Digitalisation and the IIoT in Australia: a Rockwell perspective

Rockwell Automation Australia

By Glenn Johnson, Editor
Tuesday, 12 November, 2019



Digitalisation and the IIoT in Australia: a Rockwell perspective

The hottest topic across the manufacturing and process industries today is digitalisation, and how technology’s accelerating evolution can be utilised in the industrial workplace. As vendors keep reminding us, the ability to adopt new technologies and embrace change is key to succeeding in today’s fast-paced manufacturing environment. Digital transformation is changing processes, systems and business models, enabling greater connectivity, which ultimately results in greater productivity.

At this year’s Rockwell Automation TechEd held on the Gold Coast by Rockwell Automation, I was able to speak with a few people about how they see the progress of digitalisation across industry in Australia.

Whether you call it Industry 4.0 or, as Rockwell Automation does, The Connected Enterprise, there is no doubt that the digitalisation is seen around the world as necessary to remaining competitive.

But progress on that front is not as prevalent as many would have us imagine — while success on the IIoT/digitalisation front varies from company to company and from industry to industry, one thing is certain: there are major shifts in mindset necessary to making the Connected Enterprise a success.

As Scott Wooldridge, Regional Vice President for Rockwell Automation, pointed out in his keynote address, independent research shows that only around 16% of organisations have installed an IoT project successfully — and in these cases, it’s more than likely not across their whole production enterprise, but they have had success in specific use cases. A further 29% are running pilots, while another 29% are planning to do a pilot or have budgeted for it. This means that 84% of respondents actually haven’t implemented anything yet.

Wooldridge pointed out that many companies seem to be stuck in ‘pilot purgatory’. They are running into roadblocks and challenges they don’t know how to solve easily. It could be that the use case is not right, or perhaps the necessary base level building blocks are not in place to begin with. “Everyone thinks ‘cloud, cloud, cloud’, but the reality is you need the network infrastructure and the base level devices to support the provision of the data needed,” he said. “Some base level building blocks need to be in place.”

In many instances, people may have success with a single point application, but struggle with making it scalable across many points of use or across many facilities.

There is also the issue of project management — traditional methods are not generally helpful in IIoT deployments.

The traditional way of writing a functional specification, producing a design, performing a factory acceptance test, implementing and testing — with signoffs at each stage — is a tried and true methodology that is known to work and get results.

But Wooldridge said the IoT projects the company sees using this methodology can fail, because these types of projects often do not have a set budget or timeframe. It is better to do short ‘sprint’ projects that deliver outcomes for the customer quickly — what he called the Waterfall method. In these small-scale projects a defined outcome is progressed and delivered rapidly, showing business value along the way.

To do this, a change in mindset on the part of the system integrator is needed: less project management and more business analysis to deliver the outcomes and customer engagement that will make the project successful.

The other thing that needs to change is the mindset of the customer and how they engage with the vendor/integrator. The idea is to embed engineers in the customer team to deliver small projects. Wooldridge said he’s seen projects deployed in eight weeks and finished using the Waterfall method, and the same or similar project using the traditional method still running after two years.

It is important to remember with IIoT implementations that we are not trying to build a new plant, just trying to optimise performance. Somebody has a KPI and they are trying to get that outcome as quickly as possible: a small project that delivers a defined improvement and shows business value not only saves money but shows the value that digitisation can bring, and ultimately prove to management the benefit of further investment.

Two industries that in many ways could not be more different are the upstream oil and gas industry and the food and beverage industry.

Connected Production in the oil and gas industry

For Rockwell Automation, in terms of upstream oil and gas they prefer to use the term Connected Production, rather than Connected Enterprise. Craig Segers, Executive Account Manager, Oil & Gas for Rockwell Automation, said: “Connected Production is effectively Connected Enterprise for oil and gas from our point of view. For me, it is an open system that links your OT and your IT with a common infrastructure that gives you a ‘single pane of glass’ — a single version of the truth — in relation to production intelligence.”

David Turner, Manager, Digital Oilfield Solutions, Asia Pacific, explained that Connected Production is effectively a subset of the Connected Enterprise specifically for upstream oil and gas operations.

“When you look at Connected Production, it’s ‘ring-fenced’ from the wellhead to the point of custody transfer, so it doesn’t include the pipe network going to refineries, and it’s not distribution or processing,” he said. “So it refers only from the point where you produce to the point where you export: the digitisation of everything within that space.”

The challenges in digitalisation for the upstream oil and gas industry are quite different from manufacturing, and the uptake is quite slow.

“Part of the problem is that when a company like ours develops a set of solutions, you’re trying to capture the biggest part of the market, but when you talk to individual customers, you may not have the exact asset model they would like,” Turner said. “So it always becomes an engineered-to-order solution. To compound this, the customer might not be ready to get into this space: everybody has a desire or a corporate vision on how to transform their business, but they’re not sure how they want to do it.

“The biggest problem is where to start: and the place you start is to start acquiring data. However, in many parts of the world we don’t have instrumented systems. In some places — for example, in India — we don’t even have electricity, because they are naturally flowing or gas-lifted wells, so there’s no power on the site.”

