Increasingly, the digital transformation of industry means safer, more efficient operation, increased production and improved quality. Every company’s path to digital transformation is different, but requires competencies such as automated workflow, decision support from systems, workforce upskilling and change management.
People from process industry companies looking to learn how to improve their operations and to share their knowledge gathered for the Emerson Global Users Exchange Americas conference Sept. 23 – 27, 2019 at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Conference Center in Nashville. The huge facility (the largest non-casino hotel/conference complex in the U.S.) hosted 2,600 users and Emerson representatives for the week.
In the opening assembly, Midhu Varghese, chair of Emerson Global Users Exchange welcomed the attendees. Varghese, commissioning and qualification manager at biopharmaceutical maker AbbVie, offered an overview of the users organization and a preview of the week’s opportunities for learning and networking.
Executives from Emerson Automation Solutions provided a business overview. Executive president Lal Karsanbhai described some of the challenges common to the different process industries and pointed to the growing resources of hardware, software and services that can help meet the needs. Peter Zornio, chief technology officer, covered some of the often-confusing possibilities for applying data analytics in practical ways to achieve plant-level benefits. Vice president for planning and global marketing officer Stuart Harris discussed how companies can start their digital transformation in a small but scalable way, devising proof-of-concept pilot projects that demonstrate a return on investment. Then the new technology can propagate into other appropriate areas of the company.
PREPARING FOR ACCELERATING CHANGE
Technology entrepreneur and author Peter Hinssen started his keynote presentation by asking what it would be like to have Elon Musk as an employee, someone who sees what no one else can see. Most corporations would find such employees and their ideas unmanageable. However, companies need to embrace radical ideas in order to deal with accelerating changes in technology and the marketplace, Hinssen said. They need to look toward “The Day After Tomorrow” (the title of his latest book).
Hinssen gave examples of innovations that disrupt existing markets:
The Disney World Resort provides visitors with Magic Bands, wearable wristbands that use radio frequency technology to allow unlocking their hotel rooms, buying merchandise and meals and collecting the photos of themselves taken at different locations during their visit. The bands turn information about customers into improved experiences for them (and increased revenue for the company).
Amazon is building its own airport cargo hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) to service its Amazon Air fleet of cargo aircraft. The 3 million square foot (279,000 square meters), $1.5 billion facility will help speed Amazon purchases to consumers.
Hinssen offered Perfect Day as an example of a company creating a whole new category of product. Perfect Day uses plant life, such as yeast, to produce proteins identical to those in dairy milk. These can be made into different products that faithfully reproduce their cow-based equivalents such as cheese and yogurt. This radical departure from traditional food products and processing—potentially a disruption of that market—came from “focusing on the customer, not the cow,” Hinssen said.
To make such radical innovations possible, Hinssen said, in addition to employees who can envision what doesn’t yet exist, a company needs a sense of urgency, the right mindset, shared direction, clear vision and executive support for pursuing the disruptive product or technology.
LEARNING FROM EACH OTHER
During the exchange, end users and Emerson specialists shared their experience and expertise in 275 technical sessions covering a broad range of process industry interests. In addition, the program included short courses, workshops and industry forums.
The subject areas for the sessions were:
- Measurement Instrumentation
- Valves, Actuators and Regulators
- Fluid Control and Pneumatics
- Control and Safety Systems
- Asset Management
- Operations and Business Management
- Electrical Components and Lighting
- Services and Consulting
- Personal and Career Development
More than 20 sessions covered valves, actuators and regulators. Here is a sampling of user case studies in that area and others:
Wireless monitoring of manual valve position: Some of the manual valves in a chemical company’s manufacturing plants are deemed critical to operations. Any incorrect alignment of one of these valves during certain procedure steps could result in an environmental or safety incident or harm equipment. Historically, wired limit switches were used to monitor position. Now, wireless instrumentation and infrastructure provide position monitoring at reasonable installed cost. Five manual ball and gate valves were retrofitted with wireless instrumentation that provided position indication: closed, open and percent open. The analog inputs from the valve sensors were used to interlock steps in critical procedures involving these valves, thereby providing a secondary assessment on valve state and minimizing the risk of an operational error.
Finding the right valve for the application: A refinery and chemical facility faced reliability issues with its pressure swing adsorption unit, which primarily is used to recover and purify different process offgases. Reliability problems with valves not sealing properly upset a critical pressurizing sequence. These issues brought down the unit once every three months with two days of unplanned maintenance. Emerson and customer engineers worked on providing a valve solution for high-cycle (1,000,000 cycles) applications requiring tight shutoff. The site installed the new valves in January 2018, which have been operating successfully for over a year with no unplanned events.
Valve condition monitoring: A midstream natural gas supplier and transportation company wanted to improve its model of reliability assessment across all critical valves and resolve valve-related issues that result in loss of production and plant availability. The company partnered with Emerson on a pilot project to perform improved condition monitoring of valves. Initially, at one site, 12 valves were instrumented and monitored. After benefits were realized within five months, monitoring was expanded to 62 critical valves at four sites. The company is now able to apply predictive maintenance strategies to resolve valve performance and reliability issues early, before valves reached “red” status or cause downtime.
Continuous corrosion and erosion monitoring: Due to a process change, a refinery experienced increased erosive metal loss in its hot slurry bypass process piping. This led to increased manual inspection, unplanned process shutdowns, increased operational costs, and lost production. The erosion also raised the risk of leakage. Various conventional options for detecting erosion were costly and/or imprecise. The company opted for installing a wireless corrosion and erosion measuring system. Ultrasonic transducers were placed to monitor changes in thickness from corrosion or erosion in vulnerable areas. The system used WirelessHART to connect without the expense of hard wiring. Real-time monitoring allowed for planned downtime to replace compromised piping. The new system proved as accurate as manual ultrasonic thickness measurements.
EXPERIENCING INNOVATION IN PERSON
During the first three days of the conference, Emerson provided an extensive exhibit area, which showed equipment and systems for the attendees to learn about, including valves, instrumentation, and software for process automation, data collection and analysis. The exhibits offered networking opportunities, too, especially during the receptions serving food and drink hosted after the technical sessions were done each day.
The Emerson Users Exchange music jam has been a unique and popular feature of the conference in recent years. This year’s roster listed 30 musicians, all Emerson customers or employees. On a professional stage, complete with light show and video, they rocked the hotel ballroom far into Tuesday night.
As the presentations and discussions at the exchange conference revealed, the need for digital transformation shows no signs of slowing down. There will be more to learn at the 2020 Emerson Exchange Oct. 5-9 at the Phoenix Convention Center.