AI Solutions to Accelerate the Journey to the Self-Optimizing Plant

Before Artificial Intelligence (AI) became such a marketing hype-word, process automation suppliers had versions of it in a variety of guises. I always felt that Aspen Technology, aka AspenTech, was at the engineering forefront if not quite there financially and in the market. The company has turned around over the past few years. It seems to be back on track. 

This announcement discusses the latest release of its flagship aspenONE V12. Before diving in, I digress to look at the AspenTech definition of hybrid as it applies to this announcement.

Hybrid Modeling uniquely combines the first principles of engineering and mathematics and the built-in industry experience (as encapsulated in Aspen Plus and Aspen HYSYS) with empirical relationships derived from plant data, employing the latest advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. This combination enables the best of both worlds (rigorous and first principles) to provide effective modeling of complex units that cannot be easily modeled today. It also speeds up model construction, applies AI to plant data to streamline data cleansing and model calibration, and can substitute for engineering experience in developing predictive insight into process units and complex assets.

Then on to the meat of the release:

Aspen Technology announced the general availability of the aspenONE V12 software release, which embeds artificial intelligence (AI) across the portfolio and uses the cloud for delivery of enterprise-wide analytics and insights for increased safety, sustainability, and improved margins. AspenTech’s Industrial AI solutions democratize the application of AI where it can deliver most value and is a vital step towards the Self-Optimizing Plant.

“Aspen Hybrid Models are a major advance in the field of chemical engineering. Hybrid models are a major step forward in bringing together AspenTech’s process models and machine learning and are a game changer in process engineering and plant improvement,” said Dr. Karuna Potdar, Vice President, Technology Centre of Excellence, Reliance Industries Limited.

aspenONE V12 solutions have the first Industrial AI hybrid model capability that is purpose-built for the process industries and other capital-intensive industries. Aspen Hybrid Models capture data from assets across the enterprise, and then apply AI, engineering first principles and AspenTech’s domain expertise to deliver comprehensive, more accurate models at enterprise speed and scale. With AspenTech’s four decades of knowledge about the unique challenges of building solutions for process industries and other capital-intensive industries, aspenONE V12 enables customers to apply AI to critical processes without additional data science expertise and offers better support for new users without deep process knowledge or experience.

The process industries have embraced digital transformation to drive operational excellence and innovation as they respond to meet the needs of growing populations and expectations for sustainability. The new solutions in aspenONE V12 address these unique challenges with better modeling accuracy, greater insights and improved total cost of ownership that can support evolving business needs and take advantage of the new digital native workforce.

“The process industries and other capital-intensive industries are experiencing new levels of volatility in supply and demand, and the need to be agile in response to all market conditions requires a new approach to asset optimization,” said Antonio Pietri, President and CEO, Aspen Technology. “In addition, they face higher expectations for efficiency and profitability, and increasing pressure to meet sustainability targets. This next generation of Industrial AI solutions will change how process industries work. The Self-Optimizing Plant represents the future of operational excellence, and we continue our commitment to innovate and deliver solutions that can accelerate our customers’ journey toward it.”

Francesco Mura, Digital Platform Manager, Process and Technology for Saras, sees the advantage for updating planning models. “Aspen Hybrid Models provide very efficient nonlinear planning model generation, taking information from Aspen HYSYS rigorous refining reactor models and offering a great deal of promise as a new approach for updating planning models.”

New Features of aspenONE V12 software include:

  • Aspen Maestro – new capability for Aspen DMC3and Aspen Mtell which automates the development of better models faster by guiding a less experienced user on how to build a particular model or agent.
  • Aspen Deep-Learning IQ – enables the building of more accurate models and predictions.
  • Aspen Verify for Planning – uses AI to capture knowledge and check against plan to prevent costly mistakes.
  • Aspen Multi-Case – easily runs thousands of simulations cases concurrently, on-premise or in the cloud, allowing a more complete analysis so results can be used to navigate operational complexity and make more accurate decisions faster.
  • Aspen Event Analytics – provides rapid insight into production events. Fast, easy investigation of unexpected production events accelerates corrective action decision-making. Monitors and detects real-time events to enable rapid early intervention.
  • Aspen MES Collaborative – delivers the connected enterprise. Aggregates data with an enterprise-level historian and connects small sites to eliminate stranded data.
  • Aspen Cloud Connect – provides flexible connectivity with high performance and security to transfer data from edge to cloud.
  • Aspen Capital Cost Estimator Insights (ACCE) – streamlines the user experience with out-of-the-box integration with ACCE and Aspen Enterprise Insights to provide visualization and collaborative workflow within a hybrid cloud environment.

