Creating Value with Digital Solutions

This article will explore what is happening in terms of disruption in the industrial automation domain and relate it to some of the challenges that users face in industries today. This will also describe how some of ABB’s digital solutions are able to help.

Businesses require an automation process to make a huge volume of something each day. Regardless of the volume of production and what product is being made, whether it is chemicals or cars, there will be some form of automation system there operating to mass production.

DCS Automation System and Innovation with Digital Technology

First, we will explore the DCS automation system. At the base of this system are the sensors or the sensing components, the things that are telling users what is happening within that process.

In addition to sensors, the system also has the ‘muscles’ that are moving things around, such as the motors, the valves, the drives. These all help to propel the automation process and the product through the system.

Then, the system possesses the controllers, servers and then some interaction with the process to allow users to make modifications to ensure everything is running correctly without the KPIs to measure the quality as the process runs.

This is typically how a DCS process will look. There are other variations of this process with PLCs and discrete controllers, but essentially, the concept is very similar.

Over time, this area of technology has been known as operational technology. It has typically been developed with an island view which upholds that users would not connect this world with other parts of the system. However, this island view is now starting to become disrupted.

As we see digital technologies coming through, users are finding that the idea of keeping the operational technology separated from the rest of the plant is not feasible. This is because digital technology is evolving and converging with the IT (information technology) world, where people hold their email systems and corporate network.

The corporate network is there to manage several things like resource planning and other professional functions. There are benefits in linking this network with your operational technology where an aim is to physically produce a product.

That is being merged in this internet of things method; data are coming from operational technology is merging with IT technology, and users can start to use all this data combined to provide additional value.

There are a lot of different technologies that are available to do this. For example, ABB has developed new technologies that are currently being trialed and implemented in some products today.

From augmented reality to machine learning and the new 5G connectivity that is coming through to cloud computing, ABB is utilizing a whole host of technologies that the industrial market can take advantage of. Cybersecurity is another key element of that innovation in ensuring that this is all done securely.

Challenges the Industrial Markets Face

In the industrial markets, there has not been such a rapid change as of this time. A lot of the technologies have been developed in the ICT market, and the media has also changed considerably in the past decade, with most people now scanning the daily news from their tablets and their phones rather than buying a physical newspaper.

Meanwhile, banking now utilizes mobile apps, and not many people are writing to pay for services that they purchase. Industries like these have already seen a major revolution in how they interact with their customers.

In the industries that ABB serves, industrial markets have not evolved rapidly and are not as mature as these leading industries in the digital technology domain.

How can we take this operational technology environment, which has been developed as an island kept deliberately separate from the rest of the organization, and utilize these new technologies that clearly will add value to our organizations? How can we take them and use them going forwards? How do we get these industries up to here on this maturity curve and really start to pull that productivity and benefits through and improve how we can produce things? Many people in many companies are trying to figure this out.

Thinking about the different challenges that the industry is facing, we are trying to just show that we can broadly categorize some of these challenges into four categories.

The first challenge is connectivity. All the data we produce and store is within these devices. A basic need is to unlock that data and make it visible so that users can then produce insights and value from it that will help with business productivity and so on.

As a key challenge, connectivity creates a new goal in attempting to answer the question: How do you access that information?

The second challenge is skillset. The industry is seeing huge changes in how skills are being acquired and how people are being trained these days. The newer generations are much more adept at absorbing information and finding how to do things using Google and the internet.

Newer generations are not necessarily going to hold in their heads the same amount of information the previous generations would have. The more traditionally trained technicians and engineers that are there today are starting to retire, so the industry is seeing a huge shift in how people work and can be effective in the industrial sector.

Productivity is also key. There has never been a more connected world than today, and it is very clear that a company may have been operating at its peak and had a very nice global market position in days past, but then new companies come in in different countries, and that can completely change the competitive landscape in a relatively short period of time.

Everyone is trying to work on how to be more productive, how to be more competitive, and that is about increasing output particularly and using fewer people to do that.

