To better anticipate our industrial customers needs, Air Liquide has taken on an aggressive digital transformation initiative labeled smart innovative operations (SIO) which has a focus on best in class reliability and operational excellence.

Today, the manufacturing industry heavily relies on automation to align its production and supply of goods with the ever-increasing demands of consumers. Moreover, the digital and industrial revolution has left no stone unturned in making automation technology a familiar term among industrialists. However, the path to establishing a fully automatic manufacturing plant is covered with a number of roadblocks such as inadequacy of staff members in driving automation and lack of unified platform that nurtures automation. In an interview with CIO Applications, Arnold Marty Martin, Director of Process Control Technology at one of the leading suppliers of industrial gases and services, Air Liquide, shares his insights on the problems faced by organizations in fulfilling automation requirements.

According to you, what are the latest trends and technologies dominating the manufacturing industry?

The ability to simplify device connectivity has opened the door to an abundance of advanced analytical tools aimed at helping operations in the area of reliability and optimization. Letting the data do the “talking” ups the game for reliability and supportability. This allows the experts to make key decisions quicker and younger engineers to develop much needed skills in far less time. I see predictive based maintenance continuing to play an increasing role in industry because the expense and risk of a time based approach can put your company at a competitive disadvantage. As we look towards the future of operations, being able to run our plants safely, optimally, and with minimal staffing, advanced control and optimization systems is going to be key to the sustainability of many companies.

In your view, what are the prevailing challenges in the manufacturing sector that are still not out in the open but need to be acknowledged and resolved in by industry leaders?

Knowledge capture is going to remain an important topic as the most experienced generation continues to retire. The educational system and the ability to attract the right talent are critical. In my opinion, higher education must adapt to the changing needs of industry to deliver future generations with the right set of skills and knowledge. I see that industry leaders must be able to articulate the needs of the fourth industrial revolution in order to transform how the higher education institutes prepare students. Lastly, I see that with the rapid development of products in the IoT space, being able to align and select the right technology that best fits the companies’ needs and maintain a sustainable plan remains a challenge.

What are some of the initiatives taken by Air Liquide in the manufacturing industry toward automation?

We have committed to a global initiative identified as Smart Innovative Operations (SIO) that allows us leverage digital technologies to make the paradigm shift needed to transition into Industry 4.0 One of the goals of the program is to exploit data related to the operation of our plants by integrating digital technologies to improve the reliability and efficiency of plant operations.

The SIO consists of five modules: SIO perform, SIO predict, SIO HR, SIO optimum, and SIO drive stream, which can function together as well as independently within our organization.

SIO is quite vast, and these five different groups handle distinct requirements of a plant. For example, SIO predict makes use of predictive analytics, wherein a focus group manages different data sets to monitor various plant equipment and assets. Similarly, there is another group that looks at remote control of the manufacturing plants and governs multiple manufacturing sites from one central location.

Much of my efforts are focused in the SIO drive stream, which intends to build a sustainable automation infrastructure. There are multiple subprograms within this central theme.

Would you like to elaborate on the multiple subprograms that you build?

One of the subprograms is control system modernization, where we create infrastructure within plants and optimize existing systems. This way, our team can pull and gather data from equipment to better manage assets and ensure that our plants are running smoothly. The program also notifies us about any potential failure in machines, and my team at Air Liquide is spending a significant amount of time in building and developing virtual assistants for the same purpose.

Additional programs include Advanced Process Control Sustainability named SURE (Software Utility for Real-time Efficiency) and Plant unit auto start and knowledge capture system named PUMA (Process Unit Module Automation. We strive to implement these programs agnostically to ensure global usability while utilizing a standard design and application philosophy. IoT connectivity allows us to apply this across a wide range of control system platforms found throughout the Air Liquide Ecosystem.

Lastly a couple of other noteworthy subprograms we have committed to is operator situational awareness through newer high performance HMI design and a more structured alarm management design and application and rigorous global trip abatement program designed to eliminate spurious plant and equipment shutdowns.

What advice would you like to give to budding decision makers in the manufacturing industry?

Always have a plan and ensure that you administer in supportable segments. Managing is important but it invariably gets overshadowed by enormity when the tasks are not partitioned properly. So, the most important key, I believe, is to correctly separate the wins from losses. Also, maintain partnerships with reliable vendors in the industry, because, the right alliance will help you evaluate a new technology quicker.

At last, ensure that you make use of and “practical edge” technologies rather than jumping on the newest one, because as a member of decision-making panel, being able to steer your company towards technology that is sustainable and cost effective keeps them competitive throughout the industry 4.0 journey.