Integrated Operations Command Center
Emerson’s iOps program includes collaboration centers where team members can video conference to analyze and make decisions on operational data in real-time from remote and/or geographically disparate locations.

Emerson Process Management hosted a grand opening ceremony in late January to showcase its new Innovation Center in Round Rock, Texas. As part of the festivities, Emerson invited select customers, industry partners, and members of the press to preview its new iOps (Integrated Operations) initiative, which aims to help end-users effectively manage applications that are in remote, hazardous, and/or locations that are generally not suitable for human beings to live and work. The technology demonstrated at the event provides some insight on what the future of industrial process automation and control may look like.

Key Drivers of Integrated Operations
“Running safe, profitable production operations is becoming increasingly challenging in the locations our customers are working in,” said Peter Zornio, chief strategic officer of Emerson Process Management. “These locations are sometimes referred to as ‘the Four D’s’: dull, distant, dirty, and dangerous. These are often places few people want to go. The cost and scarcity of skilled workers just compounds their challenges.”

To overcome these issues and improve operational effectiveness, Emerson expects manufacturers to increasingly look for opportunities to streamline their operations with remote and/or collaborative capabilities. Zornio said the concept of Integrated Operations has been a reality in the oil & gas industry for quite some time, with offshore drilling platforms being an obvious example. Other examples of early adopters of remote operations include scenarios where there are completely built plants within plants, such as, for instance, industrial gases and precipitated calcium carbonate (PCC) in pulp & paper.

The University of Trondheim in Norway, working in conjunction with North Sea oil & gas companies, has been a leading driver of research and development around the Integrated Operations (IO) concept. The university and oil & gas companies have formed the Center for Integrated Operations in the Petroleum Industry, which conducts research and education on IO with the aim of innovating optimized solutions for efficient  production and operation in oil & gas.  

Another key driver of Emerson’s move toward a centralized command center for operations is the rapid rise in the number of sensor points businesses are now monitoring. With the evolution of digital technology and the falling price of sensors, more devices are being introduced into industrial environments, and they all have a story to tell. At the same time, the continued growth of wireless technology is enabling the remote monitoring of sensors in distant and harsh locations.
Emerson uses the phrase “Pervasive Sensing” to describe the growth of sensor points not only in the process, but in industrial environments overall. The concept of pervasive sensing not only ties into Emerson’s iOps initiative, but it is also critical to the company’s push on another hot topic in the world of industry at the moment—“Big Data,” or as Emerson calls it, “Big Data Analytics.”

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“We like to say pervasive sensing is the ‘Data’ in ‘Big Data,’” said Bob Karschnia, VP of Wireless for Emerson Process Management, during his launch event presentation, “Pervasive Sensing—Changing the Fundamentals of Automation.”

Zornio said the collaborative element of Emerson’s iOps program will give it appeal in industries where remote operation may not be a need, but finding qualified professionals is a challenge. He said users in refining, petrochemical, and life sciences have expressed interest in the collaborative elements of iOps. “These customers don’t have the remoteness; they face the issue of not having access to skillsets,” said Zornio. “They don’t necessarily see that they are going to remotely operate, but what they do see is the opportunity for maintenance and reliability programs.”

Addressing the Concept of Span
Sath Rao, vice president of Industrial Automation & Process Control for Frost & Sullivan, described Emerson’s iOps initiative as a positive move by the company to address the increasing “span” of industrial process environments. “In the past, people viewed ‘span’ as within the four walls of the plant,” said Rao. “As the technology has evolved with pervasive sensing, the span increases exponentially outside the four walls of the plant. This is driving companies like Emerson to look at how they can provide added value.”

Rao said iOps could potentially be advantageous for any application where there are integrated components of trading, delivery, etc. He said the oil & gas industry is an obvious fit for iOps, and, as noted earlier, the companies operating in this sector are already leveraging solutions along this line to optimize their processes, maximize profit, and mitigate risk.

“I would say the risk mitigation component is very important, because it covers risk to assets, risk to people, and risk to profitability itself,” said Rao.

From an implementation perspective, iOps is more of an information technology challenge than an industrial engineering challenge, as it will, in most cases, require end-users to effectively manage the integration of point solutions. “iOps isn’t just the control room,” said Rao. “It’s the ability to pull data from various legacy systems and make them flow in real time.” Rao said this will be a big step for those organizations that have a history of implementing point solutions to isolated challenges. To realize the full potential of iOps, Rao said end-users will need to take a holistic view of their operation. In the near term, Rao said end-users may employ bits and pieces of iOps—“iOps” with a small “i” as he called it—but ultimately he said the future is “iOps” with a big “I,” driven by end-users who take a more all-enompasing view of thier operation.

“If you look at what people really want, it’s insights—little insights that can make a big impact on the bottom line,” said Rao. “Therefore, the vision of iOps is sound. I see a lot of opportunities across the integrated value chain.”
 
Putting the Pieces Together
“Customers have steadily seen operational improvement for years by deploying smart automation technologies that provide them more data—more visibility—into what’s really happening,” said Jim Nyquist, group vice president for Emerson’s Process Systems and Solutions business. “But data alone isn’t enough. The real opportunity is to imagine new organizational workflows, like the formation of cross functional collaboration centers that bring together decentralized expertise to enable better, faster decision-making. That’s iOps.”

To give end-users a clear sense of what’s possible in the future of integrated operations, Emerson has recently opened its state-of-the-art iOps Center at its Round Rock, Texas facility. The center is a real-world, working model of a production enterprise where customers can experience the collaboration and real-time, multi-disciplinary decision making that iOps aims to enable.

Emerson is evaluating plans to expand its network of iOps customer experience centers around the globe.

Matt Migliore is the director of content for Flow Control magazine and FlowControlNetwork.com. He can be reached at Matt@GrandViewMedia.com.

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