Andritz Automation Ltd., System Integrator of the Year, 2021
Andritz Automation is the 2021 System Integrator of the Year for the Large System Integrator Category. Adam Creery, PE, vice president, automation solutions at ANDRITZ Automation discussed his company’s approach in an interview with CFE Media.
Remote support, control and operations were in the Andritz toolbox long before COVID-19. The company has been supporting its customers remotely since the advent of the modem. The company is helping companies with increased remote support to optimize their operations and reduce costs in today’s environment. Adam Creery, PE, vice president, automation solutions at Andritz Automation discussed his company’s approach in an interview with CFE Media.
CFE Media: Congratulations on receiving the 2021 System Integrator of the Year award. Talk about what this kind of recognition means to you and your team.
Adam Creery: At Andritz, we have been building our global team, applying and developing technologies in response to our customers’ challenges and winning this award puts a capstone on this effort. This award is a great opportunity for our whole team to step back a little and reflect on what our organization has built globally across multiple industries. Particularly with the strains that COVID-19 and remote working imposes on professional relationships, an award like this pulls the focus beyond individual projects to the success we have had as a whole, sharing our experiences with our colleagues around the world. We are very thankful for our customers who provide us with the challenges that keep our team growing. Our customers are the reason our team is what it is today.
CFE Media: What types of projects are your clients asking for? What are their goals and expectations?
Creery: Our customers are looking to use digital solutions to get more out of their existing physical assets: more production, better quality, improved reliability and useful interconnection between production and business systems. How this goal translates into strategy depends very much on the customers’ culture. We are helping our more innovative customers deploy predictive maintenance based on data science. Plants are looking for optimization solutions that combine artificial intelligence and process simulation. More and more, we are seeing corporate initiatives to pilot machine learning in control applications. For our more risk-averse customers, technologies such as model-predictive control are now very mature and are making their way into the customers’ digital strategies.
The goal for each project is always measurable performance outcomes; everything comes back to the bottom line. Our customers expect their integrator to have a large toolbox of technologies and the ability to support the whole system. Having expertise in many control platforms has been critical for us as we can work comfortably across the boundaries of the many control systems that often exist in older plants.
CFE Media: What do customers want to accomplish with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)? How do you assess their IIoT maturity and how can you help them toward a successful implementation?
Creery: Our customers want practical solutions that work in the real world. It’s not good enough to offer data connectivity, analytics or artificial intelligence (AI) with some vague promise of return on investment in the future; IIoT solutions need to be focused on specific outcomes. IIoT technologies are not necessarily new, but they have brought an industry-wide recognition that control systems today haven’t really changed that much in the last 20 years, despite the constant march forward in computing power.
Most importantly, however, IIoT solutions are typically closely coupled to real-world outcomes that bring a return on investment, like better uptime from predictive maintenance or superior control performance. It is exciting for us to be able to offer a control system upgrade and make a meaningful step change in how the physical plant can run.
We assess IIoT maturity using the same autonomous operations maturity model that most people associate with the development of self-driving cars, where level 0 is fully manual, and level 5 is completely autonomous. This concept facilitates strategic discussions about the role of automation while providing a framework for understanding the technology and infrastructure required to enable varying degrees of autonomy. Modern digital solutions won’t succeed without a strong foundation in working instrumentation, effective networking and seamlessly integrated cyber-security.
The keys to a successful IIoT project are, much like other projects, having clear expectations of scope and performance and effective engagement at the plant level. Ideally, individual projects should align with an overall digitalization strategy that is shared between corporate engineering groups and individual sites.
Even when supporting a corporate initiative, we need to engage with plant operations, maintenance and management. For us, using a realistic process simulation has been a powerful tool to involve the plant operators and engineers in the development of a solution. By running a new system in an offline environment, we dispel much of the fear of the unknown and, more importantly, plant operators can gain some ownership in the IIoT application, which goes a long way toward acceptance and overall project success.
CFE Media: How are you working with your Customers to facilitate their continuing operations during COVID-19? How engaged are they on this journey?
Creery: We have long-term partnerships with our customers and have been supporting them and their operations for decades through a combination of onsite visits and remote support. COVID-19 caused an increased demand for our remote support as the customers needed to run their systems and deliver their product during the pandemic. Initially reluctant, due to data and security concerns, the customers have worked through these issues and signed on for increased remote support to optimize their operations and reduce costs in today’s environment.
Project activity dropped off in the first months but now the customers are proceeding as they realize they can move forward despite COVID-19 by taking the proper precautions. The customers are actively engaged in this effort, restarting projects, taking good care at their plant sites and doing as much as possible remotely.
CFE Media: Relating to the previous question regarding COVID-19, how has remote monitoring and/or remote automation applied to the way you engage with your customers?
Creery: We have been supporting our customers remotely since the advent of the modem. Connecting these days is of course much faster, though security must be taken very seriously. Remote support and remote control were well underway before COVID-19. The sudden interruption of life as we knew it earlier this year accelerated this process tremendously.
Now, nine months in, companies are realizing we were all traveling too much and, through our experience these last months, we have learned how to deliver successful projects with less travel. Although everyone may be understandably tired of virtual meetings at this point, we anticipate they will continue to play a significant part of our relationships and projects post COVID-19.
CFE Media: Describe how Andritz goes about forming engineering partnerships with its customers. What are the benefits of these engineering partnerships to the customer? How does Andritz benefit from these partnerships?
Creery: We subscribe to the people, customers, profit value chain. By enabling our people to overcome challenges and encouraging them to develop solutions from concept to commissioning, they learn rapidly while solving problems for our customers. The customers in turn appreciate this and ask for more. More challenges equate to more opportunity for all involved and it grows from there. The combination of comprehensive technical experience and strong personal relationships has resulted in productive business relationships that span many years and numerous projects.
In our partnerships, the customer also benefits through access to the global expertise of our group, represented by our local team, bringing domain knowledge to projects and life cycle support services. Andritz benefits as our people, together with the customers, apply the right technology to solve the problems, create a competitive advantage for our customers and grow professionally in their chosen career.
CFE Media: Talk about a recent customer success. What were some of the things you learned in success with the customer?
Creery: We helped a customer centralize operation of many remote sites into a single control room in a major city where they could access their process know how on a more continuous basis. We initially expected pushback from the sites as the process decisions were made remotely, but instead the sites welcomed the new operating methodology and are as involved as ever in the day to day decisions.
The central control room now looks after multiple plants and must quickly alert the remote operators to abnormal situations. We worked together with the customer to select and implement a high-performance graphic system combined with an alarm management strategy to make this happen. Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) technology has evolved significantly over the last decade and our team has evolved with it to make the most of these new capabilities.