumbai University), Sajiv has undergone Executive Leadership and Strategy training in the prestigious IMD in Lausanne Switzerland and Project Management from NUS Singapore. A visionary and a keen planner, strategist and implementer with deftness in devising and implementing strategies aimed at ensuring successful running and management of operations and also transforming organisations Verifiable year after year success achieving revenue, profit and business growth objectives within start up, corporate restructuring and rapid-change environments and sustaining organisations Proficient in driving diverse business functions encompassing Sales & Marketing, Projects, Logistics, Corporate Governance and Legal, HR, Finance, Manufacturing and Integration Heading Yokogawa India Limited as Managing Director for India & Neigbouring Countries; and Worked in India, South East Asia and Middle East and Africa.