The solution to driving better production costs is ‘collaboration’ through automation says Honeywell Process Solutions.
THE BIGGEST ISSUE facing industries today is around productivity, says Garry Mahoney, the regional director, Automation & Central Solutions, with Honeywell Process Solutions. “We have seen a drive among all our major clients, across the board, to get back to pre global financial crisis cost structures; or typically a 20 to 25 percent reduction in costs through an improvement in productivity and cost control.”
While there are technologies that can reduce straight labour costs, he says, industry feedback says tweaking labour costs by two to three percent isn’t going to solve the problem.
A new generation of opportunity is in the optimisation of existing plant, at least in the short term, through process control and ‘collaboration’ in making informed decisions around process. “There needs to be a new way of thinking and operating and one of these is collaborating operational decision-making. “Say there was an operational incident on the night shift, typically there would be an operation meeting the next morning with the asset, production and control room managers who would then be asked to investigate the issue.
“They would then talk to their teams, look at the data and get back to the next morning’s meeting with their version of what happened.
It could be a cycle of hours, a day, or even a week. “In another paradigm with the concept of collaboration, all those people in the first meeting would have immediate access to the relevant knowledge around that event.
“So, it is about getting that information in front of those managers and staff in real time that is relevant to the issue and putting in place a set course of action in the shortest frame of time. “That’s not about reducing people – it’s about collaborating for good decision-making that enables productivity.”
The base technology for getting information out of systems is already there, so it’s a matter of being able to pull relevant data from various sources and present it in a context that makes sense to those people responsible, says Garry.
Honeywell’s specific tools and solutions in this regard include its Experion Collaboration Station, which is designed to respond quickly to routine and emergency situations and communicate plant information across multiple locations.
“This tool is well-suited for production sites with distributed assets such as offshore oil and gas operations,” says Garry. “In terms of oil and gas that’s a strong focus for us and New Zealand is very important to us and why we have strong teams based in Auckland and Christchurch.”
In association is Honeywell’s Premium Platform for Experion Virtualization Solutions, which can be customised to a customer’s specific control applications, making it a turnkey virtualisation solution.
The cost of installing and maintaining servers to handle this technology has, in the past, been an expensive investment. “What you see with our compact Blade server with its virtualisation technology is a dramatic reduction of servers and costs – say, a half a dozen replacing the capacity of 30 big servers, and capable of running a large industrial facility.”
Another area automation technology is improving production costs is with monitoring equipment.
“Heavy machinery and vehicles are expensive assets and, as everyone knows, upkeep and maintenance are critical to fleet management if you don’t want to run backwards very quickly. “And there’s a lot of retro-fitting wireless monitoring going on at the moment, and predictive management in areas such as conveyor belt monitoring is a good example where you can sweat the asset out longer by making repairs and replacements when necessary, rather than having a routine replacement programme in place just to safeguard against an unexpected stoppage.” Monitoring solutions are also becoming very effective for optimising supply chains, says Garry, with technology tracking the extraction process from the blasted material face, or well-head, to processing, transportation and stock piling. “A well-managed and planned stockpile, not too much sitting around unused and not too little, makes a dramatic contribution to productivity cost,” he says.