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A feast of digitalization

Dec. 15, 2022
Digital technology puts many industries on a simpler path to sustainability

An early season, cold and snowy week in Chicago might not seem like the best time and place to discuss global warming, but it turned out to be the exact right time to do so. Before I settled in for this year’s annual showcase of gluttony called Thanksgiving dinner (and just to be clear, I loved every bite), I joined tens of thousands of industry professionals for Rockwell Automation’s Automation Fair where the main dish was a big helping of digitalization. Judging from my encounters, as I covered several sessions, digitalization is not only something to be served up for industrial efficiency’s sake, but also for humanity’s sake.

As we’ve heard often, and I’ve written before, there really isn’t any simpler path to curing many of the ills that stoke rising greenhouse gas (GHG) levels than the ongoing digital efforts of industry. Perhaps, Andrea Ruotolo, global head of customer sustainability for Rockwell Automation, said it best when she opined, “In some ways it’s like we are creating a digital twin of planet earth.”

Indeed, digital transformation as a method to help sustain the viability of life of a warming planet was a recurring theme for the week, even as snow flurries flew about outside the large windows of McCormick Place West. Industry has certainly embraced the opportunity that technology offers to build its sustainable future and run with it in many innovative ways. Even The Royal Family has taken notice of the innovation as one of the highlighted companies for the week, LanzaTech, which bills itself as a “carbon recycler,” boasted its place among the 15 finalists for The Earthshot Prize. Automation technology and digitalization efforts, of course, are at part of its innovative effort.

No industry has faced GHG challenges as much as oil and gas. As someone who covered the sector for many years, I can attest, there’s no shortage of digital transformation efforts to cut methane emissions for oilfield operations being explored. Some of those leading the industry’s efforts where on hand as well and set out to define the sector’s digital journey.  

One thing’s for certain, technology is no longer the impediment for that journey. Rather, the next step is figuring out innovative ways to use digital technology to quicken the pace toward sustainable operations. “The thing that needs to be in the mind of the customer is how do I apply these technologies,” said Allan Rentcome, CEO of oilfield services technology provider, Sensia.

Figuring out that direction takes a lot of thought and planning. As Alan Bryant, engineering consultant for automation at on the top independent oil and gas companies, Oxy, pointed out, the last thing anyone wants is a bunch of one-off solutions. That’s where the conversations throughout the week got plump and juicy.

These days, the digital journey is an entire feast of compatible technologies. Putting them together and serving them up as one transformative solution will leave everyone filled and satisfied. 

About the Author

Len Vermillion | Editor in Chief

Len Vermillion is editor-in-chief of Control. 

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