Questions around digital transformation in the heavy process industries no longer begin with “if,” but instead with “when” and “how.” By now it’s universally acknowledged that the digital technologies of the fourth industrial revolution can generate significant return on investment (ROI). These technologies center around data and how it’s collected, stored, accessed and analyzed.
Digital transformation is a journey, and there are many unique routes to successful outcomes. Companies in the same vertical—with similar revenue, headcount and organizational structure—often take very different approaches. But one thing many industrial leaders in digital transformation have in common, and perhaps the most surprising characteristic of the digital age, is that they’re all talking openly about their digital transformations, and this information sharing is having a positive impact.
A shift in mindset
Technology has historically been considered a source of competitive advantage in the process manufacturing industries. While a company’s home-grown solutions are typically proprietary intellectual property, a rise in publicly available data storage, infrastructure, analytics tools and open-source algorithms has differentiated between competitive advantage and simply embracing new technology. As industrial companies navigate these new technologies together, there’s much to learn about what they’re using, what it’s enabling, and how it fits in their overall data strategy.
Intra-industry tech sharing offers many potential benefits, the first of which is understanding which of the tools available have had proven success in a particular vertical. Given the large number of data storage and analytics offerings available today, this can be an important steppingstone in honing the list of technologies to a manageable number for evaluation.
Another opportunity for intra- and cross-industry collaboration is verification that a particular solution meets the cybersecurity and regulatory requirements of other companies in the industry. For example, a pharmaceutical manufacturer may be more receptive to a new technology if it’s already undergone validation by some of their peers. For technologies where system integrators and other service providers are crucial or helpful, these conversations can also help whittle down the list of possible partners.
Platforms for digital discussion
There are several different avenues for sharing digital strategies and learning among end users. Each offers different levels of audience engagement to learn, discuss and collaborate.
Events and tradeshows can be an excellent opportunity to learn how others in your industry are leveraging digital applications, platforms and technology partners to drive operational excellence. One example of this was the recent participation by global chemical manufacturer Covestro and Seeq Corp. in Amazon Web Services’ “AWS for Industrial Web Day.” Covestro, a leader in digitization in the chemical vertical, launched an initiative called process data analysis and visualization (ProDAVis) to provide all employees at its sites worldwide with the data access and analytics toolsets required to achieve successful digital transformation.
At AWS for Industrial Web Day, Covestro presented a compelling story about how their partnerships with technology companies OSIsoft, Seeq and AWS tie into their ProDAVis initiative. This forum also gave them the ability to showcase how each of the different technologies worked together. Workflow integration among applications was demonstrated, and the strengths and weaknesses of each application were highlighted. The presentation closed with a broadly applicable industry use case—monitoring heat exchanger fouling via data-driven models—and a demonstration of how digital technologies were used to transform data into actionable insights (Figure 1).
Another way manufacturing companies are sharing their digital strategies is by engaging with IT and OT analyst firms. These engagements can take the form of event presentations, webinars, case studies, industry reports and other avenues. The output can provide compelling evidence of digital success for peers exploring potential solutions.
For example, Duke Energy, a leader in developing innovative wind and solar energy solutions, presented at the February 2020 ARC Industrial Forum, highlighting how they were using Seeq digital technologies to predict wind turbine failures.
Turbine failures result in reduced power generation from renewable sources, requiring make-up from fossil fuel resources like coal and natural gas to keep the grid stable. An understanding of when turbine failures are likely to occur allows wind energy producers to proactively take turbines down for maintenance and spread their production potential across remaining resources, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and improving sustainability.
Presentations like this one from Duke Energy are critical to providing analysts with real-world applications of the industrial solutions they use and evaluate. This context helps ensure technology evaluations and solution selection guides are accurate and useful for other industry players.
One of the most interactive platforms for digital technology sharing across verticals is the user group. Given that these events are centered around a particular technology solution, the focus is less on solution selection, and more on technology platform integration and use case application.
In 2020, Seeq held user groups for major process industry verticals like chemicals, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas and utilities. The agenda for these events is comprised of a combination of customer presentations, vendor roadmap discussions and breakout sessions for peer-to-peer interaction.
Customer presentations range from high-level digital strategy within an organization, to nitty gritty use case solutions, to common industry problems. Attendees leave the sessions feeling energized about new possibilities for their technology solutions, and many expand their professional networks of peers and advisors.
Digital transformation is enabled by technology, but many end users don’t see these initiatives as proprietary intellectual property, but as information to be shared among peers. This openness helps advance efforts throughout the process industries by creating a new feedback channel for organizations as they continue their digital transformation journeys.
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