- By Jerry Spindler
- May 06, 2022
- Endress+Hauser, Inc.
For organizations undergoing digital transformation, reliable smart instrumentation and a knowledgeable userbase are the bedrock for implementing IIoT, Industry 4.0 and other modern solutions.
In most process industries, many end users might be surprised to discover the digital capabilities of many process instruments installed during the last decade. The primary reason for this secret is—despite microprocessor-based measuring devices in flow, level, pressure, temperature, and other instruments since the 1980s—that these digital interfaces are largely ignored, instead solely utilizing a 4-20 mA analog output of the primary process variable.
Modern smart instruments can provide a host of information digitally via HART, EtherNet/IP and other communication protocols, but many plants fail to take advantage of these numerous diagnostic and process data points.
This often occurs due to a skills gap and lack of training for plant technicians tasked to work with these smart instruments. Internal training procedures, mentoring programs, online eLearning, and classroom instructor-led events (Figure 1) are just some of the options organizations can invest in to overcome this deficit and improve their operations.
Training is critical for effective digital transformation so plant personnel can leverage the full capabilities of modern instrumentation to improve productivity.
Learning new technology
Process manufacturers are pursuing the efficiency enhancements and increased automation provided by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), digitalization, edge computing, and the cloud. But these are merely buzz words unless users understand how to collect and analyze data from modern instrumentation, and leverage insights gained to optimize operations. Many of today’s instruments provide up to hundreds of data points, but effectively using this data for operational outcomes requires extra effort.
While Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, RFID, Ethernet, IO-Link, and more protocols provide options for connecting devices within a plant, the first and most important step for engineers and designers is to plan their desired operational improvements, then collect and analyze the necessary data. Modern instruments produce diagnostic, status, process value, calibration, and other data, which can be leveraged by sophisticated software systems to facilitate maintenance and process management decisions.
Most engineers and technicians understand how flow, level, pressure and temperature instruments work to provide process values, but many are not familiar with the full range of digital capabilities. After gaining familiarity with these data points and associated performance metrics, users can begin to tie these in with complex software applications, such as a computerized maintenance management, asset management, and distributed control systems.
The best training incorporates the entire chain from smart instruments in the field all the way up to an IIoT, edge, or cloud-based system. For instance, at an Endress+Hauser process training unit (PTU®), students observe how data is generated, transmitted, and processed—and then perform actions and see the resulting improvements (Figure 2).
Preparing for the IIoT
As companies continuously look for areas to cut expenses, training programs unfortunately are often some of the first on the chopping block, even though these initiatives typically result in a quick return on investment. Additionally, a long-term strategy for IIoT adoption cannot take place without the right training programs in place.
Smart instrumentation training keeps engineers and technicians up to date in their knowledge of modern digital technology. This enables them to evaluate the installation of new devices, and use data generated to improve operations. With this type of optimization measure, plants become better prepared to implement IIoT technologies and improve operational efficiency.
With digital flow, level, pressure, temperature and analytical devices widely available today, often under $500 per measurement point, older facilities should consider replacing outdated non-digital devices as part of their Industry 4.0 implementation plans. But often replacement is not even necessary, as facilities discover existing digital capabilities in their instruments.
As development occurs at a quick pace, smart instruments on the market gain markedly new abilities every few years. Some of the latest innovations include self-calibrating RTD temperature transmitters, and flow and level measuring devices with built-in self-monitoring and verification reporting capabilities, in addition to standard diagnostic data and multiple process variable measurements, which have been available for a decade or longer.
However, none of these capabilities improve plant operations unless users understand how to leverage these advancements. Beyond training, plant personnel can remain up to date on current capabilities by reading industry publications, attending trade shows, tuning into webinars, and staying in touch with local instrumentation distributors and manufacturers.
For example, Endress+Hauser makes it easy to schedule classroom instruction at its PTUs throughout the United States. This provides hands-on learning with the latest instrumentation technologies, and multiple communication protocols for connectivity, from the plant floor to central control systems to the cloud (Figure 3).
Another recent enhancement, the IEC TS 60079-47 (2-WISE) standard, provides a specification for 2-Wire Intrinsically Safe Ethernet. And the Advanced Physical Layer for Ethernet (Ethernet-APL) provides another tool as new devices become available (Figure 4). Ethernet-APL combines the simplicity and robustness of 2-wire technology with the communication capabilities of Ethernet, providing high-speed and high-performance data exchange around process plants—even in hazardous environments.
These and other modern standards are best learned and understood in hands-on training environments.
Digitalization is a necessity for modern organizations
While the IIoT and digitization procedures are relatively new to the industrial operations sphere, they will soon be a competitive necessity. With proper training, such as opportunities to learn with a PTU, users can blaze trails for adoption within their organizations, building and maintaining relevant skillsets as technological innovation continues.
Though many plants are not yet taking advantage of their instruments’ digital capabilities, an increasing number of users are seeking out opportunities to learn, bringing knowledge back to their facilities, and sharing it among their organizations. This process brings the benefits of digitalization to the field.
All figures courtesy of Endress+Hauser
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