When it comes to replacing an old mobile phone with a newer model, most of us find it tedious but manage to do it with relative ease by migrating data from one to the other in the hope of better connectivity and an enhanced user experience.
Now imagine if migrating the plant control system of a refinery or power plant or pipeline system to an improved version was just as relatively simple? “While the task is massive, the premise of data and process migration is the same and it is already happening thanks to digital proliferation and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT),” says John Rudolph, President of Honeywell Process Solution (HPS), boss of the global giant’s automation outfit, in an exclusive interview.
Appointed in May 2018, Rudolph who has been at Honeywell (NYSE:HON) for over six years, could stake a very good claim to having a front row seat when it comes to automation in the manufacturing, energy and power sectors.
These are the kind of spheres where the company’s decades old workhorse of a plant control system – the TDC 3000, first introduced in the 1990s – can now have its digital twin for customers hosted on Honeywell servers with no need for additional physical equipment, enabling applications, controls, displays, upgrades and performance monitoring via digital avenues.
Rudolph claims another sea change is afoot. “I call it the ‘productization’ of IIoT. For our part, we are bringing that about via our Connected Plant solution premised on IIoT, with advanced analytics, predictive analysis and a whole host of connected kit.
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“When Industry 4.0 emerged as a concept, perhaps people got caught up in the nomenclature. But now it’s commonplace, and in the last year we have seen our Connected Plant customers get a lot more serious, especially in oil and gas, mining, power, pulp and paper sectors.”
And the HPS boss has his own unique perspectives on the outfit’s journey forward after taking over the helm from predecessor Vimal Kapur. “I can safely say I am not your average automation chief. Most automation leaders understandably come from within the automation business.”
But in Rudolph, HPS have put a man in charge who has gotten his “hands dirty” from running gas turbines to powergrids, has undertaken project management and enterprise resource planning, and has worked for competitors like Ingersoll Rand and GE over an illustrious decades-long professional journey.
“That’s one way of putting it,” says Rudolph with a laugh. “The way I put it is, what I bring to the HPS team is that I have seen things from the other side, different aspects of industrial processes and have touched many if not all workstreams.
“So when I talk of a connected industrial world, I have seen different aspects of that world we have connected and aspire to connect. I am also acutely aware of the level of automation that manufacturing and production businesses aspire to. I tend to view everything as a process map and envision how IIoT could make it real via outcome based solutions.”
In essence, Rudolph insists that is what HPS’ forward journey is going to be like. “Rewind the clock back by a decade, and everybody jumped on the SaaS [“Software as a Service”] bandwagon only to realize that its outcome based industry solutions and not fancy standardized solutions that clients want.
“HPS will always be about outcome based solutions. IIoT, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Big Data – whichever technological pathway you look at – what customers want is bespoke, and that’s the business. Its why I drew the phone replacement analogy. It might appear far-fetched when talking of replacing huge plant control systems, but we’re there or thereabouts.”
But what of legacy system holders, and is working on brownfield projects better than greenfield projects? “Well, sometimes people don’t want to embrace change and you service their needs. Sometimes the same customer embraces change at different facilities in different geographical locations at a different pace, and you deliver on that too.
“For instance, our Assurance 360 service is a multi-year cooperative service arrangement product – to maintain, support and optimize the performance of plant control systems – that is offered to both greenfield and brownfield sites, and regardless of the industry or size of operations.”
But the winds of change are here and Rudolph feels HPS and rival vendors are the drivers.
“I have always maintained that people, processes and assets are intertwined. So what I say to customers is that you can get by with what you have got today, not because it’s right but because you still have that infrastructure and people. When that starts to go away (including a retiring workforce), you better be on that next wave, otherwise it’s going to be really painful.”
But Rudolph disputes the energy industry is lagging in the Big Data and digitization space. “You will find energy players well ahead of the curve in many cases. I also don’t like how the term ‘Big Data’ is loosely dropped around.
“Having copious amount of data is meaningless unless you can harness the power and possibilities it offers. You’ll need true subject matter or domain experts, and the hiring and re-skilling of such professionals by the energy sector and operators’ continual engagement is clearly visible to us when it comes to our customers.”
For what it’s worth, the industry – underpinned by IIoT and digitization – is heading for “infinite longevity”, i.e. the upgrading control systems upgrade in place and doing away with rip-and-replace with the hardware and software being effectively decoupled.
“So a point worth impressing upon the market is that customers rarely deploy technology just because it’s there. They do so because it improves efficiencies. We have to convince customers that there is a better, more optimized way of conducting an industrial process with emerging tools. We feel we are getting a good hearing, and the run-up to 2025 looks quite exciting.”