The Indian hydrocarbon sector is at the cusp of a major transformation
Published by : Industrial Automation
Value chain optimisation is a necessary pillar of digital transformation
Meenu Singhal, Vice President, Industry Business, Schneider Electric India.
What is the current status of the process industry, in general, in the digital transformation journey?
Systems in the processing industry are often operated for decades, which means constant rebuilding, expansion and modernisation. However, in recent years, the process industries have made significant progress when it comes to sustainability, efficiency and productivity. Traditionally, process control/automation and electrical power management have been designed and operated independently throughout the lifecycle of a plant. Process control has longer response times, is continuous, and based on a prescribed control strategy for a defined process and plant configuration. In contrast, electrical automation is generally asynchronous, event-driven, and occurring in the millisecond time frame.
The confluence of technology development and the constant pressure to reduce CAPEX and OPEX is driving an initiative to rethink the separation between process automation and power management. The Digitisation of the process industry will enable companies of every sector to integrate and digitalise their business processes with the highest possible flexibility regarding pace of transformation. Process industry can take full advantage of automation with the use of IIoT and translate these advantages to achieve operation excellence in many ways such as standardisation which can increase efficiency and influence cost reductions.
Having said that, value chain optimisation is a necessary pillar of digital transformation, and data plays a critical role to connect all dots of manufacturing processes, create full visibility across all value chain operations and endeavours. Data is the new fuel on the value chain system runs. The more we have it, the better is the analysis from the same and deliver insight to be more efficient, productive, sustainable and optimised.
At Schneider Electric, we continue to lead our own manufacturing plants, processes and customer success through Industry 4.0 adaptation. As a leader in engineering and industrial software, we develop best-in-class industrial automation solutions to enhance process automation. Schneider Electric provides dedicated automation solutions that deliver one integrated industrial automation architecture system to achieve operational excellence. With Connected Products, Edge Control, and Apps, Analytics & Services, EcoStruxure Plant enables the scalable design and operation of connected systems with best-in-class cybersecurity built in at each layer to drive measurable operational profitability and excellence. The IoT-based solution for industrial automation ensures safe and secure operations to protect people, assets, data, and customers.
Our EcoStruxure Process Expert allows us to engineer, operate and maintain the entire plant in a single common database. It is the next generation process automation system for a digitised and energy-aware plant and is positioned at the Edge Control layer of EcoStruxure Plant.
Can digital transformation help the Oil & Gas industry which is under pressure from alternate energy sources and low prices?
Marketplace changes and technology advancements have made the once daunting task of converging power and process systems an attainable, cost-justifiable goal. Digital technologies are a blessing for all industries to rewrite the operating landscape, and this holds true for the O&G industry as well. The Indian hydrocarbon sector is at the cusp of a major transformation as companies across the value chain step up their efforts to boost India’s self-sufficiency in oil and gas, expand refining capacities, and set up pipeline infrastructure for transportation across the country.
Undoubtedly, the oil and gas industry is undergoing a transformation, increasingly looking towards data-driven solutions to boost performance, enhancing efficiency and reducing costs by leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) across all segments of O&G.
When power and process management systems operate in silos, industrial organisations soon find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Separate teams of engineers and programmers are needed to build up and maintain operations. As a result, the cost of supporting these complex, customised interfaces across the lifetime of the asset is high and it restricts the organisation’s ability to respond to changing market conditions. Integration of digital technologies will help increase productivity, ensure a shorter response and intervention time, cost savings, safer operations, and asset integrity as well as sustainable resource treatment.
Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure for Oil & Gas Industry can help companies in the oil, gas and petrochemical sector break down the traditional barriers between power and process control systems to solve critical engineering and operating challenges. By leveraging EcoStruxure IoT-enabled system architecture and platform, customers can connect assets that are the centre of their projects with assets that are at the centre of their operations across the full lifecycle of their plants, including their supply chains. The app, analytics piece and the access to prior information with the creation of digital twin will help create new insights and empower customers to fuel digital transformation in the oil, gas and petrochemical industry in India.
What exactly are the digital trends the process industry can profit from?
In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in use of automation in process industries. This is because technology helps to enhance the quality of the product, improve safety and security at plant level, provide efficiency to overall operations and reduce carbon emissions. Therefore, the importance of automation continues to increase rapidly. Latest technologies that are in use include Big data, Artificial intelligence, Machine Learning, AR/VR/XR, Digital twins, etc. All of these trends are poised to either enter the mainstream or – if already there – to continue to gain acceptance.
Edge computing applications, particularly high-value analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) delivered via machine learning (ML), allow data to be processed near its source. The spike of investments targeted at this space helps demonstrate its increasing importance. This represents a shift away from a simple ‘run the operations’ mentality to use of real-time data analytics to rethink competitive fundamentals.
Also, while manufacturers ramp up to meet demand for the growing ‘smart product’, they face challenges of developing and manufacturing new and more complex products and systems. These require tight integration between the computational (virtual) and the physical (continuous) worlds. To meet these complexity and integration requirements, more cyber-physical systems will be deployed using advanced simulation platforms that cover model-based mechatronic systems engineering, embedded system design integration, and simulation models that validate product and system design in the physical world.
