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  • By Renee Bassett
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New is not always better, but issues ignored or avoided will almost certainly get worse.

As Sean Sims says in this month’s Executive Corner column, “it is exciting to think about the potential of IIoT, digital transformation, and autonomous operations, but what is often overlooked is that many organizations are operating below capacity, producing off-spec product, and dealing with unplanned production upsets. All of these and other issues can be addressed by optimizing the process control system in place today.”

Even a small plant or process unit has useful data available from thousands of devices, according to “Asset Management Transformed,” but it is typically locked in historians or other isolated databases. “Most companies do not extract most data and get it to the people who could use it,” says Hiroshi Yokoi. “The overall picture should be clear: Data is available, and it can help reduce risk, prevent incidents, and guide maintenance.”

Measurements from process control instrumentation are increasingly being recognized as key components for industrial asset health management specifically and digital transformation overall. Determining why production unexpectedly stops mid-operation, or preemptively avoiding such stoppages, requires diagnostic data that can only come from the machines themselves.

Gathering data has been a mainstay of industrial operations for a long time. Viewing, analyzing, and applying the lessons of that data—whether to provide maintenance, improve real-time operations or invest in significant business transformation—is the ongoing challenge. Experienced personnel who understand measurement instrumentation and control systems—their potential as well as their limits—can and should be asked to help.

Instrument engineers at Saudi Aramco describe their work to improve the gas detection system performance coming from the thousands of existing gas detection sensors at their facilities in “Smart Sensors for Gas Detection.” The currently installed gas detectors were reevaluated, the existing maintenance practices were reviewed to identify improvement opportunities, a benchmarking study was conducted, and latest smart sensors technologies for toxic and combustible gas detection were evaluated and field tested. The article describes the implemented improvements, including the identified smart technologies and their field-tested results.

By considering how the control system functions as the core of a successful digital strategy—and soliciting input from the engineers and technicians at every level who know the processes best—organizations can achieve performance gains from existing automation investments.

Then they can see how future gains can best be achieved by applying the exciting new technologies you’ll also find discussed in the pages of InTech.

Talk to me. Let me know what you’ve read about in InTech or elsewhere that your facility has adopted, or avoided, to measurable success.

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About The Authors

Renee Bassett is chief editor for InTech magazine and, and publications contributing editor for ISA. Bassett is an experienced writer, editor, and consultant for industrial automation, engineering, information technology, and infrastructure topics. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and English from Indiana University, Bloomington, and is based in Nashville.