Digital transformation and IIoT’s impact on process manufacturing

Digital transformation and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can help companies transform their culture and business. Five steps for companies embarking on the digital transformation journey are highlighted.

By Chris Vavra November 8, 2022
Jason Urso, vice president and CTO of Honeywell, during an interview at Honeywell Connect in Orlando. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Digital transformation and IIoT insights

  • Digital transformation and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) allow manufacturers to work smarter and faster by giving them access to a lot of information all at once.
  • The digital transformation journey should emphasize better control and automation as well as empowering and making workers better at their jobs and enhancing their skillsets.

The world has changed in the last few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and manufacturing has been one of the industries most affected by it. Working remotely or in hybrid settings is more accepted now because the day-to-day tasks can be performed over a computer screen or a tablet or even a smartphone.

The ability to harness this information and act on it quickly is a staple of today’s manufacturing world. Digital transformation and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is changing manufacturing, said Jason Urso, vice president and CTO of Honeywell, during an interview at Honeywell Connect in Orlando. It begins with the work-process transformation and the advanced role the machine plays.

“If you consider today in the asset management space regarding the performance, it’s a lot of manual inspection that goes on,” he said. “They use their senses, eyes, ears, smell… it’s kind of like in a car and you know when something is wrong, and you want to take it in. The objective is not to wait around until the human senses something. You want the car to tell you when something goes wrong.”

Urso said they’re approaching this process by focusing on asset performance management (APM) with an emphasis on making it simpler, but also comprehensive so the engineer has access to many data and touch points.

“They’re driving their work process by exception and saying I’m going to look at the performance of my equipment based on the insights that I have from these asset management solutions. That’s how I’m going to schedule my maintenance and make sure my workers are being applied in a targeted way,” Urso said.

He cited an example during a breakout session with a client where they had an operation called the bridge, which was bringing in asset information from multiple platforms into a central operations center. Urso said they used the information to send people to a location rather than having them sit around at the offsite location waiting for something to happen, which is a waste of their skills and their time.

“When you work in that way, you’re only as good as the person is knowledgeable at that location,” Urso said. “It’s hard to find people to go to remote locations who have a high degree of skill. We need to centralize skills and use the power of technology to give them the insights to dispatch their work process,” he said.

Manufacturers: Five steps to realizing the digital transformation journey

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact is still being felt in manufacturing and has shown how things can be done in a more streamlined, efficient way. There’s a greater emphasis on automation, but mostly out of necessity due to a lack skilled resource. Urso said it is a major driving force in some of the changes happening, but it’s also because demand remains very high for manufactured goods. There is a lot of push and pull happening and the need to stay productive and efficient is a challenge for manufacturers.

The biggest challenge, Urso said, is getting started on the journey to digital transformation and IIoT.

“Defining the roadmap to where they want to ultimately to get to,” he said. “Lots of companies, when they start their digital transformation journey, set a giant target and think they’re going to save all this money, but they struggle on asking ‘What’s my path to get there?”

Urso said these manufacturers are trying to serve the operational technology (OT) environment and processes and chart a roadmap that can be outlined to customers with a clear sequence of steps, which he outlined.

  1. Better control and optimization. “Are you automating everything that can be automated? And then are you sustaining that automation for longer periods of time?”

  2. Asset intelligence. “Make your assets more intelligent as a way of becoming more proactive. Detect failures before they run to failure.

  3. Achieve workforce excellence. “Make them elite athletes in their craft. And you do by that digitizing their work procedure. Automate their digital procedures so they have more mobility rather than doing them from memory.”

  4. Create a remote workforce. “Remove them from hazardous locations. Put them in a central location and allow them to support the operation remotely.”

  5. Become more resilient. “Recognize you’ll have problems that you’ll have to manage. If you have a power outage, do you have battery powered backup?” Urso cited the Texas power failure during the winter of 2021, which he called a cascading series of events that led to a series of issues that caused a major breakdown in different utilities people rely on.

About planning for and advancing digital transformation, , Urso said, manufacturers need to “Figure out where you are on this journey and move to the next step.”

That journey can start by picking an area where the company can improve and see immediate benefits that can be recognized by others. “Do something that has a tangible benefit and outcome. Collect the savings and fund the next project.”

Digital transformation evolution for manufacturers

Manufacturing has changed, Urso said, because of the way the industry is evolving. The industry has long been resistant to change, but due to the skills gap and the rise of automation, that is no longer a viable strategy.

“Things used to move in decades. Then it became five-year increments. Now things change in one-year increments. We’re headed to an environment where there is greater industrial autonomy,” he said.

Chris Vavra is web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

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Author Bio: Chris Vavra is the web content manager for CFE Media.