Machine and Process Management

Information, Digitization and Mobility Help Keep Track of Your Kids and Even Your Oil Wells

Rod Pump

I remember listening to all that forward thinking talk in the 1980’s, ‘Information is the Next Big Thing’. I now realize that I had no idea what they were talking about. When I got my engineering degree and started, designing on a drafting board, we had one IBM PC XT for the whole office – it booted from one 5.25 floppy disk which was, well, floppy. It used another disk to run spreadsheet programs. Networking two computers together was considered magic. At that time, I’d never even heard of the Internet.

Now fast forward 30 years and if you know a devices IP address and have the right security privileges, you can access it from pretty much anywhere. Today’s smart phones and tablets each have their own addresses. You can call to check on your kids (leave a message, maybe they’ll call you back) and some cellular providers have applications, which you can use to locate family members on a map. While most teenagers are appalled at such a prospect, many parents are in favor of such applications. I, for one, would enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing where my kids and family are, especially in times of concern.
Connectivity has also advanced by leaps and bounds too. Remote distributed systems, like oil wells in North Dakota, can connect to SCADA systems via local radio networks. These systems can provide centralized connection to the Internet via cellular modems and allow users to check on them from tablets and smart phones thousands of miles away. Industrial radio systems can collect data from the individual nodes in an oilfield and then concentrate that data for connection via cellular modems. This facilitates remote monitoring, troubleshooting and resource deployment to eliminate or greatly reduce the need to check on working machinery. Oil field operators can deploy resources when and where they are most needed, which is especially important when there are vast distances between fields and the limited number of specialists available. Because production machinery is a very valuable asset, its health and well being in the form of up time and productivity links directly to profitability. Just because assets are sometimes widely scattered across thousands of square miles rather than located in a factory does not change this reality, even if the communication challenges are greater.

Today many services organizations are making extensive use of mobile tablets. Advances in smart grid technology allow linemen to pinpoint problems down to a specific transformer at the top of a specific power pole. Big data techniques can link in caller data to send repair and maintenance crews to the right place when equipment breaks and monitor its operation to maintain its steady operation. Weather monitoring technologies can help predict the likely effects of mother nature’s temper tantrums so corrective action is more likely to be in the right place at the right time. Weather induced electrical problems can be fixed quickly, minimized or eliminated altogether. Digitization plays a role in safeguarding our electrical supply and with it, the comfort of our homes and families.

So as digitization advances in organizations today, it means greater efficiency, safety, reliability and customer satisfaction. Guess that’s what they meant in the ‘80s by ‘the Next Big Thing’.

How do your companies leverage these trends and what technologies do you use to optimize your production processes?

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