Pervasive sensing increases business visibility

Control Engineering International: Sensing technologies have a new role in business critical applications in process industries, suggested Peter Zornio, chief strategic officer at Emerson Process Management, at the recent European Emerson User Exchange, according to a recent Control Engineering Europe article.

By Mark T. Hoske July 3, 2014

More and better integrated sensing technologies can augment business critical applications in process industries, suggested Peter Zornio, chief strategic officer at Emerson Process Management, at the recent European Emerson User Exchange, according to a Control Engineering Europe article.

The main drivers for the process industries have remained the same for over 50 years—the need for a safe, environmentally friendly, and secure facility, followed by the need for the facility to be run at the lowest cost, in a reliable manner, and maximizing production when the facility is running.

Today there is an increasing need for process companies to be more aware of all aspects of their business as it is impossible to improve what you don’t know. Mobile technology is key to making staff more productive, Zornio said.

An important new process industry driver relates to a need for greater staff effectiveness to address the problem of a generation of engineers coming up for retirement and taking many years of process plant experience with them. There are also many new facilities being built around the globe in ever more inhospitable places, where no experienced people want to go to run the process. Running safe and profitable operations is, therefore, becoming increasingly challenging.

For this reason facilities need the ability to be operated remotely by process experts, from anywhere in the world. This can also increase safety, enabling operators to work outside of hazardous areas.

Predictive capabilities

Processes today also need better predictive capabilities. Emerson does so with its PlantWeb system and predictive diagnostics. Next, facilities will explain in context that something is going to happen. Collaborative working is another key trend, Zornio said. Every decision made in a process facility would benefit from input from multiple departments. Being able to make those decisions in a collaborative way, quickly, is important to help ensure operational excellence.

Further, because fewer process experts will be available in the future, it is vital to consider how to get the best out of the expertise that is available. This means ensuring that these people are not spending their time physically travelling to a site, but instead are able to apply their knowledge remotely to diagnose what is happening on a plant.

Integrated operating (iOps) environments can help by bringing together different disciplines, albeit remotely, to enable more informed decision-making. One thing supporting this is data from pervasive sensors. Emerson’s System Health Monitoring can also help, allowing for remote monitoring of DetaV systems, enabling Emerson experts to identify and inform a company of potential issues.

While individual implementations may vary, key ingredients of an iOps model are expected to include collaboration of cross-functional teams, collaboration tools such as video conferencing and other applications, real-time access to process and asset data, and streamlined decision-making workflows.

Emerson offers sensor technologies that are non-intrusive and wireless, extending their potential areas of application into business critical applications, he said, to meet the increasing trend for greater operational insight to ensure operational excellence.

The process industry is moving from routine manual inspections to automated monitoring, using smart sensors, often wireless, helping to provide greater plant visibility.

Pervasive sensing

There are many areas, above and beyond the data and the applications needed to run the process, that are critical to running the facility. Going forward, Emerson is predicting an expansion of the use of sensors in these business critical application areas-for site safety, reliability, and energy monitoring. Emerson calls this pervasive sensing.

Traditionally, the cost of adding a wired sensor to gather data has been high—in terms of installation—which has limited many to only collecting data for critical requirements. Today’s innovative sensor technology, such as wireless and non-invasive sensors, however, has made installation most cost-effective to install, and the embedded technology inside these sensors now allows them to provide direct actionable information. 

Lower cost of deployment

The advent of Smart Wireless technologies and advances in sensor technology and installation techniques have overcome the cost/value barrier by providing lower cost of deployment, reliable non-intrusive installation, and low-lifecycle costs, combined with ease of use in sensor applications. New software applications and embedded sensor intelligence are also becoming available to interpret the data from these sensors and convert it into actionable information, enabling prompt response to potential problems and better insight for improved decision-making.

Customers want actionable information that can make their lives safer and more predictable and save them cost, risk, and time, Zornio said. This goes beyond the control room and optimized process performance. They want clarity and certainty of conditions for business-critical decision-making across all aspects of their operations. To achieve this, a more comprehensive network of sensors is needed. A good analogy is the ongoing evolution of automotive sensors, which have evolved from managing engine performance and simple "check engine" alerts to providing actionable information about all aspects of car performance—such as precise tire pressure and fuel economy—to help maintain safety and economy, and provide failure prevention diagnostics.

Emerson believes that the market for pervasive sensing solutions is huge, Zornio said. These sensors will not be plugged into the process DCS. An increasingly parallel architecture is being created—largely wireless—which collects data for business critical applications, allowing the DCS network to remain separate and secure.

It is the diagnostics-based pervasive sensing and monitoring applications that will convert data into actionable information that is fundamental to an iOps model. Real-time insight into actual conditions is vital to give personnel the confidence to make better decisions.

Emerson recently opened an iOps center in Austin, Texas, to give customers a sense of what is possible in the future of integrated operations. This real-world working model of a production enterprise allows customers to experience the next generation of collaboration and real-time, multi-disciplinary decision-making. The company has partnered with Dell, Barco, Cisco, Mynah Technologies, and OSIsoft on this showcase project.

– Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,, from Control Engineering Europe, Suzanne Gill, editor. 

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Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.