Remote operations come of age


Today’s challenging business climate underscores just how vital digital transformation is to business continuity in the industrial sector.

Owners and operators of refineries, chemical plants and manufacturing facilities need to change the way employees work as quickly as possible. It’s clear that the traditional operating model where everyone works on site has evolved – not just due to current circumstances, but because the retirement of experienced plant workers is creating a shortfall of key skills.

One solution to these challenges is remote technologies that can help customers safely and flexibly harness expertise from around the world to maintain operations, increase productivity and cybersecurity and help to protect workers – all while taking a step toward digital transformation.

Let’s take a closer look at the impact of digitization and how it is driving the adoption of remote solutions across the sector.

Future-proofing operations
Digital transformation holds significant promise for manufacturers, unlocking high levels of efficiency, productivity and safety within factories for competitive, long-term advantage.

Yet many manufacturers are making limited use of enterprise data to drive operational performance. The norm is still to extract insights from siloed software applications – which tend to be process or asset-specific – and then use analytics to determine what action should be taken. This is a cumbersome, disjointed process that fails to deliver a holistic view of operations.

However, by harnessing sensors, connectivity, data capture, visualization and advanced analytics, manufacturers can create robust remote monitoring and operations and condition-based and predictive maintenance capabilities to drive business performance and continuity.

The industry’s move toward remote operations and project engineering is being facilitated by a new generation of software that can be deployed and used securely.

Remote technologies offer transformative impact
Leading automation suppliers such as Honeywell are offering customers a path to digital transformation with remote solutions that deliver the skills, expertise and technology capabilities they need to navigate challenging business conditions.

Using data gathered from processes and assets, remote solutions enable operations personnel – regardless of where they are in the world – to manage daily production and maintenance functions and drive continuous improvement across multiple sites. They also enable personnel to track production targets, operate plant processes, monitor asset health and even create scenarios to determine the effect of operational changes prior to implementation.

Remote capabilities help manage installed automation systems, networks and devices; and facilitate development, deployment and testing, training and technology migrations.

Tools for different user requirements
At present, manufacturers are reducing the number of facility workers to comply with social distancing guidelines and to help keep those remaining onsite protected. At the same time, they’re investing in safety equipment like digital video and access control systems to provide a clear view of who is on site at all times.

The latest digital workforce management solutions leverage real-time data to improve the compliance, productivity and safety of employees, contractors and visitors. These solutions provide real-time monitoring and enforcement capabilities and integrate with access control and enterprise resource planning systems to streamline workforce management activities.

Plant operators, meanwhile, can now view critical processes running on physical equipment through a secure app on their mobile devices; and through remote technologies, they gain top to bottom, enterprise-wide data visibility that helps them make better decisions.

Finally, advanced video collaboration, troubleshooting and maintenance tools are ushering in a new era of remote service and support. These capabilities can be enhanced further by onsite workers donning intelligent wearables to help remote service personnel pinpoint and troubleshoot issues in real time, or conduct Factory Acceptance Testing. Onsite workers, meanwhile, benefit from anywhere, anytime access to knowledge and insights that help them perform their jobs better and maintain operational uptime.

Looking toward the future
By implementing remote solutions, industrial manufacturers can minimize risk, time and effort in the field and streamline their migration process. Remote technologies can reduce cycle time by up to 80 per cent, lower operational costs by as much as 20 per cent and improve migration productivity by at least 60 per cent – all while providing operations personnel with the latest cybersecurity and process control improvements.

As operating teams adjust to the new norm of remote working, they can use augmented reality training to strengthen their skillsets and get up to speed faster. They can even hold virtual training sessions whenever or wherever required via an ‘on-call’ operator.

Driven by recent business situation and the continued retirement of seasoned plant workers, industrial manufacturers are increasingly embracing digital transformation in the form of remote monitoring, operations, management and support capabilities – and driving further risk out of capital projects with experts on call while making significant savings. Through this operational model, they can connect and analyze asset data from across the enterprise and flexibly harness expertise from across the world to maintain operations, increase productivity and cybersecurity and help to protect workers.

Jason Urso is chief technology officer of Honeywell Process Solutions. Honeywell Process Solutions is a pioneering provider of automation control, safety systems, field instrumentation, fuel delivery and burners, connected plant offerings, cybersecurity, tissue and packaging materials control systems, connected utility and metering solutions, and services for a wide range of industries.

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