Honeywell: Putting the Smartphone at the Heart of Smart Plants
June 30, 2016
Rohit Robinson, Director of Portfolio Innovation at Honeywell Process Solutions, explores how smart devices will be a necessity as plant and operator become more connected
Mobility has revolutionised the life of the average consumer, touching every facet of how we live and work. This is exemplified by the emergence of the smartphone. The rise of these is easy to explain. Providing connectivity on the move in a simple, portable and affordable device, smartphones both embody and shape our modern working and social lives. Adoption is widespread and the smartphone ubiquitous, but in the industrial environment mobility is still an emerging technological force.
The fact that mobility has yet to take hold in the industrial world is, on the face of it, puzzling. After all, industrial environments seem ideally suited for the mobile revolution. There is a whole segment of field personnel such as operations, logistics, warehouse, inspectors, sales, etc., that will benefit hugely from mobile devices. Delivering solutions around those roles is where mobility will go industrial.
Mobility across the Hydrocarbon Domain
The geographical dispersion of upstream assets opens quite a few opportunities for mobile devices. Personnel can use GPS and online maps to locate and identify assets. Historical work order information, performance trends, calibration details and asset attributes are easily pulled in from the central office and served to the ‘connected’ worker. If data from the field need to be captured, it is usually faster and more efficient to do it electronically over a tablet or a smartphone. Moreover, digitally captured data is easily distributed and analysed.
Primary distribution use cases can be around digitising custody transfer workflows, inspecting pipelines, updating and recording inventories, viewing lifting schedules and more. Field personnel in these areas have to follow very specific workflows, capture readings and status, note vessel arrival/departure – and mobile devices should be able to provide valuable efficiencies.
Processing plants are increasingly getting more complicated and regulated. This translates to a higher degree of inspections, rounds, checklists and traceability. Mobile devices are seeing widespread adoption in these areas, and paper records are quickly being replaced by mobile software. Augmented Reality algorithms are already in use on smartphones to “inform” and “train” on complex equipment and procedures. Mobility is taking the training programme out of the classroom and into the field.
Secondary use cases can be found in areas such as fleet logistics, warehouse management and point-of-sale operations. Distributed and large tank farms with complex receipt and delivery procedures are ripe for optimisation on mobile platforms. Mobile devices are keeping ERP systems updated in near real-time, giving traders invaluable insight into shop floor operations.
Benefits to Industrial Users
At the level of individual personnel, mobility is set to enhance capabilities and make life easier. Process engineers are prime candidates. They are not looking at screens all of the time and they need to receive and analyse information quickly. Often, process engineers are the first line that can drive work practices to a more efficient band of operations, rather than being within the broad and safe alarm limits. Solutions such as Honeywell Pulse™ can allow them to set their own “watch list” and get alerts on their phones, should a process excursion take place.
This is demonstrated by a recent incident, where a seal rupture was preceded by a 40-minute pressure variance. Amongst all the hundreds of variables being monitored, the odds that someone was looking at that particular one were minimal. However, with a mobile monitoring solution in place, the process team would have received alerts over those 40 minutes, no matter where they were in the world.
Shift and process supervisors, plant managers and HSE directors are groups of people that do not necessarily sit in front of computers, watching process data flow by. And yet, they are accountable for the safety and uptime of facilities. The mobile devices they carry are invaluable platforms to keep them informed, in real-time. Once again, smart apps not only inform and provide visibility, but also allow personnel to take action remotely.
With so many potential uses and the value that mobility promises to industrial operations, the obvious question is why do not all personnel use mobile devices? The answer is multi-faceted, with one reason typically offered being the complex and robust nature of the environment in which industrial workers carry out their duties. Plant and process areas require intrinsically safe devices, meaning consumer technology needs to be specifically tailored. That, though, is only a small part of the issue.
Another role that has yet to see the full benefits of mobility is that of the control room operators. While you might not necessarily assume these workers need mobile solutions, being confined to a control room with plenty of capabilities and displays, it is worth highlighting the sheer size of many modern control rooms. It is not uncommon to see rooms so large that operators need mobile devices, such as a tablet, to maintain visibility into the process. In response to the shifting layout and nature of control rooms, systems are evolving accordingly and increasingly support mobile solutions.
Challenges to Adoption
While there are some challenges at a role-by-role level, there are deeper concerns that perhaps explain why the mobile way of working has yet truly to take hold in the industrial environment. Information security is often identified as a major concern among leaders. Any mainstream technology, particularly mobile solutions, is viewed with a certain amount of distrust when it comes to industrial cyber security, while there is an idea that connecting more devices to a network brings with it increased risk. A common reaction may be to avoid bringing in mobile solutions entirely in order to secure assets.
However, such a response is in many ways self-defeating, ignoring the many significant benefits promised by a connected plant with truly mobile support, including cyber security. Of course precautions must be taken, but subscribing to cyber services, assessing risks and enforcing sound policies are some of the mitigating strategies companies can put in place. In response to these needs, Honeywell has established cyber security labs and offers full cyber services and solutions such as cyber security profiling, intrusion prevention, device hardening and continuous monitoring.
Getting Your Organisation Mobile
While establishing a mobility platform within an industrial environment certainly has its challenges, both technical and organisational, a future where plants are more connected and workers more mobile is both an attractive and almost inevitable one. The benefits, both operational and at a business level, are too great for it not to be. However, the industry has been slow to embrace the idea.
Businesses can, however, look to early adopters for best practice, saving themselves many issues. Input from various departments, individuals, business and operations teams should be solicited actively and time spent in establishing ROI.
The next generation of plant personnel has grown up able to access any information it wants, at any time, fluidly pinching and zooming its way through details on its smartphones. Soon this will be more than a benefit for employees; it will be an expectation. More than the many benefits this will deliver for workers, though, mobility is set to be an important factor in realising the vision of a connected plant and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), where it is not just sensors, pumps, valves and other technology that are connected, but people too.
While the challenges should not be understated, particularly cyber security, they can be overcome. Meanwhile, the industry’s need to develop efficiencies and enhance performance means that such challenges must not be viewed as a reason to ignore or avoid mobility and connectivity. Any organisation that does so risks becoming a modern-day William Orton, President of Western Union, who in 1876 famously said: “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.”
You may contact the author using the details below, or via Honeywell Pulse. While there, feel free to participate in Honeywell’s Mobility Survey and request a copy of the consolidated results.
Contact: Rohit Robinson, Director for Portfolio Innovation at Honeywell Process Solutions