And finally, the regulatory side poses the fourth challenge. Health and safety are paramount in every organization, and environmental regulations are increasing significantly in many places. That is driving how companies can be sustainable and how they can meet the local regulations that exist there.

For example, in emission monitoring and other areas, companies are faced with answering how they control what they are putting back into the environment.

Providing Digital Solutions to Connectivity Challenges

After categorizing these various challenges, ABB has grouped our digital solutions that are available today into these various needs. What results is the use of a combination of product features.

For example, connectivity starts with the device. How do users communicate with this device? That can be via wireless or wired connectivity.

From a skills perspective, there are a lot of apps now available that can be used to train staff as well as to get information to the experts who can then remotely help using things like augmented reality.

There is a range of condition monitoring solutions and methods for interacting with devices in a more intuitive and simplistic manner.

Focusing on the connectivity challenge, this article will delve into a few examples. More and more people would like to communicate with their devices using their smartphones or tablets.

This means users do not have to have another piece of equipment to go into the field with, and they can add their reports and so on directly to that system.

ABB addresses this through the use of DCS layers which can be communicated through either wired or wireless communications, an edge computing network. This is passing data to the edge to pull out the asset health information or provide other insights.

Devices are connected to the cloud via the mobile network through cellular communications like 5G, the IoT and so on.

Through these communication connectivity solutions, a lot of data also can be sent to the cloud, this new remote server somewhere where users can hold infinite compute power, infinite storage, and secure data backup.

The value is held within the data and how users take the valuable data from the meaningless data and generate that additional activity or that better reliability for the plant. The ABB Coriolis meter is an example of how digital solutions are supporting products these days.

Digitally Boosting Skill and Productivity

For this device and others, ABB has a range of apps for helping with productivity and skill. On the top side, users see an intuitive app for health checking using PC-based software. Users also see an app for configuration that also recognizes the device.

On the bottom side, users see the skills, so the management system app, which is a web app for helping to troubleshoot and commission devices. Also, ABB is using augmented reality to support customers with their issues in the field.

ABB is surrounding devices with these apps, and this then forms the complete solution offering for the customer.

The verification tool is a health checking software that can help to align the accuracy of your devices. Is it still performing correctly? The verification tool has a free version available, so users can go to the QR code available, download this software directly, and interact with the ABB flowmeter to check its health. There are also enhanced and premium versions available, which people can use to get more information, download reports about the device, and find trends in the data.

This is a good example of an app with a very simple user interface that offers these skills. If one did not have this kind of software, what would an expert take to be able to check that the device is performing correctly?

The My Measurement Assistant web application is a free tool also offered. Users can go into the link provided to download this and connect to this webpage. Users will find a whole host of video tutorials.

These video tutorials are short videos for the YouTuber generation, and there are guided checklists there to help users step through the process of how they can commission their ABB flowmeter in the correct manner. At the end of it, users should ensure that they have a very well commissioned and correctly operating device.

Between the My Measurement Assistant app (which is there for the commissioning and troubleshooting) and the verification app, users should be able to ensure the right first-time operation when they commission that product.

Also, if users experience any issues, they can identify the likely cause through the guided support offered. On this site, there are also things like spare parts catalogs. Users can find local contact information.

Recently, ABB added an error code check. If a user ever found a device that is alarming and is no longer functioning, typically, they would see a number on the screen, for example, something like an S234.2, and they must plot down the situation. What is that error code? What does that mean to them?

In attempting to answer these questions, users then must try and work out what this code is by finding the manual, finding the error code list, and working out what the problem is.

What ABB has done to solve this is put all the error codes into this web app such that users could simply enter the code, and it will automatically tell them what the problem is and what the course of action is to resolve it. These are good examples of how applications can be used to improve productivity and do not require major investment or major changes in the way that people do business today.

Case Study: Facilitating Emission Monitoring

Another example is called the emission monitoring market. It has a physical analyzer which is the equipment that is used to measure all the different components that are coming out of the chimney stack. That is a highly accurate and reliable piece of equipment.

