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Sustainability accelerating autonomy investments

Feb. 7, 2022
Study reveals climate change initiatives as prime motivator

It’s been but a few years since Yokogawa first described the shift by which physical tasks and decision-making processes across the process industries are being made more autonomous through digital technologies. They tagged that journey as the path from Industrial Automation to Industrial Autonomy (IA2IA), and paired it most closely with potential improvements in productivity and worker safety.

And while improvements in production and manufacturing processes are expected to deliver the highest economic return on investment (ROI) among such digital transformation initiatives over the next several years, a recent global survey of process industry end users ranked environmental sustainability efforts a close second in terms of significance.
The survey, conducted on behalf of Yokogawa in September 2021, indicates that the number of process manufacturers moving forward with industrial autonomy is clearly increasing, and that there's high awareness of the expected benefits in the realm of environmental sustainability. (A complete copy of the survey results can be downloaded at www.yokogawa.com/ia2ia).

Other aspects of industrial autonomy studied, in order of ranked significance, included robotic surveillance and inspection, AI-enhanced process optmization, supply chain optimization, remote operations capability, adaptive advanced process control, maintenance (work scheduling and asset health) and process anomaly detection.

Autonomy proliferating

Digging a bit further into the data, 45% of survey respondents anticipate that within the next three years, industrial autonomy will have a significant impact, and another 36% expect a moderate impact in the environmental sustainability areas of dynamic energy optimization, water management and emissions reduction. In contrast, only 6% expect industrial autonomy to have no impact at all on environmental sustainability.

Survey results also indicate that the implementation of industrial autonomy projects is starting to accelerate, with 51% of the respondents now scaling deployment across multiple facilities and business functions, and another 19% reporting the deployment of industrial autonomy technologies in at least one facility or business function.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly boosted the development of remote operations capabilities—a key aspect of industrial autonomy—with a third of manufacturers (33%) having deployed remote operations to single sites and a further 31% across multiple facilities.

The survey also indicates that C-level executives play a key role in plant-level autonomous planning with chief executive officers (38%), chief technical officers (34%) and chief information officers (31%) as the primary, final decision-makers. These decision-makers are supported by senior level technical professionals, with 43% indicating that a chief digital officer has significant influence on plant-level autonomy decisions.

“It's gratifying to see from our latest survey that environmental sustainability is emerging as an area in which the shift from industrial automation to industrial autonomy, which we call IA2IA, is expected to make a significant positive impact,” says Tsuyoshi Abe, senior VP and head of the Marketing Headquarters at Yokogawa Electric. “Overall, our survey also indicates that one of the biggest challenges in implementing industrial autonomy is the lack of a clear roadmap, with almost half seeing it as their most significant challenge. This underlines the importance of a defined roadmap to industrial autonomy and finding the right partner to develop it.”

Environmental sustainability—especially the reversal of greenhouse gas emissions—is as important a priority as it is complex. But it's great to see a critical mass of companies bringing the tools of our trade to bear on the problem.

About the author: Keith Larson
About the Author

Keith Larson | Group Publisher

Keith Larson is group publisher responsible for Endeavor Business Media's Industrial Processing group, including Automation World, Chemical Processing, Control, Control Design, Food Processing, Pharma Manufacturing, Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Processing and The Journal.

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