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Who's Winning at Digital Transformation?

By: Berk Birand 1652968907879
• December 2021
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Fero founder Berk Birand shares thoughts on the process industry, digital twins, and the current state of manufacturing with Industrial Automation:

Is the process industry slower in adopting digital transformation compared to discrete manufacturing?

It's a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison. The process industry had a 30-year head start on digital transformation, because the industry is inherently so complex that it required sensors and control systems from the beginning. It's not like assembling a car, which you can do without many sensors.

Today, discrete manufacturers have caught up and now use a lot of cutting-edge technologies, like tracking goods inside the factory wirelessly, or using computer vision to test quality. So in some ways, they've gained the advantage. But now process industries have the chance to get ahead again by adopting machine learning solutions, which enable them to optimise jointly for sustainability and profitability--the two key challenges manufacturers currently face.

With Big Data and analytics in the IIoT era, is the traditional Data Historian becoming history? Is this a smooth transition?

Data historians and big data systems serve different needs. There's room for both approaches.

If we look at the tech world, every company has one fast database that stores transactional data, and a separate analytics database that's slower but contains more data. Both provide value – so I don't see the data historian going away any time soon.

How effective is a digital twin in process automation vis-à-vis discrete manufacturing? Is the process industry making use of digital twin technology?

The phrase "digital twin" means different things in the process industry and in discrete manufacturing. In discrete manufacturing, it refers to a CAD model of an individual product. In process automation, it's where you build a virtual copy of a process (not a product), which can then be used to run the factory better.

Digital twins are really effective. They can help engineers optimise processes without wasting time, energy, and resources on plant tests. One of our customers found that they were able to skip 98% of tests by using a digital twin to predict the quality of the final product – translating to huge savings, in terms of both emissions and financials.

Is the number and complexity of standards presenting challenges for both end users and suppliers?

The number of standards is challenging, as it adds cost and complexity to the whole system. It would be preferable to have open standards. There are solutions that translate between proprietary standards, thereby making integration possible. However, these solutions still come at a cost in both price and increased system complexity.

What is the present status of Open Process Automation and the move toward standards-based, open, secure, and interoperable process automation architectures?

Open standards are crucial for the advancement of modern technology. Currently there aren't many, which adds cost and complexity to the system.

There have been serious cyberattacks on process industries in recent months. How strong are the safeguards?

The safeguards are not strong at all, and there probably will be more high-profile cyberattacks until the industrial sector at large realises how important it is to secure your factory. We take these concerns quite seriously at Fero Labs. Our industrial customers can connect remotely to factories through their browser, but we do it in a way that creates no security threats.

Originally published in Industrial Automation.