When combined with digital technologies, such as a secure micro-PC for cloud connection as well as hosting ABB’s condition monitoring software, these tools allow users to communicate with the analyzer remotely first.

This removed the need to climb the chimney stack to go and check something, as well as provide the ability to view the health of that system remotely without needing to go to it. This an example of how users can avoid having to physically be at the device to ensure that it is operating correctly.

When combined with ABB’s service organization, where we have experts sitting in our control rooms monitoring the performance of these systems globally to track when there are issues, these experts can immediately connect with the analyzer securely and identify what the problem is, hopefully resolving that problem without needing to go to the site.

If the condition monitoring app identifies an issue and sends an alarm, then the experts are ideally placed to then deploy the skilled technician who can physically go to the site to fix it. What users end up with here is a solution that makes the process of emission monitoring easy. That is key to ensuring that a business can operate its plant.

All manufacturers are now investing heavily in software development. Regarding the ABB Ability pyramid, it starts out at the device layer, and all products communicate up to higher-level systems. ABB hosts a range of automation systems for the oil and gas segment, as well as recorders and controllers.

All these devices can communicate up to ABB’s application landscape, so users have a range of apps that were previously introduced in this article. These apps are there to reap the benefits from data within these devices at the lower layers.

It is ABB’s job as the equipment manufacturer to work out what is the useful and important information and expose the information that truly tells users whether their device is working or if there is a slight problem which they might need to address in the coming months. It can also alert users when they have a serious problem and the need to get that addressed.

ABB has a lot of work going on in this area. We are adding more and more capability to our software as the weeks and months go by. The My Measurement Assistant app that has been introduced is already on its third version in the last twelve months.

Each time, ABB has added more and more capability and more improvement to the steps that are there. Today, the My Measurement Assistant is a very nice and useful app in helping users with their skillsets and productivity, but tomorrow, it will do much more and keep increasing in its capabilities.

That is the development cycle that ABB and other manufacturers are on with software.

Adapting Digital Solutions to the Pandemic

Digitalization can also help during the unique circumstances we find ourselves in with the COVID-19.

It is much more challenging to get people into plants and to adhere to social distancing. We want to keep that to a minimum. ABB has been rolling out augmented reality remote support. This is an app that allows remote experts to connect with a customer's phone or tablet.

The customer can then turn on their camera and microphone and audio, and experts are able to communicate with them as one would with Skype, Teams or Zoom virtual meeting software.

Additionally, there is the capability to pause the screen for the customer to then draw on the screen. For example, users might be able to point an arrow at a button as well as pass some documents and videos through the app to confirm "Right. I understand the problem. This is how you fix it." That something that ABB is doing.

We also see that there is a lot more interest now in how users remotely communicate and perform tasks. There is more interest in tools like the ones reviewed in this article, as well as remote troubleshooting and remote connection to devices which is the key.

Therefore, on many ABB devices, there is a QR code display. Users go into the service menu on the gas analyzers, the water analyzers, or the recorders and that QR code is generated by the device. It contains information about the device.

For example, it contains the serial number, when it was manufactured, the hardware version, firmware version, and software version. It also contains a lot of health information. 

ABB also has an app called Installed Base that allows users to communicate that data securely to ABB experts. Thus, we are seeing a lot more ways in which we can support remotely.

Innovation for the Future

The key takeaways from today and from day-to-day life are that digital is creating these new opportunities. This does not necessarily require significant investment to access the technology available. ABB can classify our solutions into different areas to deal specifically with the needs that exist in many plants.

It is not just about the software. The solutions are now very much a joined connection between everything.

It is about the physical device, the software, and having the trained and skilled service network in the backend that can be able to provide users with software-driven solutions that can really add value to business operations.

This is the start of the journey. We are just starting to see the benefits coming through on these software tools. There is a lot more to come here and lots more possibilities in the future.


This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by ABB Measurement & Analytics - Analytical Measurement Products.

For more information on this source, please visit ABB Measurement & Analytics - Analytical Measurement Products.


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