Expert Interview: Jim Cahill of Emerson Automation Solutions on Process Automation and Big Data
Jim Cahill (@JimCahill) is Emerson’s Chief Blogger and Head of Social Marketing. We recently asked Jim for his insight on process automation and Big Data. Here’s what he shared:
Can you tell us about Emerson Automation Solutions? What is the company’s mission?
The mission of Emerson Automation Solutions is to help our customers make energy, medicines, consumer products and other things needed to enjoy our standard of living more safely, reliably and efficiently through the use automation technologies and expertise. Technologies range from devices sensing things like pressure, temperature, flow, level, etc. to valves, regulators and other devices managing the production, to the control, safety and plant asset management systems orchestrating optimized operations.
What inspired you to create Emerson Process Experts? How are you hoping to help your readers?
Emerson has always been known for its technologies and strong brands in the manufacturing industries. It was less well known for its experts who help plan, design, build, commission and optimize manufacturing facilities across their lifecycle. Emerson Process Experts provided a way to tell the stories of experts solving problems every day and making their expertise more visible to the industries we serve.
How has automation evolved since you started your site? What are your predictions for how it’s used in the future?
The Emerson blog just passed its 11th anniversary. Technology has rapidly advanced over this decade-plus period to include wireless sensing and control devices and the Industrial Internet of Things to monitor way more things, such as personal safety, machine reliability, corrosion, etc. than was possible in a wired world.
Also, the advancements in communications across the Internet and cyber-security solutions, such as data diodes, opens-up much more opportunity for remote experts to discover and address problems before these leads to unplanned outages and non-safe conditions. And, social networks have greatly expanded the abilities of experts to solve problems more quickly by having a global network of fellow experts to tap into.
Related: The IoT-Big Data Convergence
What types of pain points are Emerson customers coming to you with? What problems do they hope you’ll solve?
Pain points range across the lifecycle of their plants and production facilities. Large capital projects are often over budget and schedule. By taking a systematic approach starting with early planning – something we call Project Certainty – between the customer, contractor and suppliers like Emerson, we help customers to reduce the risk of projects not delivering on expectations.
Customers and prospective customers find stories in the blog posts of this approach and have direct access to me as well as the featured expert through their LinkedIn profile. This same approach works with pain points during operations such as reliable operations, excessive emissions, quality issues, etc.
What are the most interesting applications of automation you’ve observed Emerson customers using?
I’m fascinated in how the Industrial Internet of Things technology is opening-up new business models and ways manufacturers and suppliers interact. Traditionally, equipment and services were sold to the manufacturer and supported with internal resources. Today, equipment such as sensing devices might be leased with data from these devices (very much Big Data) sent to robust analytical software and reviewed by experts to spot abnormal or inefficient conditions early.
One example is a chemical manufacturer in Asia who worked with Emerson to monitor their facility for steam leaks which waste energy. Wireless steam trap monitors feed data to remote Emerson experts to spot problems early and provide recommendations back before energy is wasted. Traditionally, these steam traps were manually monitored on an infrequent basis. The energy savings more than covers the cost of the ongoing monitoring program.
How important is high-quality data to automation? Where do the fields of Big Data and process automation intersect?
Accurate and reliable data is imperative to have optimized control. With sensors collecting data from the process and production equipment continuously, Big Data has always been a part of process automation.
What’s most different today is high-powered analytics programs that can operate as cloud-based services and provide this wealth of Big Data to remote experts who can recommend ways to improve safety, reliability and efficiency.
What are some of the common challenges facing process automation innovators today? What are they trying to troubleshoot today?
Manufacturing facilities continue to grow in size and complexity. Automation innovators are challenged with reducing complexity and eliminating steps and work processes where possible. This is true both on the capital project side of building and commissioning the plant to the ongoing operations and maintenance.
With the rapid change in technologies, it’s easy to add to the complexity, but much more difficult to simplify and take a human-centered design approach. At the end of the day, suppliers must make it easier for plant personnel to operate safely, reliably and efficiently.
What excites you about process automation today? What trends or innovations are you following?
I’ve been in automation either as an end user applying it, or as a supplier promoting its use, throughout my whole career. What excites me is that I continue to learn something new every day. It’s great to work for a company with so many experts across so many disciplines that I can help tell their stories every day. I have to learn enough to distill this expertise and make it approachable to those who regularly read or happen upon my blog.
The major innovations I’m tracking these days are the Industrial Internet of Things and the new business models they create, advances in cyber-security, and most anything else that I come across that is a new learning experience for me to share.
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