User panel grapples with digitalization

June 20, 2018

Some have acute problems to solve, others are quite mature and want a partner on their journey. Panelists described a range of reasons why and how they are embracing digitalization at Honeywell User Group Americas 2018 this week in San Antonio.

What’s your key driver for digitalization—what business problem are you trying to solve? What help do you need along the way? What have you learned from your experience? These are among the questions answered by an end-user panel discussion for media at Honeywell Users Group Americas 2018, this week in San Antonio.

Panelists ranged from 10-year digital journey veteran Claudio Zamora, president, Kairos Mining, and brain drain victim Mike Carroll, vice president, Georgia Pacific, to Shannon Robinson, director of engineering services and owner of nine obsolete distributed control systems (DCSs) at Valero Renewable Fuels, and Ali Raza, chief digital officer, Apergy, which among other things, provides automation for oil and gas wells.

The panelists were joined by Honeywell Process Solutions (HPS) representatives Karim El-Naggar, vice president and general manager, Honeywell Connected Plant, and Paul Bonner, vice president, Honeywell Connected Plant Consulting & Analytics. The panel was moderated by Ujjwal Kumar, vice president, global sales, HPS.

What’s your problem?

“Many people, like me, are retiring, which is why I’m here today,” said Carroll. “Georgia Pacific expects 40% of our knowledge to walk out the door in the next five years. For new talent, we’re competing with the armed forces for the same three in 10 people of military age who are eligible for service: who have a high-school education, can pass a drug test, aren’t in jail and are fit enough to do the physical work. Manufacturers are finding it hard to fill the entry-level jobs, and we’re feeling the stress. We have realized that steady-state will not prevail. Our knowledge is leaving, and today’s technology can let us do something about it.”

At Valero, “We have 11 ethanol plants, nine with aging DCSs near obsolescence,” said Robinson . “We need to replace them, and improve our alarm management and user interfaces. We need to increase operator effectiveness.”

At Kairos, “Our mining operations use big machines that are hard to access. We want increased visibility, to keep workers out of risky areas. We need to make real improvements in a sustainable way, in productivity, efficiency and safety, to take workers out of there,” said Zamora. “Also, the average age of our workers is 50 to 55; in mining, we expect them to make it to 60 or 65 at the most before they retire.”

At Apergy, “We have an aging workforce and the same concerns about safety, reliability and efficiency, but we also need cost-effective solutions for wells that may only produce five to 10 barrels a day. We can’t spend $10,000 to $20,000 per well, and we need to stop travelling millions of miles a year to visit them so we need exception-based monitoring,” said Raza. “Honeywell provides the ecosystem, and the technology makes our customers think more broadly about the possibilities.”

Are your drivers problems to be solved or opportunities?

“In pulp and paper, we are more defensive—it’s easier to describe the drivers to management. From there, we’ve evolved to a more mature, opportunity-driven mindset,” said Carroll.

“It’s both. Our obsolescence problem is allowing us to drive efficiencies, to get some gain out of solving a problem,” said Robinson.

“It comes from a need for survival, but we soon realized a long-term vision would open opportunities. There’s no specific end to the project—it’s an evolving thing that has moved from operate and maintain to improvements,” said Zamora.

Raza said a large percentage of wells have no automation. “It’s a great opportunity to optimize production, to get higher yields with lower operating costs,” he said.

“Successful companies are on a burning platform,” added Carroll. “The ones that had problems first have now accumulated an advantage.”

What lessons can you share?

“Over the past 10 years, we’ve learned the company has to believe, and have courage to make things happen,” said Zamora. “You need a structure with support in the company, in ownership, and an innovation director independent of the plants. That’s a key element.

“Implementation is bottom-up. You have to team up, engage operations and help them innovate. And you need a proper partner for technologies, who’s not just looking to sell products, but to provide elements in a plan you make together.”

How do you get people on board?

“It takes time. You won’t have all the answers in one pass. Put money up front, choose something achievable, prove the concept, and go from there,” said Zamora. “Politics are everywhere. You have to sell the value, and have the metrics to capture it. And keep the story alive—senior management changes, and you’ll have to tell the story again. The bottom line is, be able to support the story.”

Robinson added, “We knew a change was coming, and spent a lot of time thinking about how to manage it. We got operations and engineers across a large segment of the facility involved in the design. We got their input, and their ownership.”

How can vendors help on the journey to a solution?

“Some have acute problems to solve asap, for example, acquiring 400 new wells with no visibility—that’s a crisis. For that, we were able to roll out a straightforward solution,” said Honeywell’s El-Naggar. “Others are quite mature, and want a partner on their journey. We understand and share an overall vision and a core strategy, and break it out into pieces that we can solve together. Those companies have the same vision as us—a platform they can use to put things in place.”

Why Honeywell?

“Solving our skills shortage problem is a matter of leadership, not technology,” said Carroll. “We have a budget and a problem, and don’t know all the answers. If you have a car and cash, to find and get to your destination, you need information. We went seeking knowledge.”

Raza said, “We can get the data off an asset, Honeywell has the data off the process. We focus on what we are good at, and let others do what they are good at. Whether it’s Microsoft, Google or Honeywell, we don’t re-create from scratch, we find partners and opportunities.”

Robinson said, “We were looking for business partners where results would be mutually beneficial. Not just an exchange of goods, but knowledge we would both find useful now, and down the road.”

At Georgia Pacific, “We always need to buy things. Honeywell challenged us to see where we were in the industry, not just to sell us technology,” said Carroll.

“Digitalization projects don’t get a free ride, they need to compete on ROI with other projects,” said Bonner.

El-Naggar added, “The business case doesn’t take very long. Typical returns are less than a year.”