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COVID-19 spurs Industry 4.0

Sept. 24, 2021
Experts at Honeywell, Pepper+Fuchs and Yokogawa describe how the pandemic is fueling IIoT, cloud-computing and other types of digitalization

Despite its many negative impacts, COVID-19 is rousting process industry end users, system integrators and suppliers to seek out and implement digitalized technologies, such as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices and cloud-computing services they might otherwise have been slower to embrace. Several major suppliers detail how the pandemic is fueling efforts to seek out the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cloud-computing services and other mobile and digitalized technologies.


"The pandemic brought on an unexpected appetite for remote operations and encouraged users to get into digital transformation technologies. They're quickly realizing that cloud-computing is a viable way to access real-time data quicker, wherever and on whatever device," says Veronica Turner, business development leader for plant and personnel safety at Honeywell Process Solutions. "They're also learning the cloud can help them interact with their teams and organizations to make better decisions."

Turner adds that digitalization is likewise enhancing improved wearable and portable gas detectors associated with man-down and real-time locating systems (RTLS). "Mustering no longer means swiping cards. We're now using transceivers to pick up card signals and counting everyone's tags in minutes, so we already have their last known locations," says Turner. "Many users already had these components in place, but their adoption rate increased because COVID-19 is showing users how critical it is to support the safety of their staffs. This helps managers ensure social distancing, block unauthorized individuals from entering certain areas, coordinate electronic permits to work (ePTW) on mobile interfaces, and manage requirements based on the type of job, such as those in confined spaces."               

Turner reports Honeywell's Digital Workforce Management (DWM) software modules include the benefits previously described, which combine with their Entry Management platform to assist in facilitating health screening questions, manage onboarding based on company protocol, upload special job licenses and other documentation, and generate QR code authorizations ahead of time. DWM is also part of Honeywell's Entry Management Portal (EMP) that consists of safety pods, customizable plug and play containers loaded with Honeywell technology including DWM software. "The portal can serve as a mobile office for entry management, industrial hygiene activities, or the onboarding of workers and contractors,” adds Turner. "The EMP solution can expand to include CCTV cameras, thermal body temperature readings, and track and trace personnel. These tasks and tools increased with the pandemic, but they're here to stay as we enter the digital transformation era."


“In the mobile products world, as soon as a new product gets out the door, the next generation is usually already coming up,” says Justin Olivier, mobility product manager at Pepperl+Fuchs. “However, the pace slowed as supply chain and manpower issues impacted product development.”

Although they’re impacted by the same economic and pandemic-related forces, Olivier reports that process industry technologies also continue to improve, such as Pepperl+Fuchs getting more of its products certified for hazardous areas. “Remote experts keep coming to the forefront, whether it’s in the industrial sector or my 68-year-old mom learning to do Zoom calls with the grandkids,” he says.

To give users more mobility in harsh settings, Olivier adds that Pepperl+Fuchs has expanded its partnership with Samsung by adding the Ex-Cover Pro D2 smartphone and upgraded its tablet offering with the Tab-Ex 03.


“We usually see wearables and other remote-access technologies rotate in phases every three years. There was previously a downturn in interest, but COVID-19 snapped that interest back up," says Nicholas Meyer, product industry marketing for North America at Yokogawa. “As we've come out of the pandemic, and a lot of the workforce has come back, statements that mobility technologies are the future are being questioned, and users are evaluating where they're really appropriate. These technologies include wireless sensor networks, mobile platforms, software that can be used in the field, and more products rated for hazardous areas.”

Coincidentally, before the pandemic started, Yokogawa launched its SensPlus Buddy communication support service in North America that's designed to connect field personnel with subject matter experts (SME) via a tablet-based camera and other remote-support devices. Accessible with any web-based PC or mobile device, SensPlus Buddy allows users to make video calls and use augmented reality (AR) to send easily visualized images and text. No software installation is required.

"Interest in remote-connectivity was immediate when COVID-19 began, and it's driven adoption over the past 18 months," says Meyer. "Now that businesses and industries are reopening, interest is not as hot, but users are still asking where remote-access can fit into their long-term plans, including some new technologies and others that have been available for years."

For example, Yokogawa's 10-year-old Fieldmate software is a device-management tool that runs on a PC or tablet and integrates with Yokogawa's Plant Resource Manager (PRM) enterprise asset management (EAM) platform. PRM reads HART devices, monitors for alerts, runs calibration functions, and uses databases to establish audit trails. Likewise, Yokogawa's six-month-old Mobile Maintenance app consists of a software suite for mobile tools and operators that's easier to take to the field. It includes an electronic device description language (EDDL) that allows users to configure devices with Bluetooth and can run on intrinsically safe (IS) devices. 

"Remote-access and mobility solutions are really taking off due to their ease-of-use designs, such as interfaces that focus on the user and their tasks," adds Meyer.

About the author: Jim Montague
About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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