“If you contrast that with Australia, we have a more mature market,” Segers said. “Most of our large end users are at the point where they have the data, so they are at the point of asking how do we use it, how do we make sense of it, and bring it back to the business?”

“There’s also the differences between brownfield and greenfield environments,” Turner added. “Of course it would be nice to have greenfield projects, but we’re not in that lucky position, so we are looking at other developments where existing infrastructure exists. One of our value propositions is that we have an open system, device and protocol agnostic, so we can take data from existing infrastructure and aggregate it, so we have one version of the truth regardless of the existing infrastructure.”

A matter of trust

In a traditionally conservative industry like oil and gas, one of the biggest stumbling blocks is being able to trust cloud technologies.

“In many of the jurisdictions I work in, data is considered sovereign and you can’t remove it from the country,” Turner said. “So if for example you are using Microsoft Azure as your cloud platform, the data will be replicated in many different places, so it does leave the country. It requires a mindset change for people to realise they are not going to lose the data and they are the only ones who have access.”

“This is not such an issue in Australia, although it varies from company to company,” Segers said. “Another challenge is getting reliable data from the assets in the field — a lot of them are remote and wouldn’t have wired systems, but are relying on LTE and 4G networks, and it’s not guaranteed you can always grab the data.”

In a similar vein to what Wooldridge said in his keynote, some oil and gas organisations have made steps towards digitalisation, but have struggled with scalability.

“The problem is that in the journey to putting it together it started small, it grew arms and legs, they bolted bits on,” Turner said. “Now what they are doing is forcing square pegs into round holes and it’s very expensive to support and maintain, and it’s becoming a nightmare to scale it with the business.

“So they need to start again, and start small to make sure it is giving the business outcome they want. And along the way you need to have evidence that it is scalable, and that it only involves incremental costs. It is best to have a solution that supports scalability automatically from day one — a solution provided as a service, rather than investing in server architecture, because there will come a time when it won’t be big enough, and you need to build again.

“This is why we resort to small pilot projects,” he added. “We already have a lot of success with wellhead control through the technologies we have already well established. The next step is to go back to the office and get that data back to the business infrastructure to provide the information they need — that is where we are at now.”

Food and beverage — earlier adopters

In contrast to the oil and gas industry, the food and beverage industry is, on average, more accustomed to the power of digitisation.

“The uptake of IoT technologies in the Australian market is quite good,” said Kevin Cole, State Manager, Queensland and NSW. “They are quite strategic and seeing there is benefit in getting more data out of plant assets, and in having better connections to their plants.

“They also have thinner margins than, say, mining customers, so 2–3% improvement for them has a significant impact,” said Glen Jacob, Food & Beverage Industry Manager. “There are also a whole lot of regulatory compliance issues that IoT can potentially assist with, like food quality and track-and-trace. If you load a ship with the wrong ore, that’s bad, but if your food makes people sick it can permanently damage your brand.”

“And they are already a well-automated industry, so they already have infrastructure in place that makes it more easy to integrate new technologies,” Cole added. “There has been a concerted effort over the last 10 or so years to get Ethernet connectivity into their plants, but now they are being much more strategic and trying to make sure that Ethernet network is much more robust.”

The food and beverage industry is an industry vertical in which Rockwell Automation has a widespread presence.

“I work with a number of industries, and I find that the food and beverage industry tends to be early adopters and innovators — for example in track-and-trace genealogies,” Cole said. “But since profit margins are lower, they have to be a lot more strategic over a long period of time: for example, putting something in place today that they can monetise in the future.”

“And the food industry is under a lot of pressure at the moment,” Jacob added. “The drought and pressure from the supermarket chains are having a significant impact.”

Cybersecurity an imperative

Recent food tampering events in Australia — most recently, the insertion of needles into strawberries — have highlighted the need for stringent food security. From a modern technological perspective, the threat could relate to cybersecurity — people could potentially taint a food product electronically.

The company is working with food producers to help them improve their OT cybersecurity.

“We’re doing some projects at the moment for some multinationals, involving a complete global rollout of cybersecurity improvements,” Jacob said. “It’s being driven by their global corporate governance, and their need to be sure that no matter where in the world, they have systems ‘locked down’ to protect them.”

“Rockwell made a very smart strategic investment with Cisco 10 plus years ago,” Cole said. “Between Cisco and Rockwell, we can build reference architectures that are secure and suitable for OT environments — every product is getting security built in.”

OT and IT: are the two finally getting together?

The implementation of broader IT and OT integration that is implied by the implementation of IIoT projects has for some years been slowed down by the different viewpoints of the two operational silos. Cole and Jacob see this as changing now.

“The starting position between the two tends to be separate, but as they progress, I think they realise that there is common ground, and they respect what each party knows and doesn’t know, and what they can learn from each other,” Cole said. “Companies that recognise that and work together seem to get the best results fastest.”

“It typically starts off with a reasonably confrontational environment,” Jacob added. “But you know there’s a serious problem when all they talk about is technology, and no-one is talking about cultural change — because it actually is a cultural change issue.

“In that case, without effective executive sponsorship, they are probably not going to get the results that they hope for.”

Image: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Theerapong

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