Revolutionary Technologies Digital Transformation is Here to Stay
Improving productivity, flexibility, and speed in operations as well as processes is the goal which every industry player strives to achieve and digital transformation offers just that. With its many efficient and problem-solving technologies, the industry is slowly beginning to realize the plus points and necessity of this much needed transformation. After all, everyone wants to stay ahead in the game and nobody wants to be left out.
With the steady adoption of Industry 4.0 around the world, various industries are currently undergoing the ‘Digital transformation’ in phases. Its advantages: Increasing efficiency in operations and enhancing productivity while reducing costs has led numerous players to slowly move on from their traditional processes and become a part of the transition focussing on ‘Digitalization’. The recent global pandemic of Covid-19 was also one of the factors that accelerated this switch.
Many advanced technologies fall under the umbrella of ‘Digital transformation’ but there are four technologies that stand out in today’s fast and ever-changing world.
Advancing the Digital Transformation Wave
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The concept of Artificial Intelligence has been around for a long time but it’s only recently that industrial units are exploring the idea to operate their plants autonomously with an aim to automate operations and enhance productivity. For instance, for the first time in the world, a chemical plant in Japan ran autonomously for 35 days straight. The unit was supported by an AI solution developed by Yokogawa Electric Corporation as well as the Nara Institute of Science and Technology which can control operations that till date require manual intervention such as conventional control methods (PID control and APC). Beneficial for plant management, the AI technology also enables firms to improve productivity and save energy.
A butadiene extraction plant was also operated autonomously at Eneos Kawasaki Refinery's petrochemical facility in Japan for two consecutive days with the aid of an AI system. Capable of automating large scale, complex operations of oil refineries and petrochemical plants, the AI system proves useful for industry players due to the unavailability of experienced skilled workers. The result of the two-day trial: The AI system assessed 25 critical parameters including internal temperature, pressure, flow rate and product conditions and even adjusted 12 valves autonomously.
Digital twin is all about the creation of a virtual image which is a replica of a physical structure. With the assistance of this technology, the physical and virtual elements are able to interact with each other by sending and receiving data. On pairing it with AI, it helps plant operators to obtain valuable insights from the collected data which leads to significant improvements in their various operations.
Explaining this further, Richard Irwin, Senior Marketing Manager, Bentley Systems, says, “A digital twin enables digitalization by capturing 1D, 2D, and 3D data from different sources, transforming raw data into a single, complete digital twin environment, and visualizing and analyzing data from a single web portal. It opens your eyes to new insights and allows for faster and better decision-making anytime, anywhere.”
On the implementation of this technology in the industry, Irwin adds, “A digital twin enables you to continuously monitor and analyze the performance of plant assets and increase equipment availability and reliability while reducing the cost of operations and maintenance. Collaboration is key in the digitalization process, and a digital twin grants engineers from design, operations, and maintenance access to the most up-to-date and reliable information across the whole lifecycle.”
Within the process sector, the Hungarian multinational oil and gas firm MOL Group wanted to carry out the ‘digitalization’ of its steam cracker plant operations in Tiszaújváros, Hungary. In this background, the digital twin technology was used to create a virtual twin of the plant which had the ability to monitor the project’s operation performance and also offer insights into optimizing the production efficiency in real-time. This also led to reducing energy consumption and emissions.
The technology has made its way into the biopharmaceutical industry as well. An example of this is Insilico Biotechnology, a provider of digital twin technology, being acquired by Yokogawa Electric with an aim to build total bioprocess solutions that support biopharmaceutical development and manufacturing. The technology assists in real-time analysis of process data, which allows for the constant prediction of cultivation performance, the soft sensing of nutritional components, and the early detection of process abnormalities and provision of guidance to operators.
Augmented Reality (AR) is another technology that helps firms to move ahead in their ‘digital transformation’ journey. The industry has started to realize the many benefits of merging the digital twin technology with AR to save time and money. “AR provides even more context to an industrial digital twin by providing engineers on site the necessary information they need, such as P&IDs and asset data, while working hands-free. Any issues identified can then be recorded directly into the digital twin platform,” shares Irwin.
Emerson has launched a Remote Assistance service which uses AR technology to enable plant operators immediately respond to industrial valve issues. With the support of a mobile device, plant personnel can communicate via real-time videos to resolve issues quickly and with precision without committing any errors. One has to make sure that all the valves meet the required operational standards for smooth operations in process facilities.
In the beverage sector, the packaging and bottling machine manufacturer Krones has introduced smart AR-based glasses. Once a client wears it, they can clear all their doubts and queries by getting instant access to the firm’s support team. This proves advantageous especially during ongoing production.
The technology is also being used significantly for training industrial workers. Bart Moors, Head of Comos Industry Solutions, Siemens, Digital Industries, Process Automation opines, “In operations, AR can today already support operational and maintenance staff. In this way we can speed up the availability of trained personal as well as enhance maintenance strategies. This is possible thanks to information availability and consistency at any time and on every location.”
Blockchain is a technology that can be programmed to record and track valuable information such as financial transactions, product designs, machine parameters, etc. What makes blockchain unique is its process. The revolutionary technology stores information in groups called blocks that are linked together in a serial order and in a straight line such that it forms a chain of blocks. The transparency and accuracy of this process helps companies to trust the data stored in each of the blocks.
The technology firm for cyber security solutions Ubirch has developed a blockchain solution which helps to secure plant data and at the same time also increases its credibility. This means that plant data can be stored directly or indirectly in the blockchain without worrying about issues such as being altered or changed by other sources.
Another blockchain platform Vakt is one of the first blockchain pilot schemes designed to enhance commodity trading and reduce paperwork in the oil industry. Some of the mighty industry leaders that have already joined the platform include Chevron, Reliance, Total, BP, Shell, Statoil and the most recent addition is Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures.
In the chemical industry, the software company Elemica has completed blockchain pilot projects for two global chemical firms. With the assistance of this technology, the companies were able to transfer sensitive documents and data safely and securely.
As the industry progresses towards digital transformation, there is a possibility that many new technologies may also emerge in the long run but today it’s important for the different sectors to realize that the digital transformation is real and here to stay.
* The author is a freelance editor at PROCESS Worldwide. Contact: email@example.com