Process industries are evolving their technology and process base at different rates. Some classic process industries such as petroleum, metals, coal, paper, and tobacco are modernizing automation systems at a conservative pace. Others, such as specialty chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food & beverage, and consumer packaged goods are accelerating their expansion by turning to smart manufacturing approaches that can accommodate their explosive growth. I call these “emerging” industries because they are overtaking other process industries in both innovation and productivity.
The emerging industries attain these new levels of growth and proficiency thanks in large part to digitalization, which enables smart manufacturing and, in turn, helps them to achieve faster digital transformation. These terms often get confused. Listed below are the basic differences between the two:
- Digitalization refers to the use of digital technologies and digitized data to enable process improvement (but digitalization does not change or transform a process). Digitalization in process industries is most often achieved through automation systems and increases productivity and efficiency while reducing costs.
- Digital Transformation, on the other hand, is business transformation enabled by digitalization. A shift from a manual, locally-operated process (like manual operation and monitoring of a standalone boiler) to a software-driven remotely monitored and controlled process (using a connected boiler, linked to other related processes, not only for more efficient operational purposes, but also for influencing and optimizing both upstream and downstream plant performance) is an example of digital transformation. Such projects usually involve IT/OT convergence.
Smart manufacturing separates the emerging industries from the laggards
We at Supertech, an automation systems integrator and certified Schneider Electric Master Alliance Partner and EcoXpert, are often asked by our clients to evaluate the validity of their new technology decisions, particularly for smart manufacturing investments. What we have observed, in this new, digitalized process industry world, is that innovators (in this case the emerging process industries) leap further ahead while the laggards (traditional “heavy” industries) fall further and further behind. By sticking with traditional systems, which are often proprietary, the laggards experience the high costs of customization, modernization, and integration with third-party systems due to obsolescence. Performance depends on the skills and domain expertise of scarce application software development resources. Given the turnover of engineers that we see today, the lack of standardization makes the systems difficult to maintain.
Such approaches are not suited to emerging industry applications. They seek more heterogenous solutions with more open environments where integration of new applications is simple and cost effective. Such open systems allow for a wide choice of process improvement options making it easier to select best of breed solutions across the entire product development life cycle. For example, emerging industry companies seek easy connectivity to MES, ERP, and IoT systems and cost-effective integration with intelligent motor control center (MCC) components, variable speed drives (VFDs), energy management systems, and field instruments such as flowmeters and weighing systems ̶ through open platform communications (OPC)-compliant Ethernet networks.
Modern smart manufacturing digital solutions simplify broad integration
Today’s expanding scope of digitalization extends far beyond the distributed control system (DCS) selected for the core process. A typical process plant in the emerging industry segments must integrate raw material storage tanks, measuring tanks, reactors, blenders, mixers, dryers, centrifuges, intermediate/ finished product tanks, pigging systems, pneumatic conveying systems, scrubbers, conveyors, and robots just to name a few. Typical process operations are loading, unloading and transfer of raw materials, charging of raw material in measured quantities, controlled heating and cooling, transfer of intermediate materials, drying, packing, filling, etc. Typical utility equipment includes boilers, thermic fluid heaters, cooling towers, chillers, water treatment plants, compressors, effluent treatment plants, and more. Many of these machines are provided by specialist OEMs and come with their own automation systems. For digitalization investments to convert into marketplace competitiveness, growth, and profitability, it is necessary to integrate these various automation systems with the central DCS.
Manufacturers like Schneider Electric have recognized the gaps that emerging process industries face when digitalizing operations and, in response, have developed new generation DCS products, like EcoStruxure Process Expert (EPE) and digitalized tools such as EcoStruxure Automation Expert (EAE), designed especially for the dynamic engineering and operations of emerging process industries. These tools retain the efficiency features of DCSs such as single database, tight integration, and powerful diagnostics as well as the advantages of PLC/ SCADA systems such as flexibility, ease of use, and openness. These solutions are ideal for emerging process industries that are seeking to digitalize operations.
No one can do it alone
Selecting the right ecosystem of partners is critical for assuring digitalization success. In the age of digitization, no one company can do it alone. For this reason, companies like Schneider Electric have established thousands of partnerships worldwide with software developers, system integrators, OEMs, distributors, consultants, and others to offer our customers holistic, comprehensive solutions.
Unfortunately, in India, most design engineers employed by engineering consultants and DCS manufacturers come from traditional “laggard” process industry backgrounds and do not have the experience needed to design systems for emerging industries. In these cases, it is advisable to engage automation specialists, consultants, or experienced services providers like Supertech who have the automation and domain expertise and the capability of performing turnkey execution of digitalization solutions.
For more information
To learn more about how process manufacturers can leverage automation solutions to better address business requirements, review some of the Supertech customer implementation projects or access the Schneider Electric blog Why New Generation Automation Solutions Excel in Hybrid Process Environments.”