The optimal use of data, the networking of machines, and the mapping of the real in digital worlds will all inevitably lead to new business models that will rapidly change the status quo. But how can you actively participate in this? More importantly, what do you gain from digitalization? Let me explain in the following.
We'll start this complex topic with an example: A plant operator recognizes that his level measurement equipment requires different amounts of compressed air for cleaning depending on environmental conditions. Thanks to an app, he can now optimize consumption so that none of his measurements fail. Let me use this example to illustrate that, based on digitalization and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), we will be able to improve the understanding of our plants in the long term, thereby optimizing operation and maintenance and relieving employees of routine tasks.
Whereas high productivity, cost efficiency and plant availability have been the main focus of manufacturing companies in the past, increasing digitalization is adding further goals such as flexibility, networking, transparency and support in using artificial intelligence. Yet what is the best way for your company to achieve these goals? After all, the life cycles of your equipment often extend over several decades. I am convinced that you should specifically identify possible use cases and derive achievable added values of digitalization from them. Since retrofitting often means the need to install additional connectors or sensors, the potential should be known and predictable so that the effort "pays off".
There are countless areas in which digitalization plays a fundamental role:
- the generation of increasingly comprehensive data in the field thanks to smart field devices
- data transmission as well as semantic processing and contextualization at ever lower marginal costs,
- the use of data in networked systems, both in the field (edge) and in the cloud, in such a way that they contribute to value creation.
Data generation in the field
Intelligent field devices process data digitally and not only record (analog) process values in ever better quality, but also generate additional vital data, e.g. service, quality and production-relevant information about themselves and their direct environment. Yet this data still remains unused in many places in the field (device) today, even though intelligent, often platform-based field devices are flexible in terms of the desired form of communication. To get started with the digitalization of automated plants, your company could use, for example, 4-20 mA devices with an additional HART protocol. Digitalization will receive an enormous boost with new standards such as Profinet or Ethernet Advanced Physical Layer (Ethernet APL), offering transmission bandwidths many times greater than those of today's widespread standards.
In addition, today's and future generations of devices can use wireless connections such as Bluetooth for safe remote parameterization and monitoring. All that’s needed for this is a commercially available mobile device with a corresponding app. Your equipment operators thus greatly gain in convenience and safety: Maintenance technicians no longer need to climb up a tank to read out or a level instrument, but can easily connect to the device from a short distance. Sounds easy - and it is! In addition to significantly more efficient commissioning and maintenance, this also results in particular advantages for the safety of maintenance personnel.
Secure data transmission
For efficient use of the collected data, the relevant data should be extracted as early as possible - and only this data should be transmitted to the next step. This functionality of the SIMATIC PDM Maintenance Station is already available in modern process plants using Siemens control technology, but it is also possible to retrofit existing plants with the system. Even in plants without communication to the field level, access to vital data can be granted to individual parts of the plant: The industrial gateway can, for example, integrate up to 64 HART devices, convert their data into a harmonized data model based on NOA (NAMUR Open Architecture) and pass it on. Even isolated measurement points, which are still manually scanned today, can be covered cost-effectively using connectivity elements with the cloud or an on-premise solution.
Making profitable use of data
The key to optimal use of data is the IIoT. It is based on the consistent networking of physical objects from the production world with intelligent algorithms and functions in the virtual world. This allows data and information to be collected, provided, and securely routed to downstream intelligence for added value to be generated. This requires, on the one hand, systems that aggregate and analyze this data and relate it to key performance indicators. On the other hand, tools providing algorithms and visualizing information in a user-specific way are also needed.
For the harnessing of data, Siemens provides a growing number of apps developed in collaboration with our co-creation partners. The possibilities are manifold, and we will learn many entirely new ways to capitalize on data in the coming years using modern methods such as machine learning.
Process sensor technology and instrumentation play a central role in digitalization efforts. I think that in the future, the competitive edge for companies will come from data generated by smart field devices, collected consistently by connectivity elements, shared in a standardized way, and then processed and visualized on an integrated basis via apps in an IoT ecosystem.
Processed and systematized accordingly, data will contribute to greater productivity, improved product quality, higher plant availability and more efficient maintenance strategies. Fully exploit the now! It does not matter where and to what extent you start, but THAT you start. We are happy to support you in this, so don't hesitate to contact your Siemens representative.