Last updateTue, 22 Jan 2019 8pm


Inspiration and Automation: Keys to Best-in-Class Operations

For the last several years, at industry gatherings of all kinds, the subject of automation is guaranteed to dominate the conversation. Whether it’s the latest digital control system to monitor and operate valves, or the “threat” to jobs from robots and machine learning, digital advances have created opportunities and challenges for employers and employees alike.

At the 2017 Emerson Global Users Exchange, Mike Train, executive president of Emerson Automation Solutions, pointed out during his keynote address that “the past 30 years have brought us fantastic advances in the manufacturing sector, including greater operating efficiencies enabled by automation, but the incremental benefits gained are diminishing. The pressure is on industry leaders to take the next step to the game-changing performance made possible by digitally empowering the workforce.”

Train went on to list five essential competencies critical to realizing the value of “digital transformation.”

  • Automated Workflow: Eliminate repetitive tasks and streamline standard operations to focus personnel on exceptions and other opportunities that require human intervention.
  • Decision Support: Leverage analytics and embedded expertise to provide actionable insights that reduce complexity and enable higher quality, faster decision-making.
  • Workforce Upskilling: Identify approaches that empower workers to acquire knowledge or experience faster and more effectively, to support higher-level and collaborative decision-making.
  • Mobility: Provide secure, on-demand access to information and expertise regardless of location, enabling collaborative workflows.
  • Change Management: Combine strategies, processes, tools and expertise that, in the right combination, simplify and accelerate the institutionalization of operational best practices.

This sentiment was echoed in a presentation at VMA’s 2018 Market Outlook event when Michael Halloran of Baird Industrial Research pointed out that, to achieve above-peer growth in a low growth world, best-in-class firms are innovating with products that offer more automation, safety and simplicity features. They are especially valuable when they require less human input overall, particularly in applications where average employee tenure is falling (like water and wastewater) and where technology can close experience-related gaps in a younger workforce.

Train referenced a 2017 study conducted by Industry Week and Emerson of manufacturing leaders from a variety of industries. Many of these leaders pointed to personnel as the most important factor for success. “There is an increasing number of reports suggesting that technology is displacing manufacturing jobs, yet they routinely miss the big picture,” said Train. “History has taught us time and again that, while technology can unsettle the current or traditional nature of work, disruption consistently brings new opportunities and net employment growth, not loss.”

Train pointed out, however, “Everyone has skin in the game. Employers need to provide education and upskilling opportunities, and employees need the confidence and commitment to learn new skills and competencies to manage their careers into the information age.”

Team-Building with Strong Leadership

Robyn BenincasaIn a fascinating keynote address at the Exchange, Robyn Benincasa, a world champion adventure racer, world record kayaker, San Diego firefighter and Ironman athlete shared what it takes to build a team, whether it’s for extreme sports or in business.

“Everyone in this room has the potential to be a world-class leader,” she said. “Remember that you can go fast alone, but to go far, you must be in a team. And commitment doesn’t really start until the fun stops. Leadership is as much about adversity management as anything. Look at adversity as a challenge rather than a roadblock.” She also reminded everyone that, by capitalizing on the differences of your team members, you will have a much stronger unit capable of achieving much more than you can by expecting everyone to have the same skills and temperament.”

Women in Innovation

One of the most popular events at previous Exchanges has been the “Women in Innovation” luncheon, and this year was no different. Janeen Judah, 2017 president of the Society of Petroleum Engineers International, is a pioneer amongst women in modern engineering and she shared what she called the “Three E’s to live by”: Excellence, Endurance and Empowerment.

“There is no substitute for excellence,” she said. “Be good at the job you do now! Don’t just be looking toward the future—you have to be excellent now, especially in technical matters. But it goes beyond that. You must also be able to present your ideas effectively and be open to new experiences.”

Endurance is another quality Judah says is essential for success. “Stay with the program! Get up, brush yourself off, and continue if there is a problem. Remember there are opportunities in hardships.” She also reminded the assemblage that you cannot endure endlessly without looking after yourself. “Do something nice for yourself every day. Whether it’s mental, physical or spiritual. That will help you build endurance.”

Finally, Judah urged women to pay it forward, to empower themselves and others. “Don’t be a doormat, but cooperate, and help each other. Keep the ladder down—as you move up, help those who are behind you.”

Technical Sessions

Among the dozens of offerings at the Exchange were several workshops on cybersecurity, an issue that is of grave concern to so many in process control. In one particularly memorable roundtable, end users who had been the victims of cyber attacks shared their experiences, and the steps they took to resolve the issues.

One case study was presented by Mansour Al-Shehri, control system manager at Sipchem in Saudi Arabia. He recounted how, in November of 2016, an attack was perpetrated against the company. It manifested as a black screen on 600 PCs and 100 laptops. Three hundred servers were wiped out, and 300 terabytes of data and file storage were destroyed.

This happened even though the company had 263 cyber security assets in place—firewalls, switches and other safeguards. The attack was so serious, there was no way to trend process data, or issue purchase orders, or transfer data between the plants or to centralized servers. It was made worse by the fact that there was no backup system in place.

By sharing their experiences, the presenters hoped to help everyone understand the circumstances and how we can make it more difficult for attackers to get to other process control entities.

VALVE Magazine has also recently published a comprehensive report on cybersecurity. To learn ways you can mitigate the effects of attacks, or to put safeguards in place, be sure to read Cybersecurity for Process Control.

There were many other interesting and valuable presentations and workshops at the Exchange, including one by Robin Bogard of eni Petroleum, who discussed control valve reliability in extreme arctic environments. Imagine drilling for oil at -60 degrees F! The challenges are many, and Bogard will be sharing some of them in a future web article here on VALVEmagazine.com.

In Summary

When controlling the effects of a cyber attack, ensuring stable operations in extreme cold, or designing and constructing a petrochemical plant, effective team building is essential. By also making good use of the digital tools now available, those teams can make a measurable difference to the profitability of a plant. There are many forums available to learn more and better ways to use these tools, so whether it’s the Emerson Exchange or VMA’s upcoming 2018 Knowledge Forum, be sure to take advantage of any opportunity to network and learn from others’ experiences. 

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