The digital revolution is rapidly transforming one industry after another. The industrial automation industry was one of the first to experience total transformation as mainframe computers displaced analog controls. Soon mainframes were replaced by microprocessor controllers, and the first distributed control systems (DCS) and programmable logic controllers (PLC) came into existence. For the next 25 years, industrial automation focused primarily on developing digital networks, embedding chips in every type of instrument and valve, and then connecting all of these devices to create one integrated system.

Analog communication that was hardwired with one signal traveling in one direction gave way to the advent of digital networks that could transmit multiple pieces of information in both directions at once; for example, to and from the instrument or valve to the DCS/PLC. This advancement allowed islands of information to be consolidated into a single system, which empowered operations, engineering and maintenance to have a broader view of the process with the ability to make faster and better decisions. As a result, throughput and productivity dramatically improved.

As the digital revolution continued to evolve, process pumps—which were not previously considered to be a component of the control system—became a distinct part of the automation architecture. This phenomenon began with the advent of intelligent variable frequency drives (VFD) that contain embedded knowledge about the pump and its performance. In addition to the energy and reliability benefits inherent in VFDs, embedded pump intelligence enhances the asset management capabilities of the drive and control system.

Typically, the only DCS-based information about the pump system is the state of the motor—whether it is on or off. Occasionally, an amp or vibration reading is hardwired into the control system from the process or motor control center. While process sensors such as flow, pressure, level and temperature exist in large numbers, they provide relatively little real-time information about the physical condition of the pumps and other rotating assets.

Today, pump and information technology convergence is in full swing. Manufacturers are embedding intelligence in the drivers, including induction motors and VFDs. They are also providing chips that are physically embedded in the pump to convey parameters such as vibration, temperature and original equipment specifications that can be accessed using wireless communication. Innovations such as using pump vibration spectra in real time may be used to infer where the pump is operating on the head-capacity curve as well as other characteristics.

In what some are calling Industry 4.0, every component of a pumping system will have its own Internet protocol address and will be able to communicate, through embedded intelligence, with every other component of the system. The motor, pump, control valve, piping, instruments and control system will communicate in real time, allowing all of the system components to make adaptive changes to optimize total performance.

With more information flow from the system and communication through the cloud, the Internet of Things (IoT) will be used on a wide scale to collect and assimilate important data. Coupled with the growing use of predictive analytics, these IoT advancements will be used routinely to allow pump users to achieve predictions about pump system and process performance to predict not only when a particular component, system or process is going to fail, but also to de-bottleneck the process. For the first time, cost-effective predictive maintenance on a wide scale will be a reality in industrial plants. Facilities can monitor both equipment and process then notify operations before the problems impact production. While electrical energy costs in both continuous and discrete manufacturing processes are high, maintenance and downtime costs in the majority of plants are even higher. In the future, both process control and asset management will be seamlessly integrated into one process management system. Statistical software tools will forever change the paradigm "swimming in a sea of information but drowning for a lack of knowledge" into a holistic view. This new reality of self-adaptive, sustainable production processes will allow manufacturers to maximize profit while minimizing the cost of capital employed and the environment impact.

For this future to be realized, change will be necessary for both suppliers and users of pumps and systems. The pump and automation industries must continuously increase their knowledge of how components and systems work together when installed. The design engineers who build the plants of the future will also have to rethink traditional approaches and incorporate new innovations. These steps are essential to usher in the new order of sustainable processes in a world where growth is often constrained by the cost of production and environmental impact. While it is not a requirement to be an expert on all the components of a pumping system, stakeholders must have a holistic view in order to better adapt both product and services to new end user requirements.

The potential for developing new products and services to serve the requirements of Industry 4.0 represents an opportunity for employing new business models that are in line with new realities. While making the changes can be difficult, the mandate is clear: Adapt and lead the advancement of technological innovation. The age of holistic thinking about pump technology is here.