• By Tsuyoshi Abe
  • May 31, 2020
  • InTech

By Tsuyoshi “Ted” Abe

We are facing a perfect storm created by a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. All industries are threatened by recession more than ever because of COVID-19. In the energy industry, this means digital transformation must be accelerated to change the game.

Plant assets and operations can be upgraded with learning and adaptive capabilities to provide automatic responses with minimal human interaction, freeing and empowering operators and other plant personnel to perform higher-level optimization tasks. This goal will be reached by undertaking a journey from industrial automation to industrial autonomy (IA2IA) to take us beyond Industry 4.0. While Industry 4.0 describes the high level of automation interconnectedness common in today’s systems, IA2IA moves further by introducing autonomy capabilities.

We have been discussing different aspects of this IA2IA journey with customers for a couple of years now, and recently we have extended that discussion to other industry stakeholders and experts. A pharmaceutical firm executive observed that: “The benefits of autonomy are clear; you can make the process cost effective because right now a lot of human interaction is still needed, which is quite expensive.”

The oil and gas industry has a particular need for autonomous operation. “You can bring less people offshore and bring more people onshore, essentially bringing them out of harm’s way and into a proper office building where you will have all the control systems,” points out a director at a market research firm.

As the second comment points out, autonomous operations free up personnel to innovate while improving safety. The need for autonomous operations is also becoming acute due to demographic shifts, as 71 percent of the energy industry workforce is now aged 50 or older, with similar numbers throughout the process manufacturing sector. Simply put, there will not be enough skilled or knowledgeable personnel to support current and future manufacturing needs. When routine, repetitive, physically demanding, and dangerous tasks can be performed autonomously, personnel can be redeployed on more mentally challenging tasks. A professor specializing in artificial intelligence stated: “The question is not whether the system will be autonomous. The question is what will the level of autonomous decision making be?”

Progress toward industrial autonomy appears to be inevitable, and it will be used for these twelve main benefits:

  • increase efficiency by improving personal and process productivity
  • improve availability by implementing predictive maintenance
  • provide better cybersecurity by delivering solutions with built-in features
  • improve safety through more intelligent application of relevant systems
  • increase flexibility by making plant production more agile
  • resolve supply-chain issues through better visibility upstream and downstream of production
  • improve operator actions through increased situational awareness
  • accelerate innovation by making better use of workforce creativity
  • deliver smarter products and services to improve offerings and drive revenue
  • implement a wider range of remote operations with minimal staffing
  • establish fully unmanned and autonomous operation
  • increase mobility by providing secure access to information from anywhere at anytime.

But we should keep in mind that even these benefits are just scratching the surface, because they will be achieved by applying autonomy to just a single asset, or perhaps to its direct value chain at best. This will certainly lead to benefits for the operator of the asset, but corporations now are expected to consider their operations from the point of view of planetary sustainability. That is why we must already start thinking about symbiotic autonomy, which delivers multi-win outcomes for a much wider range of stakeholders.

One example is the Kalundborg Symbiosi, a partnership between nine public and private companies in Kalundborg, Denmark. The partnership’s lead project links these companies together such that the energy, water, and material residue from one company becomes a resource at another, benefiting both the environment and the economy.

Yokogawa plans to take a leading role to make symbiotic autonomy a reality across the world. These types of projects point the way to the ultimate goal of the IA2IA maturity model, creating ecosystems where all benefit: people, companies, and the planet. As we like to say: “What’s next for our planet? Let’s make it smarter.”

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About The Authors

Dr. Tsuyoshi “Ted” Abe is the senior vice president of marketing for Yokogawa Electric Corporation. Dr. Abe spent 31 years at Intel Japan in a variety of technology, manufacturing, and marketing roles before joining Yokogawa in 2016 as senior vice president of Yokogawa’s global marketing headquarters.