What's next on the digital transformation horizon?
In my previous blog I spoke about some of my takeaways from the AVEVA World Summit and how the common thread amongst companies already succeeding in digital transformation was simple – in theory anyway – focusing on the people side of change. The drive to fundamentally change work practices for the better, and to take advantage of technology as an enabler of this change.
A second area that I found particularly interesting was when asking the panellists – Mike Lomman of Roy Hill, Nicola Rossi of Enel and Johnny Howze of Southern Company – about their view on “the technology horizon” that was available here and now. That is, thinking about what tools and technologies that are immediately available that industrial companies could take better advantage of.
The first area of interest was 3-D Modelling and how the very act of creating a digital representation of an asset, or processing plant, could enable humans to interact with the system before anything physical was built. Yes, this is a form of the Digital Twin.
This representation of the real world allows people to draw on their years of experience, to virtually walk through their operations and identify where bottlenecks, or other issues may occur. As Mike Lomman put it, the technology may be a way off from being able to autonomously determine where these issues are during the design phase, but you show that same plan to a human in 3-D and they can extrapolate the areas of concern pretty quickly. By creating that digital twin, companies can run different plans against proposed operating scenarios and determine which is going to be more efficient in real-life. This concept carries forward in other industries as well.
Artificial Intelligence – Machine Learning and Basic Analytics
The next area highlighted was artificial intelligence, a rather broad category. The digitisation of work processes, systems interconnectivity and the ability to get a single version of the truth is fast becoming a reality. Once in place, the ability to push data to the cloud to further take advantage of machine learning and artificial intelligence is a relatively simple step.
In the near-term, companies can take advantage of ‘entry level’ artificial intelligence. Using the vast computing power enabled by the cloud – coupled with domain-specific machine learning algorithms – it’s east to begin to learn what normal operating conditions look like and hence enable better visibility and performance optimization.
Cloud-enabled solutions can now automatically detect anomalous behaviour in systems and flag it to users. Solutions such as AVEVA Insight monitor operational performance over time and learn when something is acting out of character – say a pump is cycling faster than normal, or a valve is operating at a later stage in a process than usual. Automatic newsfeed capabilities highlight these changes to users so that they can investigate changes, before they affect operational performance.
Advanced Analytics – Predictive and Prescriptive Analytics.
Building on from artificial intelligence, the next area identified was more advanced analytics such as predictive, prescriptive analytics and condition-based monitoring. For example, using predictive analytics in a maintenance program helps provide early warning notification and diagnosis of equipment problems – days, weeks or months before failure.
Particularly in an operational environment this is critical. As Johnny Howze (Southern Company) explained, the ability to proactively schedule maintenance activities allowed him to not only plan the optimal time for repairs, but also helped reduce operating costs by ensuring that he had the right parts on site in preparation for shutdown. Overall this has seen Plant Scherer achieve annual forced outage rates of less than 1.5% through the continued focus on planning and technology across his Operations and Maintenance (O&M) teams. And he expects this to improve even further as the system gathers more data.
The interesting thing about these technologies is that they are available today. The key to leveraging them is to embrace digital transformation – not only moving from analog to digital solutions (digitisation) but fundamentally changing the way people work (digitalisation). Discover more in the ‘Why cloud, why now’ eBook.
Rob McGreevy is the Head of Corporate Strategy.