IIoT and Plant Operations Today

There’s no doubt that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is already realizing benefits and providing huge future potential for plant operators today. Industry analysts, IDC predict that the IIoT market will grow to a staggering US$1.7 trillion by 2020.

In a world where smart connected products and systems operate almost intuitively as part of a wider information infrastructure, the possibilities of shorter lead times, improved efficiencies and profitability, and greater product customization are there for all to see.

Yet, for all the embracing of IIoT, is there a danger of almost too much connectivity?

Let me explain with an example from the human body.

When it comes to humans and digestion, the pancreas, liver and gallbladder need to communicate with each other. Other parts of the human body – the brain being an obvious example – simply don’t need to get involved. Unless the brain is required to detect pain, it wouldn’t be very helpful if the brain’s 86 billion neurons were put to use on a standard digestive process!

The same is the case in today’s process plants. Such plants are dominated by thousands of control loops – all necessary to adjust the value of specific variables, such as pressure, flow, temperature, conductivity and viscosity to name some examples.

The danger of too much – sometime unnecessary connectivity – is that control loops are involved when not required, leading to a negative impact on and slowing down of operations – not what IIoT advocates had in mind!

It’s against this industry backdrop that the concept of localized intelligence in process plants has come to the fore – where connectivity takes place intelligently and at a local level without the creation of unnecessary loops. This, of course, links into artificial intelligence and machine learning – huge topics in their own right.

Smart Manufacturing Analytics

At Emerson, Smart Meter Verification (SMV) for Coriolis flow meters and magnetic flow meters has been designed with localized intelligence in mind.

Through its powerful remote diagnostics, digital intelligence and multiple data points, Smart Meter Verification has been developed to accelerate the implementation of companies’ IIoT strategies but also builds intelligence into the flow meters at the local level. This frees up process engineers and plant operators’ time for the really important plant-wide decisions.

For example, if the flow meter detects coating, it can automatically trigger hot oil or cleaning cycles without having to go via a Distributed Control System.

If the flow meter is operating at high turndown and has experienced a temperature shift, immediate alerts and remedial action can take place when process upsets take place, such as severe entrained or wet gas.

Data analytics today is only as powerful as the data sources and the quality of data provided. While IIoT offers huge opportunities for the plants of the future, don’t forget powerful diagnostics that enabled local intelligence and efficiency!