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Connect the plant, embrace the future

June 19, 2017
Full speed ahead to the cloud, the digital twin and secure connectivity
Forty years ago, in the 1970s, Industry 3.0 brought us computing power, microprocessors and software. Digital controllers and PLCs changed the way manufacturing was done. “Then in 2000, we looked at open systems. It’s still a debate, but we adopted what made sense and embraced the broader community and its innovations,” said Vimal Kapur, president, Honeywell Process Solutions, in his keynote address to some 1,300 company customers, integrators, partners and employees at the Honeywell Users Group (HUG) Americas conference this week in San Antonio, Texas.

“Starting in 2012, the next wave, Industry 4.0, is unleashing the power of the Internet to help drive industry to the next level of excellence,” Kapur said. “Now we have a big process automation community here, at a big inflection point in the process industries. Are we ready to embrace it?”

Honeywell’s efforts to support Internet-empowered capabilities and its product releases over the next 18 months center on five technologies: virtualization, the cloud, connected plant, digitalization and virtual reality.

Leverage virtualization and the cloud

Virtualization—running applications on virtual machines instead of separate hardware—streamlines implementations and operations. “In 2013, customers had about 6,000 nodes of virtual machines,” Kapur said. Despite a difficult economy, they added more than 9,000 in 2016 and are on track to add another 13,000 in 2017.

The cloud lowers installed costs. But despite its acceptance for corporate applications, it’s relatively new to the industrial space. One way Honeywell is leveraging the technology is with Experion Elevate, a cloud-based SCADA application that eliminates need for an on-site data center and backup system. Kapur said, “It takes a few weeks to deploy, instead of 8-10 months.” It moves capital expenditures (CapEx) to operating expenses (OpEx), and it’s flexible. You can start small, add and delete as equipment and needs change. “It’s secure, because the software is always updated,” he added. “It’s a fundamentally different way to do this, redefining the paradigm.”

A second cloud-based application is Uniformance Connected Historian. Along with the above advantages, cloud computing power lets it handle both historian and analytical capabilities.

“Will process control move to the cloud? Maybe, maybe not,” Kapur said, “But Elevate and Historian are here today and are much better. Why not use them?”

Connect processes, assets and people

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A connected plant leverages the power of the Internet. Plants today have many sources of data, such as the process, equipment, sensors and ERP systems, but are isolated. Plants need to be connected securely to experts who can use engineering tools to construct the plant’s digital twin—a plant model based on its process and equipment assets—and use it to mine data and improve operations in areas including reliability, safety and uptime.

Connected process control lets experts help plants to improve reliability and better leverage process licensors. Connected assets allow plants to work with equipment OEMs to optimize and improve reliability of equipment such as pumps, heat exchangers, reactors and bearings.

Connected people let companies use the Internet to understand competence, analyze skill gaps and provide training, not just to run existing plants better, but to run the connected process and assets. “We understand needs analysis—the competency requirements of an operator or technician,” Kapur said. “How can we know their skill levels, do a gap analysis and provide the most effective training? We can use plant data in real time to determine individual competency and do training intervention, online and customized for different roles rapidly and using virtual reality, to raise skill levels. Connecting people is the most critical leg to make the Connected Plant vision into reality.”

Connected processes, assets and people products are now in applications such as heat-exchanger monitoring, shift handover and vessel lifecycle, and additional applications will be released in 2017 and 2018.

Digitalization yields productivity

Digitalization—bringing the power of apps into the workplace—enables productivity. “A year ago, we challenged ourselves, and today we have five examples,” Kapur said. The installed base portal analyzes and reports hardware, software and versions. There’s also a performance analyzer, management of change (MOC) app, risk manager and online parts portal.

“All are significant, and, done together, they can make a big shift in efficiency and help plants manage the skills gap,” Kapur said. “Today, they allow an inexperienced worker to be more effective. Tomorrow, we’ll connect the field technician to the cloud.”

These five examples are available today. “Should we move slowly and take our time?” Kapur asked. “There will be adoption barriers—obsolete systems, cybersecurity concerns, change management and competing innovations, including rip-and-replace. Don’t step back and think about why it can’t be done; think about how it can be done. We have been inherently slow to adopt new technology, and good at supporting the installed base. But for how long?”

Cybersecurity and a native PLC

This whole new world of connectivity and cloud is contingent on better cybersecurity. “It’s a new skill, but we have been doing it for years,” Kapur said. “Customers can work with us and do audits, but there has been a low adoption rate. Cybersecurity risks are imminent, and you need to strengthen your systems.”

The products are available. Along with its existing suite, Honeywell recently acquired NextNine, a company with deep capability to secure outgoing data connections. “This is fundamental for the new architecture,” Kapur said.

A new ControlEdge PLC includes hardware security and is native to Experion. It uses the same development environment and a unified support system for reduced engineering cycle time and lower lifecycle cost. Compared to other PLCs, it offers a 90% reduction in engineering cost and is designed to last up to twice as long: 40 years.

“Industry 4.0 offers a new world of better products and operations,” Kapur said. “You can sit back and do nothing or lean forward and embrace the future.”