2021 Thought Leaders: Russell Palmer
What opportunities do you predict for the growth of your industry in 2021?
Market dynamics, cost, environmental and safety challenges were already placing significant pressure on the industries we operate in prior to COVID-19. As much as this combination of factors led to growing spending constraints, it revealed many priorities and highlighted future business direction.
Business continuity planning had become an irritant for many: after all who would believe countries would go into full lockdown! COVID-19 exposed the dangers of underestimating the need for a robust plan and the risks of being unable to operate your process due to unexpected constraints. This has led to many organisations beyond the resources industry reviewing the need for remote access and operations as part of their BCP.
After much hype, we will finally see new sensing technologies being implemented. End users are now relating the huge value in IIoT-based sensing — when presented with a solution fit for purpose — to potential operational and safety improvement. Digital transformation must be robust and planned effectively to ensure resilient transformation, which our customers in the mining, water, oil and gas, power and food and beverage industries have come to rely upon.
What are the three biggest challenges or threats facing your industry in 2021?
The last 12 months have shown that previous industry assumptions are no longer a solid basis for future planning. The belief that lowest cost is always best — especially when that lowest cost relies on overseas supply chains and personnel — is redundant. Whilst market competitiveness is a good thing, due regard must again be given to business continuity.
Secondly, focusing primarily on cybersecurity from an IT perspective creates potential for systematic failure and business exposure. IT and OT departments work to different KPIs, which are often conflicting. Much has been written on this subject, yet changes are yet to be seen. There is a growing sense of urgency and this change is something we are driving hard to support in our clients’ initiatives.
The third challenge is the shift in worker demographics and the risks associated with an ageing workforce, worker migration and loss of experience. However, I see this as an opportunity. The next generation of managers, operators and engineers are already in place and they bring a new, innovate outlook. The real challenge for current leadership is to enable and challenge this next generation to excel, especially in areas such as sustainable operations, diversity and cultural sensitivity.
What sustainability strategies will be at the forefront of your business?
The range of industries we work in means we indirectly touch the lives of everyday Australians and New Zealanders. This makes us conscious of being responsible corporate citizens, and protecting the planet for future generations. From a global perspective, Yokogawa have signed up to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and were recently included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index as a company making significant contribution to the achievement of a sustainable society, which is a real honour.
Historically, a significant portion of our work has been based around process optimisation and improvement. Optimising turbines for example to reduce fuel consumption, improve energy output and reduce emissions. Using our expertise to assess application requirements to reduce chemical and raw material usage while ensuring process outflow is carefully monitored to meet environmental guidelines. These are only a few examples of many of our sustainability contributions beyond in-house initiatives as we aim to achieve zero net emissions by 2050.
Looking forward, there are many other examples where our technology and engineering expertise is employed. Energy management, emissions monitoring, leak detection, wireless noise mapping and supporting renewable energy initiatives, as we focus on a ‘What’s Next for Our Planet’ drive.
How is your industry preparing for artificial intelligence development?
The concept of artificial intelligence has been around the process and manufacturing industries since the late 1980s, so the term is not new. The difference in 2021 is that enabling technologies required to make it effective are now readily available.
AI is one component of digital transformation in process industries as it moves from industrial automation to industrial autonomy. Building on existing infrastructure, using intelligent sensing of all aspects of the process, provides insights for analysis of performance, better safety and removing bottlenecks. Using intuitive graphics, remote access technologies and greater use of robotics will improve the process and increase employee and environmental safety. Digital twins can also be incorporated for ongoing evolution with high levels of data analytics revealing important new insights.
The potential is significant but not having clear objectives, timelines, budgets, industry-experienced partners and high-level management buy-in will do no more than burn through money — and in a worst-case scenario degrade performance. Put a project team in place (with high level sponsorship), have big plans (but start small), pick your partners carefully; and once you get momentum move quickly to stay ahead of the competition!
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