The Challenge: Building a Digital Enterprise

The Challenge: Building a Digital Enterprise

This piece was originally published in the June 2016 issue of ei, the magazine of the electroindustry.

By Anne Cooney, President of Process Industries and Drives, Siemens USA

Anne Cooney visits employees at the Siemens Large Drives facility in Alpharetta, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Siemens
Anne Cooney visits employees at the Siemens Large Drives facility in Alpharetta, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Siemens

When I started my career as a machinist in the 1980s, manufacturing software was in its infancy. On the factory floor, some basic tasks were being automated. But I did not imagine that we would soon find ourselves designing new products on a computer or learning how to program robots.

Today, this is the reality, and it is reshaping the industry. Process industry customers, from papermakers to petroleum refiners, are now asking me how they can exploit the benefits of modern software and position themselves to harness the full potential of the Internet of Things. They want to know how to build a digital enterprise.

But there is another reality: many of the same motors that I worked in the 1980s are still in use today. The average age of the process industries’ industrial asset base is 35 years, and this alone points to significant opportunities and changes ahead. Those companies that engage in a deliberate way today will position themselves for significant returns on investment through enhanced energy efficiency, uptime, and safety.

For process-based industries, energy efficiency is natural and necessary. It is not uncommon in some segments for energy consumption to represent more than 40 percent of total operating costs. Modernizing older drive systems can cut energy costs in half. But even greater energy savings will be realized on these drive systems and throughout the entire process by digitally integrating process instruments and analytics with advanced process control technologies. For example, today’s control systems can proactively shift parts of the process into lower power states without disrupting throughput or generating extra operating costs.

Engage immediately in learning, and, from that, create a vision for where you want to be.

Uptime enhancements are also on the agenda. The ability to digitally sense the entire process opens up the opportunity for remote monitoring and concentrated big data analytics. We are entering a time of truly predictive maintenance. Threats to uptime can be detected days or weeks in advance, and remediation can be planned at the right time to optimize schedules, costs, and safety.

In an industry where safety is paramount, remote monitoring and control capabilities can save lives. During the past six years, nine people have died while working in remote tank farms. Their duty was to physically measure fuel tank liquid levels—alone and in all types of weather. The technology is obviously already here to address this situation and significantly limit this human risk.

Another way safety will be digitally enhanced is through design software. Today, a digital model of the process or plant can be built, inspected, and tested more rigorously than a physical one. Companies can now conduct a virtual walk-through of a process to expose pinch points, trip hazards, and other risks. Safety can be designed in before any physical resources are committed—reducing engineering time by 30 percent or more.

Although it was not too long ago that I could not imagine that technological advancement and the software revolution would converge in such powerful ways, it is clear to me now that digital enterprises are the present and future of our industry.

Many companies, especially small firms with limited capital budgets, are wondering how to participate in this transformation, and here is my advice.

First, do not go it alone. It is bigger than any one company. Smart partnerships will be essential.

Second, do not delay. There is no need to transform overnight, but engage immediately in learning, and, from that, create a vision for where you want to be.

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