Finding the Right Pathway for Digital Transformation

Sept. 11, 2018
Just months after merging with Schneider Electric’s industrial software business, the expanded AVEVA portfolio now traverses the digital lifecycle from capex to operations.

AVEVA just completed its merger with Schneider Electric’s industrial software business in March, but already there are multiple signs of the fruits of that combination—with the new business driving digital transformation across the asset and operational lifecycles.

“Now that we have our expanded portfolio, we have the lifecycle [covered] from the capex side when the plants and assets are actually built [to how they extend] into the operations side,” noted Andrew McCloskey, chief technology officer/senior vice president of R&D for AVEVA. He said that, in the past, contextualization of data from across these areas of technology could be difficult. For example, when you’re in the control room and there’s a pump that’s been predicted to fail soon, and you need a little more information before you start any maintenance processes. First you need to know if you have the engineering data of how the pump was connected and installed from the beginning. Bringing this kind of contextual information together is how AVEVA technologies can now better deliver to the market.

A common intelligent asset model
To address the issue of disconnected data, AVEVA has what it calls a common intelligent asset model. This contextualization model combines asset information from the engineering, procurement and construction phase with the operations phase to provide all the necessary information on the equipment (or any other asset), including a history from a maintenance perspective. “When we talk about Big Data and cloud capabilities, it means little unless you have that context,” McCloskey said. “But now we have all the pieces to do that.”

Having this context across engineering and operational data also enables AVEVA to expand its analytics capabilities. “We have a great predictive capability to predict maintenance [needs]. But we also have analytics in the area of unsupervised learning—machine learning algorithms—that bring to the operator information that, at any time, might not be seen because these plants, as you know, are just huge, and so much information’s available,” McCloskey said.

By providing a digital thread through the entire lifecycle, digital twin technology is where AVEVA now comes on strong. From its initial use in process design through engineering, the “digital twin is now completely accessible in our monitoring and control and asset management software,” McCloskey said. With digital twin technology fully integrated from birth all the way through a product’s lifetime, it now has the needed context.

This applies not just to product design and development, but plant design too. Once a plant is designed, the AVEVA portfolio now stretches from the engineering phase through to the operations phase. As a result, all plant data can now have “context and integration,” McCloskey said.

He added that, where Schneider Electric’s industrial software business brought process design simulation to the table for the capex phase, AVEVA’s software provides for plant design, e.g., making sure there’s enough room to perform duties such as turning valves. “In capex alone, that [represents] a new workflow and new use cases that weren’t possible before,” McCloskey noted.

The combination of the companies’ technologies also extends to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), McCloskey said, particularly as it applies to obtaining real-time equipment status, efficiencies and analytics. “You can get set up to see context quickly—it’s in minutes and hours vs. days and weeks,” he said. “If something goes wrong, or is predicted to go wrong through our analytics, now you can bring up the engineering data as well. [It’s of] high value to link asset reliability and availability with operational efficiency and profitability.”

Cloud combinations
With the industry trend toward IIoT, both companies have evolved a great deal in terms of cloud technologies, providing the option to consume software applications in the cloud, McCloskey said. Now they are combining those efforts to create a common approach as well. “You’ll see a common cloud portal, [with] a common cloud access to it,” he said. “And once you get into the applications, it will have a similar look and feel. And that’s all possible by leveraging our cloud architecture, our cloud approach.”

Though the cloud is clearly key to the digital transformation strategy because it makes such a great environment for sharing information, McCloskey noted, AVEVA is aware that not all companies are ready to jump all the way in just yet. In response, AVEVA offers a hybrid cloud strategy—where some data stays on premise—to help customers transition to cloud use more slowly to gain comfort with IIoT opportunities.

AVEVA’s technology is “on premise everywhere,” McCloskey said, adding that the first small step to cloud use is to send some of that on-premise data out in a secure way to gain more insights at the enterprise level. “All of our HMI/SCADA systems now have the ability to basically push data out in a very secure manner into our cloud repository, which is Big Data and analytics,” he said. “We show the customers first that it’s very secure [and] how to do it. And literally within minutes you see your first bits of data after configuring some screens. [From that starting point] we turn out more analytics or connect more plants; it’s very easy from there.”

Once the added insights customers gain from cloud-based analytics make their way back to the plant floor, they can provide for greater mobility and enhanced capabilities for workers. “We can overlay information in either a cellphone or an iPad or a wearable device like the HoloLens,” McCloskey said. For example, using it with a pump, “we can bring up on an overlay, and you look at the pump, and we can bring in all the maintenance past. We can also even give instructions on what to do to fix that [pump].”

That, in turn, lowers the bar for maintenance workers and the training they require. Training time can be reduced because, with mobile delivery, “we’re going to provide the information [they need], including any of the engineering data that we didn’t have before that we now have [access to, as well as] any tips and tricks from our experienced maintenance team members; it can all be overlaid” in the mobile presentation, McCloskey said.

Summing up AVEVA’s technologies, McCloskey said a lot of customers may not yet have heard a great deal about digital transformation or how they can actually benefit from it. What AVEVA wants them to know is that it’s not a rip-and-replace model. “You already have a lot of the data. You just want to make it more accessible,” he said. “And we can add that digital twin context so each system knows exactly what pump is what, [meaning that] we can do the maintenance—and the analytics are there [too]. From the very simple act of getting that [data] out from the software to augment it in the cloud—all the good things … come once you take that [first] small step.”

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