IT and OT domains are being bridged with new technologies.

Over the past two years, global energy and utility markets have witnessed significant volatility, resulting in price fluctuations, greater economic uncertainty and more regulation. In the wake of competitive pressures and tighter profit margins, pump and rotating equipment (PRE) manufacturers are looking to smart operating models that focus on the customer by enhancing user-experiences (UX) and creating sustainable value.

There is a growing realization that technology, in itself, is not the object nor the end, but the means to unlocking increased reliability and profitability. Industry leaders, working with technology service providers (SPs), are in the best position to digitize the product lifecycle.

Industry 4.0 offers a rich toolkit of proven methodologies, platforms and standards that provide a springboard to digital solutions. Foremost among these is the industrial internet of things (IIoT) technologies, which include smart-sensor mesh networks, wireless connectivity, localized fog (or edge) computing, predictive maintenance (PdM) routines, prescriptive AI analytics, blockchain and purpose-built cloud applications.

A study by IHS Markit shows significant growth in the number of IIoT-enabled nodes in compressor applications, centrifugal pumps and positive displacement pumps, and estimates a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 46.5 percent from 2016 to 2021. International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates more than 80 percent of IoT investment through 2020 will be on B2B applications and use cases.

Many pump manufacturers are implementing Industry 4.0 technologies, and in doing so bridge the digital divide between enterprise information technology (IT) and decentralized operation technology (OT) domains. From a manufacturing and services standpoint, the OT domain represents the new frontier for emerging transactional IIoT technologies. The distributed technologies of the OT domain fall into three camps:

  1. Smart Sensors: A mesh of embedded sensors and external sensor arrays that monitor the real-time location and condition of assets
  2. Smart Connectivity: Wireless local area network (LAN) and wide area network (WAN) communications over RFID/Bluetooth/Wi-Fi, and cellular/satellite/LPWAN, respectively
  3. Smart Gateways: Data collection, aggregation and routing devices capable of store-and-forward and performing localized analytics

Enhancing Design, Learning & Usage

Although the PRE industry is actively embracing digital transformation and adopting smart enterprise operations, what impact do these initiatives have on the natural evolution of products and services? Specifically, what if any benefits are being realized when it comes to knowledge acquisition, collaborative design, additive manufacturing, materials usage and environmentally sustainable practices? Well, as it so happens, a lot.

Disruptive innovations are continually emerging from within—and outside of—the PRE industry. These developments push the limits of how products are designed, fabricated, licensed and supported.
Here are 5 of the top IoT trends affecting the industry:

No. 1: Service

This development is referred to as the digital transformation of products in the service economy. The current list of Fortune 500 global companies is made up of more service firms and fewer manufacturers than in previous decades, and the products that are being produced have, on average, a higher service component than ever before. This is setting a lofty bar for performance, perceived value and usage. Companies that deliver on those expectations are more likely to edge out the competition.

The new service economy requires manufacturers to be agile and responsive. Asset value chains must be flexible, transparent and offer track and trace technologies that allow scalable growth and better absorb external shocks. Rapidly reconfiguring, retooling and recalibrating manufacturing line processes is predicated on asset management solutions that provide real-time granular visibility over materials and workflows.

No. 2: Smart Infrastructure

The development of smart cities (and the infrastructure, buildings and transportation systems they comprise) is on the rise. Globally, the smart infrastructure market is estimated between $2.8 trillion and $6.7 trillion.

Private and public projects that aim to expand the current infrastructure footprint, and develop new ones, will require a reciprocal investment in smart assets and services. That means more pipes, valves, pumps and other critical equipment, along with the smart-enabled software and services required to design, manage and maintain them.

Smart infrastructure is a host of IoT sensors, along with an ecosystem of interconnected people, things and systems that function in unison to streamline workflows. Every smart-enabled pump, valve, pipeline or filter is connected to other smart equipment, working within a holistic IoT network of assets and wireless communications gateways.

The goal is to orchestrate the secure flow of time-sensitive data to and from purposeful cloud apps. This enables site managers to quickly determine what is in operation, where it is and how it is functioning.

