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IoT Solution Proves Data is Power in the Energy Industry

Added to IoTplaybook or last updated on: 04/05/2019

Microsoft Partner Emerson has created a groundbreaking Internet of Things solution with Plantweb. The Azure-based Plantweb will help its manufacturing customers continue to grow and transform their businesses, empowering them to parse business-critical data and act upon it in near real time. In implementing a Plantweb solution, one leading energy customer estimates it can save millions of dollars in labor costs and lost production time, as well as boost reliability in its plants.

In manufacturing, every step requires top efficiency and proactive monitoring

Across all industries, leading companies are eager to embrace digital innovation. Yet some of the largest manufacturing and industrial companies still rely on sporadic, manual inspections to ensure the smooth operation of their machinery, equipment, instrumentation, and systems. Relying on these periodic checks by busy plant personnel, especially in a refinery, can be inefficient and unreliable.

One global energy company realized that even the best-trained and most-skilled plant technicians could miss certain indicators or warning signals. And if process components like heat exchangers, pumps, or critical valves were checked only periodically—which is the best that busy technicians can do—manufacturers can risk equipment failure, an outage in a business-critical system, or worse, a risk to safety.

Microsoft Partner Emerson Automation Solutions offers smart technologies, software, and services that help manufacturers maximize production and protect personnel and the environment while optimizing energy and operating costs. For this energy customer, Emerson specifically wanted to help its customer keep operational losses to a minimum, reduce technical complexity, overcome shortage of upskilled digital workers, and do more with fewer resources.

Inefficiencies come at a huge cost

Emerson research found that $1 trillion in value is lost annually across manufacturing industries to inefficient operations and monitoring of manufacturing processes. That’s because historically, processing plants have used systems that limit the online monitoring of second-tier equipment, like heat exchangers, pumps, or valves. This equipment typically is repaired on a routine maintenance schedule—during which the entire plant is shut down and taken offline for examination—or as needed, based on manual spot checks. The result: Some manufacturing companies have faced challenges achieving their production or financial goals.

“Some industry giants have historically thought they could handle equipment and valve monitoring themselves,” said Mike Boudreaux, Director of Connected Services of Emerson in Austin, Tex.  “What they didn’t realize was that they simply couldn’t scale as needed to ensure efficient operations and maximum safety. That’s where Connected Services, a component of Plantweb, using Microsoft Azure, becomes a valuable solution for forward-looking companies.

"The Plantweb digital ecosystem leverages decades of pervasive sensing solutions," Boudreaux continued. "These provide sensor technology that captures data from intelligent field devices and connects that data to production applications to yield analytics and expert insights."

Emerson Plantweb: Taking the guesswork out of monitoring performance and safety

In 1997, Emerson revolutionized the automation landscape with Plantweb, the first field-based digital plant architecture. In 2016, the company pushed into the digital future by harnessing the power of the Internet of Things in a Plantweb digital ecosystem. This ecosystem offers manufacturers a scalable IoT solution using wireless technologies, advanced instrumentation, and data analytics to improve plant performance.

Emerson saw a big opportunity in how energy manufacturers traditionally had operated.

“We found that some plant operators were having people check critical equipment on a set schedule, which meant that they could never get insight about potential issues before they were a problem,” Boudreaux said. “In 24/7 operations, manufacturers are always operating so they could find themselves in reactive mode. We wanted to empower them to be proactive.”

So, in early 2016, Emerson partnered with Microsoft and its energy customer to help it transform its production and refinery operations. It began with a small pilot program at one of the company’s plants in the U.S.

Using data to be predictive and proactive, not reactive

Emerson’s energy customer was especially interested in the Plantweb solution that measures heat across the heat exchanger, sending data through a cellular platform to Microsoft Azure and then to a dashboard. Plantweb integrates Power BI, a Microsoft Azure-based analytics platform, to gather results-oriented metrics seamlessly. All the heat exchanger functions are measured and observed in real time, and a report is displayed on the dashboard, and personnel alerted, when potential issues exist that require quick action.

The customer’s plant in the pilot program has already seen striking results. There have been significant savings in installation and commissioning time – one week versus the typical six weeks. The plant has also seen savings in staff time, as well as the peace of mind in knowing staff don't need to wait for a problem to surface before taking action.

In addition, the cloud-based condition monitoring can be expanded to other equipment such as pumps and cooling towers throughout the plant. The goal: To improve and transform operations and leverage analytics and insights to accelerate business decisions.

The customer is hopeful that being able to be proactive and predictive will save the company millions of dollars a year in operational costs. And it frees refinery personnel from laborious manual monitoring to be able to focus on other functions and operations needs.

Powering and empowering manufacturers into a leading-edge future

The Microsoft Internet of Things and open architectures will change the energy manufacturing industry. Plantweb allows manufacturers to develop new and automated workflows, to become empowered through predictive and diagnostic capabilities rich with analytics, and to optimize the end-to-end supply chain.

“Avoiding and mitigating unplanned issues in the first place is a huge area for savings in time and money,” Boudreaux said. “This means less down time, more minor repairs, and an enormous amount of peace of mind for our customers.”