In one of my first IoT projects, when I discussed the progress with the client, a major energy company, their response was: “we have had data for many years”. And indeed it was. What was happening is that they were simply taking a signal from an instrument to a dashboard to display it at the end of a sprint in the project.
In fact, from the very old pneumatic instruments, with low reliability and huge maintenance requirements, where pressure drops or leaks had to be avoided to bring a single signal to the gigantic and dislocated control rooms full of gauges and signals on continuous paper, the process industry and the industrial sector in general, had been looking for years for ways to have data in order to cut costs in the way to operate their facilities more efficiently.
In those 60-70 years, getting a signal in that control room was taken as a great success, the outlay to get it, huge and the benefits not very visible throughout the organization.
Over time, with the advent of electronics, the old pneumatic control rooms changed to more modern ones where the instruments, until then powered by an air network, were now electronic and could carry their signal hundreds of meters or kilometers and allowed to include new control capabilities such as control loops thus enabling new universes of optimization of operations that gave rise to a second derivative: being able to bring the information to different audiences for different uses.
Today, with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), we are in a similar revolution. However, this is the first time that the revolution is from domestic to industrial and this certainly changes things a bit. Many of us now have smartwatches that tell us how we have slept, prompt us to get up, measure our oxygen saturation level or take an electrocardiogram for an investment of a few hundred euros. The same is true in the business world. If in the 70’s and with the first computers the great directors of the time were surprised because on that green phosphor screen at the instruction of 2+2, the computer returned 4, now that same management team is surprised with great incredulity at the way in which hundreds or thousands of signals and data have been captured from a simple sensor that costs only a few euros, installed remotely in an unattended installation.
It is in this scenario of democratization and easy adoption of technology, where the reflection must undoubtedly shift from processes to people. If during the introduction of electronics the focus was placed on the process, and control systems facilitated the efficiency of operations, with the advent of iIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), it is the person who becomes the center, thus naturalizing its role, which is none other than to provide value by interpreting information, making decisions based on data and avoiding assumptions. This is only possible with the democratization, acceleration and facilitation of data collection that we have discussed.
And this facility, already existing in the core process, production and operation of the industrial sector, comes to change all other processes where there is a decision making, such as sustainability (which would give for many other articles), asset reliability, safety, maintenance, logistics or supply chain process to mention a few.
Let’s think about a specific case: in a chemical plant, refinery or process plant where there are units that are in operation 24×7 for five or more years, do not fail and therefore do not have to be stopped and started up. However, when it is necessary to do so is the point of greatest risk since the units are designed and intended to be always in operation and all control and protection systems are developed for use in this state and not for others. Therefore, shutdown and start-up processes are complicated and the team is generally not trained in them as they occur very infrequently. Very detailed procedures must be followed for these activities, with the attendant stress and uncertainty for all personnel. This is where iIoT makes sense as it can take action at points that would not normally be necessary but help control these procedures and include sources of information that guide, control and add efficiency to these critical states.
For this to be the case, the iIoT must have three fundamental premises that traditional control systems are currently unable to meet. It must be portable, economical and “Plug & Play”.
When we talk about portable, we mean that IoT sensorics works or should work like a smart light bulb. You install it wherever you want, you make sense of it in the physical world, but it is independent of where you move it inside the house.
As for costs, with wireless sensor capability, no need for wiring to input card cabinets, no input to physical systems with PLC’s or DMC’s and no need to change a program with each sensor installed, costs are obviously greatly reduced.
Finally, the most important feature: “Plug & Play”. Like an old USB stick in the old windows 95, or like a current smartwatch. Just install it and put it to work. A capability that allows IoT environments, from the point of view of information consumption, to be “self-managed”, i.e., it is the business area that decides what to install, where to install it, when to have a measurement, how to consume it and how to use it, without the need, at least in part, for configuration by a third party.
These three premises make it possible that people are not “sporadic capturers” of information, writing down data and values on paper or on a smartphone, but that these are generated directly by the equipment, captured unattended by the sensors, and used, interpreted and consumed by the professionals, giving the data the necessary flavor to be useful so that from its generation this data is already categorized and with all the necessary information to make it individually understandable.
The aspiration of any company should be that all decisions made on a day-to-day basis are data-driven and the biggest source of this data will undoubtedly come from the industrial IoT sensor sector. What better way for people to do what no one else can do for them: think, analyze and make decisions. And from the point of view of the person, what could be more motivating than to be valued in their day-to-day work for their ability to analyze information, make recommendations or detect trends and not for having “legs” to go capturing data from all sides, always arriving late to make the corresponding recommendations and having the feeling of being a forensic expert always analyzing something that happened a few hours or days ago.
Industrial Unit Executive