By Marcelo Carugo
Digital transformation is a strategy for using digital technologies, such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), to improve performance. While the process industries have used digital technologies for decades, the introduction of the Internet and other advanced communications methods, such as improved internal intranets, have eased implementation. This has helped to extend the same types of improvements seen in core manufacturing production processes into other operational areas, like reliability and safety.
Many of these IIoT applications, whether powered by the Internet or internal intranets, have become more relevant as employees increasingly work from remote locations, requiring enhanced collaboration among widely dispersed personnel. An example is the remote monitoring of valves, along with collaborating for maintenance and repair, to improve reliability. Remote monitoring starts with data collection, enabled by digital valve controllers, which provide extensive information for use by asset management, distributed control, and other host systems.
These controllers communicate to host systems using the HART protocol, WirelessHART with the addition of an adapter module, or a digital fieldbus. Host systems send data to remote experts via the Internet or internal intranets for analysis to provide actionable insights, which can call for valve maintenance or repair.
In the past, local technicians would have had to perform many of these activities on their own, because communication with experts was limited to email, phone, and text. But now, remote assistance services empower local technicians by giving them mobile device connectivity via the Internet, so they can securely share their field of view through augmented reality software in real time.
The software automatically identifies the specific valve installation, along with its maintenance history and repair instructions. Step-by-step instructions are overlaid in the user’s field of view to support installation, calibration, or repair actions.
Real-time video communication enables users to resolve issues faster and minimizes instruction errors, while eliminating travel time and the cost of getting experts to the work site. In addition, companies can expand their in-house knowledge base and staff skill sets through on-the-job troubleshooting guidance and recommendations to remediate issues, up to and including oversight of the final repair.
Another digital technology widely deployed to improve safety and efficiency is radio frequency identification (RFID). Many valves are located in hazardous and hard to reach areas, with damaged or missing ID plates common. Technicians must often perform research to identify these valves, decreasing productivity.
A better approach utilizes RFID technology to identify, track, and manage valve assets in a safer, more efficient, and more accurate manner. An RFID tag is installed on each valve, either before it is placed in service or during a safe period of operation, enabling automation of otherwise time consuming, error prone, and sometimes dangerous methods for identifying valves. An RFID reader is used to scan the tag, and the associated valve information is sent to an asset management system via the Internet or company intranet. This approach accurately enables more proactive maintenance—along with improved asset management and operational efficiency—by determining asset identity with a scan, and then using this detailed information.
These examples show how IIoT technologies can drive digital transformation to extend improvements beyond basic automation to provide enhanced reliability and safety, with other applications limited only by the end user’s imagination and needs.
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