How far is too far? For factories and foremen

PCQ Bureau
New Update

Why are suddenly remote plants and operations coming closer, becoming proactive and getting light-weight? Pratima H looks into it.


We have been hearing a lot about digital twins, fog computing, remote ops and all-stream digitization, but the current crisis may have proved to be the last nudge that enterprises needed to make all that iron lose chains and gain proximity. So how does an intelligent and just-a-button-away factory look like? We let Jason Urso, CTO Honeywell Process Solutions walk us through one in this interview. He also gives a peek into some latest quantum computing strides and the plans for strengthening pharma vertical during this crisis.

What is a factory going to look like two years from now? How different would it be from what we had till 2019 and how much would have been spurred by the crisis that enterprises just went through?

Two years, generally, is not a very long time in the world of industrial process control. However, the current environment has inspired rapid adoption of digital technologies that have driven substantial change in just two months. Most of the advancements occurred out of necessity to assist with business continuity. But, in deploying the new digital methods, it’s clear that technologies in remote operations, remote service and remote project execution will have a long-lasting benefit beyond today’s current challenges. We see rapid adoption of digital technology in these three areas.


Can you share something about what Remote Operations will entail?

It is about enabling operations staff to perform their responsibilities from anywhere in the world and creating an environment where local operations staff collaborate with remote experts to deliver better results. The technology is no longer limited to the physical boundaries of a plant. Through the power of digital technology, distance no longer inhibits collaboration. Operations staff or field engineers can work on a process control issue from a regional operation center the same way they would work on the issue if they were standing in the local operations center.

Are remote applications showing a different shift during the pandemic?


Some industries like pipelines and mining are inherently remote. Augmented remote applications are growing with the Covid crisis. ARO can enable secure, quick and simple continuity for remote processes.

So Remote Services will also emerge an area worth reckoning?

By continually monitoring our customers’ control systems and operations we can more proactively serve them. Traditional service is often very reactive – an issue occurs, a phone call is made to the supplier and a service technician is dispatched. Remote service flips the model upside down to be a proactive engagement by continually monitoring customers’ equipment. Data from the customer site is analyzed using algorithms that represent the knowledge of our best experts. In essence, this means that remote service assures equipment is continually monitored by our experts around the world. Through the analysis, we can proactively respond to looming issues and to correct them before they become an issue.


Can remote services also handle serious firefighting scenarios like accidents or breakdowns? How do the cloud and virtualization parts here avoid sprawl and complexity—especially for far-off on-site systems?

We see remote operations as a way to augment local staff – not to replace it. Remote technology allows corporations to share issues in an instant with their best experts wherever they are in the world allowing them to have a first-hand view into issues at a site. Doing so, it can help diagnose and resolve issues faster through collaboration.

How soon and strong can we expect fog computing in industrial environments?


Most computing happens at the client's location or site. But on the other end of the spectrum there is cloud where we have an opportunity. This will give potential for more remote service capabilities, anywhere in the set-up. Fog computing is more hybrid—it is about how to get the best out of the Edge. Technologies like real-time control systems help supervisors to monitor and take actions for activities which move further away. We see fog adoption as some hybrid of on-premise and on-edge coupled with cloud—that's the future. Also, remote computing does not have to be miles away, it can be at a short distance.

Any new industries that have shown appetite during the crisis?

Both Upstream and Downstream customers are showing adoption now. Chemical, petrochemical and refinery enterprises are interesting. The crisis has stimulated a lot of thinking around remote collaboration.


Are you confronting any legacy conflict with these digital transformation deployments?

Yes, at some places. Fortunately, this is where IT has evolved to retain legacy IP and melt seamlessly into new systems, so that enterprises can benefit from new technologies and remote services. Legacy does not have to be removed. Only the software has to be updated.

Can you tell us how your HMI offerings are embracing the shifts that are happening with Cobots, etc.? Any lessons that you are picking?


We see several substantial trends with HMI associated with process control operations. The first is oriented around remote operations. For decades, industrial process control sites generally have operations staff perform their role entirely from a local operations center. With the recent advancements in technology and cybersecurity, we have the option to more safely and reliably offer a bird's eye view to the process from any location. For example, at a large industrial complex, we can have process control HMI stations and personnel at the local operations center. But, those location stations can also be augmented by consoles that are located at a regional operations center where additional skilled resources might oversee multiple plant locations. Honeywell calls this technology Augmented Remote Operations (ARO).In doing so; we can provide flexibility and efficiency for an organization – especially in an environment where we are continuing to enforce social distancing during the pandemic.

How and where can your feats in Quantum Computing intersect with automation?

Quantum computing has great potential to advance industrial process control by harnessing its massive computing power. Initially, Quantum computing will play a substantial role in modeling and design of chemical processes – performing simulations that are extremely compute-intensive. With the ability to more quickly simulate a design, Quantum Computing will afford us with the opportunity to design processes that are safer and more efficient. As we expand the use of Quantum computing, we see opportunities to analyze the massive amount of data that is produced at industrial control sites. By leveraging new machine learning methods, we see an opportunity to more precisely fine-tune equipment or control to achieve the best in the industry performance. In essence, the computing power will be available to provide a massive depth of the process, equipment and control analysis such that we can assure every day is our customers’ best day of production and every person is a world-leading expert.

What makes Remote Project Execution radical and new from what industries were doing so far?

Traditional approaches to design an automation system for an industrial process involved people traveling from around the world and working on physical equipment. The personnel would sometimes perform this work for one to two years at a remote location designing controls, displays, procedures and safety logic. When complete, the system went through a formal factory acceptance test to inspect all the work. This model is dramatically changed in the digital world. Today, through Honeywell’s Lean Execution of Automation Projects (LEAP), we create a digital twin of the entire system and the whole process, meaning that we can execute the entire project in digital form.

Does this help engineering and collaboration?

Our project engineers can work on the project wherever they are in the world by connecting to our cloud data center with the digital rendition of the project. When the project is complete, because we have a digital twin of the process, we can also fully carry out a remote factory acceptance test by validating all the controls, displays and procedures in the cloud data center. Project engineers, engineering contract companies and customers can all digitally collaborate to complete the testing while being physically located anywhere in the world. By eliminating the need to work on physical equipment, we can project that projects are started faster, executed more efficiently and staffed with our experts wherever they are in the world.

Are you planning more offerings like the Fast-Track Automation that was brought in for Life-Science vertical?

Honeywell has provided the pharmaceutical/life sciences industry with consistently innovative advancements in automation and digital software technologies, systems and services for over 30 years, and Fast Track Automation offering is one of our most valuable and latest offerings to date.

Honeywell’s focus has always been to develop products and solutions that help to make our customer’s facilities safer and more secure, reliable and productive. For the pharmaceuticals industry, Honeywell has a wide spectrum of automation and digital solutions covering the pharmaceutical value chain from research and development facilities, API/bulk manufacturing plants, formulation/fill finish facilities, packaging and distribution. Pharmaceuticals businesses face unique challenges. Massive research and development (R&D) spending, the world’s most stringent regulations and intense competition mean compliance, efficiency and speed to market are critical to success. Honeywell helps pharma businesses increase efficiency, reduce risk and bring products to market faster.