The IoT transforms maintenance from a collection of reactive remediation to a fluid proactive process. Predictive and prescriptive analytics can track a broad number of operation metrics to ensure equipment is performing at maximum efficiency, within safety tolerances. Threshold notifications, remote management and over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates foster safer, more productive operations with fewer truck-rolls, increased uptime and higher profitability.

Another value-added benefit of the smart infrastructure is the real-time visibility it offers. IoT sensors may be configured to display the position and movement of connected equipment in 3D space. This helps mitigate theft, tampering and unauthorized use of high-value mobile assets.

No. 3: 3D Printing

Although the commercial 3D-printing technology is still relatively new, procurement and material costs continue to drop, and within certain use-cases, the technology is poised to meet or beat traditional die-cast, lathe, injection molding and even multi-axis CNC fabrication methods, especially for low-volume production where complex geometries are required.

In a recent PwC (also known as PricewaterhouseCoopers) study, more than two-thirds of U.S. manufacturers have adopted 3D printing, of which 51 percent use it for prototyping and fabrication. The rest are evaluating the technology for future design and manufacturing. The analyst firm Canalys anticipates that the worldwide market for 3D printing materials and services will grow to $20.2 billion.

3D-printing technology benefits extend beyond offering economies of scale and lower per unit costs. The real value of this technology lies in its disruption of just-in-time manufacturing, inventory planning and supply-chain operations. But questions remain: how and where inventory will be stored (if at all)? Where will products be made? Will we see automated, local 3D-printing facilities and increased use of delivery drones? How will intellectual property rights be managed or safeguarded? How will it change B2B and B2C customer relationships?

Significant costs continue to create barriers of entry for larger scale manufacturing applications and, excluding 3D printers at the upper end of the price scale, the quality needs improvement. The widespread misconception that each printed part is identical to the next persists. In reality, there may be significant (albeit minute) deviations between samples. This adds cost and complexity, as 3D printing for critical or high-value use requires a proportionate investment. Most PRE manufacturers are adopting a wait-and-see approach.

No. 4: Blockchain & Security

Blockchain technology is defined by robust data, security and transparency. A distributed database replicated across the blockchain eliminates single point of failure and ensures record integrity. Each new blockchain record is a smart contract that uses the previous record in a chain. Altering a record is simply not possible. Blockchain allows real-time permissible or public access, so all authorized parties can view and sanction the ledger.

Blockchain is more than a technology. It is a movement that is transforming how transactions are processed. It is rapidly gaining momentum outside technology and fueling innovation in discreet and process manufacturing circles. It enables the use of smart contracts between suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and customers. It also virtually eliminates counterfeit inventory and products through a custody-chain mechanism.

No. 5: Digital Twins

Virtualized UX technologies are gaining popularity in the commercial space. The technology has the potential to bridge the divide between the physical and the digital. A digital twin, or virtual doppelganger, is a 3D digital representation of a smart-enabled physical equipment asset and serves as a window into how that asset is functioning.

Remote pumps, pipelines and other infrastructure assets may be outfitted with embedded sensors and telematics modules to transmit real-time data to AI cloud analytics. Engineers, operations managers and maintenance technicians can digitally manage remote assets from anywhere in the world. The end-goal is for developers to conceptualize, model, fabricate and validate their designs using an integrated system that encompasses specialized inventory, BOM and CAD/CAM software applications. The result will be a unified design experience representing a conversion of design and operation functions.
In the field, operations managers, maintenance technicians and leasing companies are able to visualize and manipulate remote high-value assets in 3D space anywhere and at any time.

Conclusion

Private and public sector organizations are digitally transforming their operations and modernizing the way they generate, transmit and leverage information across their supply chains. Every vertical, from agriculture to utilities, stands to benefit from gains in efficiency, productivity, capacity and resilience. An integrated value chain that promotes collaboration between stakeholders and streamlines workflows, results in better decision-making, balanced policies and provides a hedge against global uncertainties.

Advanced CAD/CAM modeling, robotics and cloud AI technologies play a larger role within internal design, validation and fabrication functions. Most high-value PRE ships with some degree of sensor and wireless communications technology built in. This proves useful in the field, where ubiquitous wireless connectivity and the IoT enable operations managers to determine the operating status of a single pump, or array of pumps, from virtually anywhere. By collecting metrics over time, prescriptive analytics shed light on equipment performance and accurately assess the chance of damage or failure.

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