Artificial Intelligence, the new lens with which to optimize chemicals processes
Written by Stephen Reynolds, Chemicals Industry Principal, AVEVA
As an engineer rooted in daily operations, I never warmed to the corporate types coming in to tell us how to run the plant. They had their math and science, but we had our experience. We had our own tools and tricks. Plants can be very territorial. Nowadays, they can be pretty lonely too. As we run leaner and leaner, there are fewer eyes on the process, and fewer brains carrying that institutional knowledge. We can no longer afford our silos. Resistance is futile.
At my first plant, we had a machinist who could troubleshoot bearing issues with a screwdriver to his ear. We’ve all heard that story or had a similar experience. What happens when the experts are out of work? Can anyone learn this skill? How long will that take? We need a smarter screwdriver. In the best hands, artificial intelligence (AI) is not here to replace us; it’s here to enhance our skills with a better toolkit. Our best people do not have the time to be everywhere at once, but we can better use their time and skill.
AI helps with that. It points us in the right direction of the next problem or solution, enabling us to focus on areas that need human intervention. Combined with the proper data infrastructure, AI is watching our processes and equipment, flagging those opportunities. Before we can alert that machinist and their magic screwdriver, predictive analytics have reviewed the data, identified potential issues, forecasted the next failures, and prescribed corrective actions. Our teams can now focus on preventative care and troubleshooting rather than break-fix activity.
The benefits on the process side are much the same. Technology has moved from the univariate approach to multivariate pattern recognition. It’s not enough to strive for the golden batch, we should strike gold regardless of conditions. Whether it’s optimizing quality or production, material yields, or energy consumption, artificial intelligence adds another set of “eyes” when our focus may be elsewhere. AI adds another lens with which to optimize our process.
Our plants are not islands. To fully realize the power of these new tools, they must scale across the business. Enter the Cloud. Our subject matter experts may not sit near the assets needing support. Share the data and collaborate across the globe. Local installations serve the plant, but an enterprise may have dozens of such process or hundreds of similar pieces of equipment. Native cloud technologies scale to the business need, leveraging these modern analytical tools across the board shared, safely and securely, in the Cloud.
The technologies behind artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing continue to improve every day. See how deep the rabbit hole goes.
I’ll be back.