IoT In The Process Sector

IoT In The Process Sector

The Internet of Things is a relatively new phase, but the implications are huge for many industries. More data from an exponential increase in sensors means a much increased optimised plant or process, reducing costs, whilst increasing safety and performance. By Mark Johnston.

IAA interviewed Jonas Berge, director, applied technology, Emerson, on the application of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the process sector. The IoT is changing entire industries and how they manage their equipment and resources. The process sector is no exception.

Q: Firstly, can you give me an overview of how IoT is changing the process sector?


Jonas Berge (JB): The process industry has done a fantastic job over the past several decades in regards to process control and safety, and getting process data to the operators so they can control the process.

What people have realised is problems in four principle areas, which are:

  1. Reliability
  2. Energy Efficiency
  3. Safety
  4. Productivity

These are the four areas where plants are looking to improve. Not so much in touching the existing process control but in helping these four different areas. More automation is seen as the solution.

We call Emerson’s concept pervasive sensing. The first thing you need to do if you want to automate something is see what is going on. This is done with a network of sensors.

There are more existing plants than there are new plants being built. This presents a challenge as it easier to build sensors into a plant from the start rather than modernise an existing plant that already has established systems and procedures. It is rather impractical to run more wiring for 4-20mA and on/off signals, etc. Modernisation is therefore done with wireless sensors, which minimises the need for additional wiring.

At the other end of the stack are the apps. The apps sit right at the top of the stack, taking in all of the raw data, and turning it into actionable information that tells you that you need to clean a heat exchanger, or replace a steam trap, or service a valve, for instance.

This can be done within the plant, without the need for a third party. However, there is more of a trend towards outsourcing some of these functions, so they do not have to manage these services themselves.

Plants today have service contracts. This means that people come to the plant periodically to do checks and surveys of all the steam traps and the vibration of all the bearings, pumps, and so on. Rather than doing this, and having more people walking around a plant, a network of sensors could be used. By using IoT, vibration and steam trap monitoring, for instance, can be done remotely. The data can be sent to the cloud and monitored as a connected service by an external vendor. Within Emerson we are already doing this for some of our customers.

Q: You mentioned upgrading existing plants to wireless instruments. How long have you been using wireless instruments within plants?

JB: We are coming very close to 10 years now. It is not the case that we are taking the place of wired instruments; we leave that in place. In the past there have been a lot of missing measurements. When a lot of these plants were built DCS IO cards and the associated wiring were very expensive, so they only automated a bare minimum. A refinery built 20 years ago may have used 50 thousand IO points. Today 100,000 IO points may be used. The most practical way to get an old 20 year old plant up to that same level is to use wireless.

Q: This means any new plants that are built today would come with a wireless implementation by default?

JB: Yes. A lot of plants today are still wired, but they know eventually they are going to need to put in additional instrumentation. This is when they will decide going wireless is their best option. Traditionally everything has been wired to the DCS, whether that information has been used for control or not. Even if it is not seen by the operator, it may be of use to the maintenance staff.

Why has it been connected to the DCS? Because the DCS is the only piece of equipment in the plant that can accept the 4-20mA signal. Wireless is already digital. A lot of the measurements that have nothing to do with control can go straight into the historian digitally. Wireless comes in very handy there.

Q: The analytics part, is that done in-house or does a third party do that?

JB: We let the customer decide. You (the customer) can install the software on a server in your plant if you feel more comfortable with that. However, we would be happy to put an EDGE Gateway in your plant and send the data to the cloud; we would do the analytics from there.

We have designed our apps to be platform agnostic. A lot of plants use the Osisoft PI System for their existing historian. The apps we create can plug into that system. With our sensors and apps plugged into the PI System the system can use the data to get a complete picture of the equipment health.

Q: I hear from companies that they have been doing IoT for years and now it has become popular. Is that something you agree with?

JB: I would say that many of our customers have been doing IoT. It is not something we can take credit for. If we look at the definition of IoT. IoT must involve things, correct? For instance, just doing remote process control (think SCADA system) is not IoT, correct? Because it is defined as a process, not a thing. A valve however, that is a thing. Beyond this, there has be to an aspect of the internet. Just monitoring the valve from within the plant is not enough. It has to be monitored remotely. This is something that a few of our customers have been doing for several years. Not very many. A few leading international companies wanted to monitor their valves. They have valves sitting on the fieldbus. As long as they are on the company’s internet they can diagnose the valve. What is exciting now is that this is being made available to the greater industry. That is the exciting part.

You can also send the data to your mobile device. The cloud is an important part. That is what we call connected services or remote monitoring services. You actually let a third party do the monitoring for you. That is new and exciting. It is still using the same familiar unlying technologies, like fieldbus and wirelessHART.

Q: In terms of business models, what new business models have been created with IoT?

JB: The chemical plant in Singapore is exciting in that they never bought a single screw. We said we will monitor their steam traps. We installed the equipment in their plant, which still belongs to Emerson. They pay us a monthly fee and we send them a weekly report.

It is on the opposite spectrum of selling equipment and leaving it to the customer to do it. We take care of everything. We make sure the instruments are functional, the battery is ok, the network is ok, and we make sure that the software that sits in the cloud is ok and updated to the latest version and the latest security patches. Our experts analyse the data and give a report. We basically can generate a work order. That is completely new.

Q: A lot of security firms are now talking about the challenges associated with the gap between IT and OT. Can you discuss more about that gap and how it impacts Emerson?

JB: This is a great concern to the customers. Unless you can provide them with a secure solution they are not going to do anything. What is happening in the case of the chemical plant or several others, is that we provide a second separate system. A customer does not want to connect their existing DCS to the internet. That is the challenge of the IT-OT interface.

Let us say the steam trap monitoring or vibration monitoring is a completely independent system. It does not touch the DCS so therefore it cannot simply be used as an entry point to the control system. That way we can circumvent or avoid that whole issue. We use Microsoft Azure cloud. Microsoft have done a good job of ensuring the security of their data centre to all of their international standards. Being able to present that to the customers is very good too.

Q: How does IoT redefine situational awareness which is important for the process sector?

JB: First of all IoT is mainly used for non-realtime applications, so if I can just step back for a second. For instance, somebody activates a safety shower in the plant. You need the operators to know about that immediately, so they can send first aid responders so assist that guy. You really would not send that to an external party that generates a weekly or a daily report, it would be way too late. I think that part will predominantly still be done in the plant.

This also applied to a situation where someone has left a valve open when it should be closed. That needs to be known within the plant. Our pervasive sensing scheme fits in very well with that to provide that situational awareness within the plant. The IoT lends itself to those new business models where you look at weekly, or monthly, or daily reports. This lends itself very well to the other two domains I spoke about —reliability and energy efficiency.

If a bearing is beginning to develop a problem you can send a report that same week. That is more than good enough. The same thing applies to a heat exchanger that is beginning to fail. That is where IoT will be most useful. There is a lot of missing measurements that can be covered with IoT. Some of this data can be used within the plant, whilst some of it gets sent to the cloud to be used by the service provider.

Asset management is one example of a major use case for IoT in the process sector. This would fall under reliability monitoring. You want to make sure the plant is running smoothly and no parts of that plant are about to fail. You also want to make sure the plant is energy efficient and does its job well.

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