At Invensys Operations Management, plans already are in place to spend $100 million annually over the next several years to "create the future" of industrial automation software. And at this week's user conference for the company's SimSci-Esscor and IntelaTrac brands, Invensys executives painted a picture of the company's investment priorities against a backdrop of industry trends sketched first by Peter Reynolds, senior consultant with ARC Advisory Group.
From a technology perspective, the industrial automation arena will be shaped by the continued adoption of the same computing technologies that are reshaping work and personal life outside the plant perimeter. These four mega-trends include the cloud, mobility, embedded social and analytics/big data, Reynolds said.
From COTS to Cloud
"Today's plant automation system is mostly COTS and resembles an enterprise data center," said Reynolds, noting the extensive use of commercial, off-the-shelf computing technology in control system environments. "Complexity is high; cybersecurity is a worry; and data integration is often sub-optimal," Reynolds said. Add to this mix poor role distinction among automation and IT staff and ever-more-thinly stretched technical resources, and the time is ripe for better leveraging of cloud technology in order to better manage operational risks.
"Applications already have been 'externalizing' for quite some time," Reynolds noted. Drivers for continued cloud adoption include shortage of physical space on-premise and high overhead costs. "IT is not a core competency. And since IT infrastructure is now effectively a commodity, it's better for those who are left to focus on analytics and optimization." ARC envisions that much application software functionality above regulatory control in the plant's automation hierarchy will soon be supplied by automation vendors via the cloud.
Social Goes Mobile
ARC's next generation vision of the collaborative process automation system (CPAS) also includes increasing leverage of mobile computing and embedded social media functionality. "Social media tools will be baked into business processes," Reynolds said. Consider that each plant asset might have a Facebook-style fan page, where all the maintenance and operations professionals who work with a particular pump share their collective experience with that asset. And from a mobility perspective, nearly all workers will use a smartphone or tablet to perform at least some of their duties, even as work and home life continue to be blurred by these constant companions, Reynolds said.
Finally, the era of "big data" already is upon us, and the next need is for analytics to make better sense of it all. Increasingly forward-looking analytics will provide deeper insight into process conditions than a simple data dashboard can. "We know what happened and what's happening," Reynolds said. "Now we're looking at what should we do next? What are our options?"
Invensys' Key Strategies
Within Invensys Operations Management's software business, global reach, technology innovation and service excellence are key strategic initiatives moving forward, said Ravi Gopinath, president of IOM's software business, which includes SimSci-Esscor and IntelaTrac as well as the company's Wonderware and Avantis brands. The company is investing to extend its reach in developing economies, develop new technologies that will define industrial automation software's next generation, and deliver a growing range of services intended to help its customers realize value and manage risk.
"Manufacturing and industry has changed, requiring a fundamental rethinking of how companies will attain real-time operational excellence," Gopinath said. "Executives, managers and operators need to envision the future of their business, understanding how they can become more flexible and sustainable. By taking advantage of new underlying technologies, IT platforms and software, by better organizing and enabling their workforce and by improving their overall asset reliability, they will be able to create and sustain a flexible, successful business, one that is built for today and the future."
Addressing Key Market Needs
The company's core business is in batch manufacturing, heavy process industry and, increasingly, infrastructure applications such as transportation systems and water distribution networks. These industries have both common business needs and unique requirements that Invensys must continue to address. "Services, too, have become a critical element of our offering," Gopinath said. "We are increasingly cognizant of the fact that technology isn't sufficient. We want to ensure that our software can be uniquely customized to fit the needs of a diverse range of customers, and at any point in the value chain."
Refinery applications are of particular interest to the SimSci-Esscor user base, and several new product announcements made at this week's user group meeting had particular resonance with those customers. "Consistent with our overall goal of providing customers with cutting-edge technology systems and software that help them quantify and understand the financial impact of their business decisions in real time, we have extended our portfolio of offerings to help drive profitability and performance improvements across the refinery," said Tobias Scheele, vice president, advanced applications, Invensys Operations Management. "For more than 45 years, Invensys modeling and optimization solutions have helped make refining better. These latest offerings strengthen our commitment to the HPI sector."
