Walk into a power plant or manufacturing shop floor today and there is one thing you are almost guaranteed to see: paper, and lots of it.
In the next five to ten years, that will all start to change, as industry laggards catch up to the practices at industry leaders.
We are talking about the transformation into a digital plant. The digital plant of the future is a series of integrated and intelligent ecosystems that catalyze efficiency through two main value propositions: surfacing real-time data and historical data patterns to the appropriate decision-makers and operators, and learning from historical data, often shared between assets, to drive more effective and efficient processes. Reimagining your operations with data-driven processes, from dynamic scheduling and reliability-centered maintenance to real-time logistics management, free those workflows from the wastes that slowly eat away at the ROI of traditional plant operations. Paper processes, whiteboards of data, a remote workforce without the right remote tools — these are the "death by a thousand cuts" of operational excellence.
Every aspect of the plant value chain becomes connected to the larger digital ecosystem, from the inventory visibility systems to the end-customer CPQ system or mobile application. As companies start to digitize, they leverage contextually aware and personalized applications to seamlessly connect the digital to the physical and create complete transparency and full visibility. One product moving from raw material to end-customer's hands leaves a data trail, that also fits into each of the operating assets' data history associated with its production, and even extending its mark into the CFO's projections and the HR office's performance data.
In the digital plant, data is the key driver. Every asset and workflow is part of a larger ecosystem continuously sharing with one another. For example, in manufacturing, RFID tracking on raw materials indicates their progress and stage of completion. When they reach a certain production "gate," push notifications go out to the appropriate inspection officer to check. Executives have full visibility into operations on the floor and have a complete, real-time picture of their operations. Assets rely on their historical data to detect failure patterns, and when certain thresholds are reached, either set off alarms to communicate to the appropriate personnel, or even go one step further in diagnosing the root cause. For operations planning personnel, such as those planning refinery turnarounds in the oil and gas industry, can clone and then manipulate data to understand how certain changes to procedures will affect the overall picture.
Calculating the return on investment on such a dramatic transformation, requires detailed and scientific approach to understanding where your operations currently are. In order to prioritize your digital plant investment areas, it's important to understand the potential impact these investments can have. For example, according to industry research, the maintenance department at a typical plant only averages about 30 percent "wrench time," which is time actually spent performing maintenance. The other 70 percent is data entry and retrieval, work-order reporting and other miscellaneous tasks.
Digitizing the data entry and work-order reporting could lead to a massive increase in productivity and savings. When that is multiplied by the salary of each maintenance employee, the financial benefits could be seven figures or more for large plants. How does this compare, for example, to digitizing driver safety forms and avoiding fines? Don't wait until after the app has launched to figure out these comparisons. Calculate them before with historical data from field observations and contextual inquiries, and use that to decide which digital plant project will be the first in your portfolio.
How will the digital plant transform?
What is holding companies back from making smart investments in the digital plant? Along with cost and resources, the foundation of the digital plant needs to be put in place, which is no small task. Companies who are dealing with decades-old legacy systems, as well as older hardware and faulty software development processes will have a lot to overcome.
When companies overcome these obstacles, they are to see realize the value from the digital plant— and get ahead in their industry. Stay tuned to the rest of the posts in this series on the benefits and challenges of the digital plant!
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