Lastly, advances in hardware, software, networking and security, increasing global competition and cybersecurity risks, and the need to gain more value from automation technology will accelerate the development of open process automation systems and related standards.
Is there enough local/indigenous support for emerging technology-based products as well as customer training?
We are blessed with a vast engineer pool and a great IT sector acknowledged by the world as the best. It is inappropriate to commit that we are self-sufficient in this dynamic world where every other day something new is happening. We have a workforce who is ready to adapt/learn/deploy the emerging technologies to the market. At Schneider Electric we have done that very well by adapting to the latest technology case in point are:
1) Two Smart factories setup one in Hyderabad another in Bangalore.
2) We have an R&D setup who develop and design the product for India and the rest of the world.
3) Now with L&T coming inside we have a huge pool of resources for adapting the latest technology for our products and system.
Is the multiplicity of standards and intellectual property protection concerns hindering the process of modernisation?
Yes. I believe it is true due to IPs as they have their own set of challenges. However it is an issue of guaranteed process performance which makes the end user ask process suppliers to take the migration jobs. Process supplier normally likes to continue with a proven system and does not like to change unless he does total validation of the system at his place and/or the product is no longer available. In such a scenario modernisation takes a back seat.
Coming to multiplicity of standards is a different challenge. We have yet to come to common standards – we have predominantly ISA standards, IEC standards, which are applicable for the process industry from Control perspective. We need to look for the common standards to be followed and these standards should cover the lifecycle of the enterprise and the Automation products in use. Take the example of Control system PLC, which is loosely based on IEC 61131-3 standards whereas DCS has standard but not followed by any major vendor. Each of the DCS vendors talks more of their system, and would like to lock the customer on their hardware. However when it comes to the end user, he would like to see interoperability, portability and configurability of the system. Once the end-user chooses different vendors based on expertise, he has a challenge in managing the workforce (each vendor has different implementation and usages). Looking at these issues, large end-users are seeking to define a standards-based, open, secure, and interoperable process control architecture that applies across multiple process industries.
As enterprises are seeking improved workforce management and flexibility, PLC vendors are also adapting new Open Standards which go beyond IEC61131-3. A new standard which is gaining a lot of traction is IEC61499, which combines several technologies, targeting portability, configurability and interoperability of automation systems.
The standards when adopted lead you to a truly futuristic, hardware agonistic, IT enabled system, using IT technology in Control systems. The system not only takes care of openness but also ensures a lesser learning curve for the work force – no ladder, no SFC – in line with generation X skills, which are better enabled on the IT side. On the other side, portability, configurability, interoperability, reconfiguration, and distribution have been identified as the high-level demands/requirements for future automation systems.
How critical is Open Process Automation to the success of this endeavour, and its present status?
This is where the IEC61499 story comes in. I believe that we should not be stuck with old technologies and instead have open source platforming ready for the next generation workforce. There is a common GUI where hardware becomes a separate entity itself. The whole platform is dependent on the evolution of that particular company. So, you are stuck with that technology and you cannot do anything more about it. Now what we're talking about is to change the operating systems and make it open ended so that the same code could be used in other places as well.
The workforce today is very IT savvy. They are much happier to do programming in Python or C++ rather than programming in older technologies as they have already learned it during their school days. This makes it imperative for industries to upgrade their existing technologies to be at par with the current workforce. This calls for an integration of IT/OT technologies inside the control. With our new platform we plan to propagate this technology.
Furthermore, open standards like OPC UA can give you the data across the board in a standard IT format and this is how the IT/OT convergence part comes into play.
For instance, since we wish to get a similar function of two compressors of the same type at different locations. Open process automation gives us the flexibility and the interoperability to perform these functions. Another part is that you don't need to go for new controllers, you can put that particular function in another controller and easily fetch the information from that particular system. So it's something like dotted line reporting of that particular asset inside to some other controller picking the job and doing that whole processing there and controlling the system.
Safety and Security remain key concerns, especially in politically sensitive regions. Are there enough safeguards?
It is true that safety and security remain extremely critical and the most focussed aspect as organisations accelerate digital transformation by implementing connected, IoT enabled architectures in order to improve productivity and efficiency. While greater connectivity ensures greater productivity and safety. It also accentuates risk to assets, intellectual property, profits, people and the environment.
Therefore, apart from protecting just data, security is also about safeguarding critical infrastructure, people and the environment. Organisations that want to stay ahead in overcoming these risks need to comply with the latest standards and employ latest technologies to integrate safety and security.
Meenu Singhal is leading the Industry Automation business of Schneider Electric India to scale it to newer heights with Digitisation, Industry 4.0/IIoT based initiatives on top of growing organic business as usual, by strategic focus. He is responsible for gaining higher customers, employees and partners’ satisfaction, developing leaders with above market sustainable and profitable growth, making Schneider as top ranked automation provider in country