Refiners today are inundated with data, but the key to operating efficiently is being able to quickly determine which plant data is reliable. The Invensys Yield Accounting solution streamlines data transfer between off-sites software and yield accounting software to ensure that the correct information is being used. It then converts that process data into reliable operating information by using built-in data reconciliation algorithms. Using the Invensys Yield Accounting solution increases accuracy and reliability for receipt, shipment and process data; identifies gross errors; corrects inaccuracies; and reduces or eliminates losses. Implementing the solution also results in more consistent, reliable data for cost accounting, equipment utilization and other plant-wide key performance indicators that could yield a typical 250,000 barrel-per-day refinery an excess of $8.5 million per year in savings.
Invensys also released an off-sites solution that integrates planning, scheduling and off-sites systems to its SimSci-Esscor ROMeo optimization software. This new solution allows refineries that already have blend operations and optimization practices in place to leverage these two sources of information, ultimately improving efficiency and profitability. As a result of this integration, Invensys can provide an easier way to update linear programming models when refinery feedstock profiles or physical configurations are significantly changed.
Additionally, the newly acquired Spiral knowledge-management software will provide accurate and timely crude oil information across an enterprise, from ranking crude oils in trading to optimizing refinery processes and maximizing reliability. Spiral Software's planning and scheduling solution provides a collaborative, multi-user environment for sharing common data and models across all supply chain work processes. Planning activities, such as crude purchasing and product sales, can now be flexed continuously with the production schedule, reacting to market and operating conditions. In parallel, scheduling decisions can be made with an understanding of their commercial impact while avoiding boxed-in scenarios. Its integrated risk-analysis feature enables users to look across many different planning and scheduling scenarios, helping refiners understand their exposure to changes in feedstock costs, product demand and refinery operations.
"Since Invensys already offers solutions for optimization and for off-sites blending operations, integration was a natural way to leverage our existing offerings to enhance refinery efficiency and profitability," Scheele said.
In addition, recent releases of the company's VISUAL FLOW software (version 5.5) and ROMeo modeling and optimization software (version 6.0.2) further illustrate the company's ongoing commitment to refining. The updated VISUAL FLOW software adopts several industry standards that aid in the design and evaluation of relief systems to ensure safety within and around the refinery. The recent release of ROMeo software includes improvements that respond to customer requests, including a new hydroprocessing reactor model and an updated feed synthesis for the fluid catalytic cracker model.
"These improvements will allow refineries to operate at peak efficiency because they monitor equipment performance, reduce operating costs, increase throughput and maximize profit," Scheele continued. "With clear, measurable and visible results that can amount to millions of dollars per year, refining companies that apply our solutions can make better decisions about how to deliver long-term, sustainable growth, as well as reap economic, environmental and safety benefits."
In the workforce mobility arena, Invensys is focused on expanding the capabilities of its Wonderware IntelaTrac solutions. Support for a range of new devices types, including smartphones and tablets, broader functional application and tighter integration with a range of complementary plant systems are among the company's ongoing development efforts.
Moving forward, Invensys will focus much of its software development effort on core platform applications that are applicable to all industries. This includes engineering, HMI, supervisory and historian product functionality, and will account for the bulk of the company's development investment, Gopinath said. The other half of the company's effort will be split essentially evenly between production and performance applications and design, simulation and optimization applications.
Gopinath sees Operations Management capabilities embedded deeper within smarter applications and assets, as well as cloud enablement of the company's already far-reaching applications. "We believe that the spectrum of users who touch our technologies will be far broader," Gopinath said. The cloud will also allow the company to develop and commercialize a broader array of remote system and support services. "How can we be more proactive in monitoring your application landscape?"
In the end, Invensys is investing is software and services capabilities that help its customers manage short and long term risks to their businesses. "We have to make sure our customers don't lose the ability to make the right investment choices," Gopinath said. "It's not a choice, it's an imperative."