19 Nov 2019

How is Industry 4.0 transforming the process industry?

In its use of Industry 4.0 technologies, the process industry has tended to focus on the technology. Its focus should, however, be on using Industry 4.0 technologies to accelerate decision making, optimise processes, maximise profits and minimise risks. Technology is only an enabler to get you on board the digital transformation journey and help you modernise your industrial plant.

What does Industry 4.0 really mean for the process industry? What are the barriers to its implementation? How can we tackle these challenges? This blog answers these three questions.

What does Industry 4.0 mean for the process industry?

Industry 4.0 uses technologies to connect parts of a process that once relied on human communications, enabling adopters to collect, analyse and use data instantly. This industrial revolution also encompasses automation and mixed reality. These tools could enable predictive and prescriptive maintenance of industrial assets to be carried out, could increase significantly the performance achieved by human operators and could make production to be more flexible. These are vital issues for the process industry to stay competitive and agile in its approach to manufacture.

An industrial plant cannot perform well without fully functioning enabling assets such as energy systems, process water systems or logistics. As such, the concept of industry 4.0 reaches the full production chain, from the front gate to the back office, to ensure compliance, safety, effective and sustainable operations. By taking such a holistic approach, industrial sites of the future could optimise their impact on society.

The barriers to implementation

On the 27th of September 2019 we attended an Industry 4.0 symposium for the process industry at Brightlands Chemelot Campus. There we saw that there are some key barriers to the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies within the process industry.

To implement the Industry 4.0 technologies, there are three crucial things the Industry 4.0 business needs to have: the essential engineering and technology knowledge and experience how to apply this knowledge; access to vendors for devices such as sensors and machines; and advanced analytics and data science expertise. However, there are several challenges faced by the process industry as it looks to embrace the industry 4.0 technologies.

First, there needs to be an organisational and cultural change so that the industry can adopt agile ways of working. These changes require that senior leadership develop a clear vision and strategy for asset performance management and be brave in the face of the unknown.

Second, industrial devices from different OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) have different failure modes and probabilities associated with them. To enable predictive maintenance, manuals for the assets need to be enriched through the experiences of their operators and through data gathered by them. The collected data needs to be assembled, structured and enriched with artificial intelligence (AI). In this way the different assets will be better understood (fault detection and failure prediction) and the operations (service order management and planning) will be optimised.

Third, the process industry needs affordable, reliable and safe infrastructure for internet-of-things (IoT) communications. Cloud-based software, easy-to-use applications and connected devices are readily available for any number of sources, but the communication technology needed to transfer data from these devices to the cloud is not yet cost-effective for the process industry. This is a particular problem where large quantities of data need to be collected from specific assets wirelessly while they operate in harsh environments—such as explosive atmospheres.

The solutions for a successful implementation

To overcome these challenges and successfully implement Industry 4.0 technologies within the process industry an asset performance management strategy should be clearly defined with the support of process engineers, who know the failure events of the industrial assets and know what operators need to improve. Equipment and asset knowledge, meanwhile, should be used to determine whether machinery is in optimal condition and what is needed to prevent failures.

A database with OEM-specific information on assets and plant-specific faults and abnormal behaviour events during operations can build your knowledge base for fault detection and failure mode predictions. Labelling the root cause of patterns will improve the understanding of the industrial assets, which will be of great help in asset performance management.

Data communications solutions for asset monitoring can be prohibitively expensive, particularly in heavy industrial environments, but utilities – such as a site's the lighting infrastructure – could be exploited to provide a cost-effective communication channel to link sensors to the cloud. Innovators who have experience with testing new technologies, for example drones and three-dimensional (3D) inspection scanning and tackling problems with IoT communications can accelerate a successfully implementation of Industry 4.0 technologies.

Accelerating decision making

The focus of Industry 4.0 has been on the technology, connecting assets and collecting and structuring data. These aspects are the enabler,  but the focus should be on using Industry 4.0 technologies to make the right decisions well in advance, optimise industrial processes, improve profits and mitigate risks.  

Royal HaskoningDHV has decades of experience in digital asset engineering, asset management, the development of digital twins and AI. With our partners for platform development, innovative technologies and IT infrastructure, we can help the process industry accelerate its Industry 4.0 journey.

The key takeaways:

  1. The process industry has been to a certain extent slow in adopting Industry 4.0 technologies.
  2. Industry 4.0 technologies are no longer applicable just to production operations, they can be used to optimise entire plants.
  3. The process industry needs to instigate organisational and cultural change. It needs to assemble and interrogate the data that it gathers to enable asset performance maintenance to be carried out. Further, working with its partners, it must develop reliable and affordable infrastructure for IoT communications.
  4. To implement Industry 4.0 technologies for the process industry, there is a need for a clear asset management strategy, databases on asset levels and partnerships to enable collaboration between asset managers, process engineers, OEMs and data scientists.

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Bart Vander Velpen
Global Business Director Industry 4.0

View author bio


Tong Wang
Industry 4.0 consultant for High Performing Production Sites

High performing production sites