Data Analytics and Other Tech Trends with ARC

Summary: In this episode I discuss how data analytics and other recent technology trends are impacting industrial control applications, with my guest Craig Resnick, Vice President of the ARC Advisory Group.

Topics Covered: 

  • Differences between performance, predictive, and prescriptive data analytics
  • Examples of how different data analytics are being used in industrial control
  • Impact of COVID on data analytics and other technology trends 
  • What industrial control personnel can do to prepare for their roles in the future
  • Augmented and Virtual Reality, IT/OT Convergence, Operational Resilience, Edge Computing

Guest Bio: Craig is the primary analyst for many of ARC’s automation and financial services clients. His coverage includes digitalization, Industrial IoT, I4.0, enterprise integration, industry best practices, and operational excellence. His focus areas include digital transformation, automation platforms, edge, OT/IT convergence, production management and HMI/SCADA software solutions. Craig’s prior experience includes sales, marketing, product development, and project management in the industrial market, gained with major suppliers of PLCs, process control systems, power transmission equipment, and field devices.  Craig holds a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from Northeastern University.

About ARC: Founded in 1986, ARC Advisory Group is a global technology research and advisory firm for industry, infrastructure, and cities. They provide technology supplier clients with strategic market research, and help end user clients develop appropriate adoption strategies and select the best technology solutions for their needs. ARC provides advisory services, technology evaluation and selection services, research reports, and analyst consultation.

How data analytics and other tech trends are impacting industrial control

Data Analytics in the Industrial Control Space

Sometimes it feels difficult to stay up with all the new technology and ways of keeping a plant running at top performance. Data analytics provide what you need to do just that. There are three kinds of data analytics in conjunction with industrial control applications. The first is performance. This type of analytics determines what’s happening and why. Using data discovery tools, diagnostics can provide current and past performance information so that you can look to see how best to maneuver in the future, making the best decision for peak performance.

The second is predictive analytics. In this case, you are looking at what is likely to happen based on structured or unstructured data, or applying big data, or it may involve different toolkits. For example, how do you deal with corrosion management in pipelines? You can make predictions based on past experience, the age of the equipment, chemicals used, history of what has happened. Taking all of this, and more, into consideration, you can predict problems and make decisions to deal with potential issues properly and avoid unscheduled downtime, which is the goal.

The third is prescriptive analytics. What do we do now? This adds options to plan toward future success. For example, you need to plan what you can anticipate is going to happen. You may need to change the production schedule to accommodate what you anticipate will happen. You may need to schedule maintenance and divert the production schedule around the problem. Whatever it takes to create a situation where you do not lose production time is what prescriptive analytics will help provide.

Basically, performance, predictive, and prescriptive analytics provide the answers to these three questions: What happened? What’s going to happen? What is the best decision to make to move forward?

How has the pandemic affected analytics and technology trends?

The full impact of COVID-19 and the pandemic has yet to be seen, but right now we know that it has greatly accelerated the whole digital transformation process. Companies who were looking down the road to think about digital transformation have now had to jump into new modes of operation during the pandemic. The biggest impact, according to ARC Vice President Craig Resnick, is that many plants have moved from onsite to remote mode. Many things that were only done onsite can now be done remotely and more efficiently to boot. Two areas are now commonplace in the work world: remote knowledge centers and working from home. Managers have had to reinvent how the information is brought to control room operators. Appropriate data analytics are needed to successfully do this, and due to the pandemic, most managers have figured this out. ARC analysts consulted with many companies about this very topic and asked them if they’ll go back to how processes were done pre-pandemic and the consensus was that most are going to a hybrid model where a lot of applications can be done from remote locations and knowledge centers.

“Covid will have a lasting after effect on these processes,” Resnick says, “and has accelerated the advancement of these digital processes.” Now that managers have seen how this can be done, thanks to the pandemic and the ingenuity that it took to do whatever was needed to make it through, they will move to more autonomous operations.

Advice for the Future of Autonomous Solutions

There needs to be a lot of preparation for the future if we are to employ autonomous solutions. The first is to learn about AI that uses historical data to predict what will happen in the future.

The solution is to consider “what happened in the past and how do I make the best decision going forward based on those past scenarios,” says Resnick. We can use the historian as the foundation because we need history to make future decisions for the autonomous operations of tomorrow.

One question that is appropriate to ask considering the autonomous processes and remote work that is happening: What is my role if systems are making decisions for me? In some cases it will increase the need for process engineers because there’s a much higher level of data and information. In the plant, engineers used to make decisions based on, for example, pressure, levels, temperatures, flow, but now the engineers will make decisions based on the analytics data these things provide. The need to interpret that data will be great. Your will be critical as the one interpreting that data, because you still need the human factor to evaluate the higher level of information that will be presented to you. Resnick says that job security has never been surer. Those jobs aren’t going away, and the scope of those jobs will increase because there will be more to understand, interpret, and more knowledge to apply.

ARC is a great resource of blogs, studies, white papers, etc., to help managers and engineers stay up with these trends. “Knowledge is key to keeping up,” says Resnick.

Augmented and Virtual Reality – what’s happening with these technologies in the industrial control space?

Augmented reality is one of the fasted growing technologies in this space. It connects virtual design with physical equipment. It is like adding a third dimension to HMI, getting an additional filter over the picture of reality in the plant. It’s a mixture of what’s there and supplemental information. It gives an additional layer of data and different perspective so you can make the best possible decision for your plant. For example, wearing Google glasses or RealWear helmets that can give instructions on how to handle a safety issue right when you see it. It is a combination of visual aids and the instruction manual all at your fingertips, including drawings, information, steps to avoid a bad situation and steps to make the right decision to mitigate a loss or even avoid one altogether.

Virtual reality is something that many of us are already familiar with in our day-to-day life. Take gaming, for example. Many of us are accustomed to wearing the headset and being immersed into a situation. Now taking this technology, experience, and knowledge into the workplace, we can train employees and practice simulations, like fires or explosions in the plant. We don’t need to experience a real one to be able to practice how we would respond to one. We can practice virtually with the technology that we are already accustomed to. Virtual reality technology is used in many businesses and areas and can be applied to the manufacturing space as well. Resnick indicates that careers in manufacturing in the past may not have been as attractive as they are now because the technology used in the plant is the same technology that everyone is using in every-day life.

Virtual reality technology is good for training and simulations while augmented reality technology is still looking at the real world but adds an overlay on top. There is real time value by having step by step guides and manuals at the fingertips of those who need them.

Technology Trends in Industrial Control

Resnick sees two significant trends in industrial control: convergence between IT groups and OT and convergence of cybersecurity aspects of IT with OT. “As we look forward there may be a time when the gap between IT and OT, power and automation, for example, may all come together,” says Resnick. There may be a convergence of different domains.

He also sees operation resilience as a trend—reducing any sort of supply chain vulnerability, lowering safety risks, improving performance. The third main trend Resnick sees is a far greater use of edge computing platforms at the site level, for gathering, analyzing, and storing data in real time. These are things we can look forward to.


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