Raj Batra

Process Industries Can Gain From Digitization

Aug. 3, 2021
Siemens and Dow unveiled a digital testbed that expands the use of simulation and data management tools.

Process manufacturers live in a highly regulated, risk-averse and occasionally volatile world. Those operational factors are a primary reason why the digitization of process industries have lagged far behind the discrete manufacturers.

In a new testbed project unveiled July 28, Dow and Siemens put a new face on the use of digital tools to measure, manage and optimize process manufacturing. Company officials worked with MxD, the digital innovation center in Chicago, to develop a web-based system to employ simulation, system management and maintenance of process plants.

“This is what Industry 4.0 is going to look like for process industries,” said Raj Batra, president of Digital Industries for Siemens USA at a press conference at MxD. “The digital thread is going to unlock innovation and accelerate the time to market. What’s being done here is very scalable for industry.”

It also works across the range of process industries, from pharmaceuticals and food to oil, gas and chemicals. It’s in this latter area where Dow became involved in the project. Company officials see value for both the workers and the company in developing the digital project with Siemens from MxD.

“It’s about the people. We’re looking how to connect field workers on the frontline over the last 18 months. This technology allows us to connect those workers like never before,” said Billy Bardin, global digitalization director at Dow Inc. “It provides us the ability to collaborate with technology. We’re able to push information to the field worker. We also look at how can to improve operations. Being able to simulate those changes allow manufacturers to have more profitability.”

One key in the testbed development was to bring together process simulation, data management and reporting, and training and maintenance functions across one integrated system. It also had to be not just scalable, but also portable to allow workers in remote chemical or oil fields to have access to data and be able to convey that information back to the operations center.

In an interview with Machine Design, Bardin said the advantages of a digital plant for discrete manufacturers have been harder to achieve on the process side. “One thing that drove process automation was safety and security. You have to add layers of protection to process manufacturing,” Bardin said. “Most discrete manufacturers, if they were to have an incident, it would be contained locally. When something happens in process, it’s almost always a significant impact. Nobody wants to have an event or an impact on the community.”

The testbed project with Dow and Siemens showed the way to ensure those safety precautions are met while also delivering greater value from operational information. “We have a lot of data coming into the process system,” Bardin said. “What these tools will bring you is the capacity, in real time, to provide information to the operators.”

“Process plants [don’t] just access digital information, but also make sure it’s available at the right places at the right time,” added Laura Coates, vice president of process automation at Siemens, “The process control system is the basis for the end-to-end digitalization. It’s really easy to design, simulate and do quality enhancements.”

And whether it’s discrete or process manufacturing, validating your solution before building your plant is an exciting concept. “Digitization is the rocket fuel for manufacturing,” Batra said. At the core of the testbed is the Siemens Xcelerator software and services packages that enabled the test bed design, simulation, commissioning and process operations, planning and quality, as well as analysis of IoT data. The Siemens Mendix application development platform leverages real-time sensor and asset data.

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