Digital Infrastructure Orchestration Pilot

The thought visited that some time has elapsed since I have heard anything from the Open Process Automation people (OPAF). Then this news of the successful conclusion of a digital infrastructure orchestration pilot project within the scope of the project. A nice step forward on the journey.

CPLANE.ai and ExxonMobil have published the results and findings of their digital infrastructure orchestration pilot. As IT/OT Convergence and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) adoption accelerates, new system management challenges must be addressed. This pilot demonstrated how orchestration can simplify the management of these new, multi-vendor systems while improving security and reliability. The whitepaper describing the methods and results of the pilot can be downloaded HERE.

Key findings from the pilot include:

1. Multi-vendor, open process automation can be integrated into a wholistic system using system orchestration technology.

2. Open standards, such as the Open Process Automation Standard, make inter-operability
orders of magnitude easier to manage and more reliable to implement.

3. An integrated hybrid-architecture of IT/OT digital assets can be managed in one cohesive
framework with limited or no IT expertise.

4. System orchestration is critical for accelerating innovation and adoption of converged IT/OT systems, particularly in an open, multi-vendor and interoperable control system.

Don Bartusiak, Chief Engineer for Process Control at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering said, “CPLANE.ai exceeded our expectations on what is possible in demonstrating the management of a converged IT/OT industrial control system. System orchestration is growing in visibility and importance within the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) and many of the findings of this pilot will help us shape the evolution of our standards.”

Digital infrastructure orchestration automates the provisioning, monitoring, failure-recovery, and evolution of OPA systems while maintaining continuous operations and network-based cybersecurity. Steve Bitar, an automation leader at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, said “this was an ambitious project from the beginning. And the results have really given us a vision for how complex open industrial control systems can be managed and automated.” 

CPLANE.ai is now conducting demonstrations of its Digital Infrastructure Test Bed with partners and members of OPAF. Going forward, CPLANE.ai will be applying the learnings from this pilot project to other OPAF related test beds and pilots globally.

CPLANE.ai automates the orchestration of distributed edge computing across a diverse landscape of hardware and software components. CPLANE.ai removes the complexity of provisioning, managing, securing, and evolving distributed systems. CPLANE.ai’s intelligent software platform automates the coordination and configuration of policies and procedures across multiple layers of distributed cloud infrastructure. 

Keyword For Honeywell Virtual Technology Experience Is Remote

One conference I’m attending from the comfort of my office this week is Honeywell Virtual Technology Experience. Thanks to the pandemic, no Honeywell User Group (HUG) this year.

This remote conference technology constantly improves. This is my fourth of the season. Technical glitches have been rare. Speakers overall have ranged from good to outstanding. Jason Urso, Honeywell Process Solutions Chief Technology Officer gave his usual great technology roundup even dialing in demos from Australia.

Interesting that I used the word remote, because that is the word of the year. Any of us who can work from home are. That includes process control where many engineers can work from home and avoid getting sick.

Urso pointed to disruptions in the economy including disturbances to supply chains, postponed maintenance checks, and restricted travel combining to increase operational risks for critical manufacturers. Simultaneously, demand for key products like toilet paper for hygiene, filter paper for purification products, and packaging materials for shipping is peaking, making reliable, high-quality production even more important.

“Living in this new reality, manufacturers are faced with having to find new ways of operating, balancing the need to keep critical processes and plants running while ensuring the safety of their employees,” noted Urso. ”Here are three critical steps manufacturers can take to navigate this unprecedented situation:

  • Focus on essential work onsite to minimize the potential exposure of workers
  • Adopt proven and secure remote solutions for operations
  • Receive aid remotely through collaboration with on-call experts”

The bulk of the keynote reviewed three remote solutions Honeywell Process has developed for situations just like this.

Remote Project Engineering

Honeywell is continuing project operations by using software and digital twin technology. Project engineers from around the world continue working on Honeywell projects from home or in locations where offices are still operating with social distancing.

“We do so by utilizing digital twin technology that makes a digital replica of the customer’s equipment and processes which allows our project engineers to work on the ‘digital copy’ of the project versus on the actual equipment itself,” says Urso. “Critical infrastructure projects in oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and power can proceed without interruption.”

Remote Operations

Customers increasingly have fewer individuals working onsite to follow stay-at-home orders. In some cases, quarantines of key individuals are also affecting the availability of skilled resources at the site. In response, Honeywell has issued new software that enables process operations to be monitored or even executed from remote locations outside of the facility. Remote support staff in other facilities or at home can be utilized as if they are working directly at the process location.

Case study

We recently deployed remote operations solutions to one of our own specialty additives plants in Orange, Texas, that produces polyethylenes, allowing us to operate and ensure business continuity even with reduced onsite staffing. A virtual remote-control workstation duplicates the operator’s distributed control system stations in the main control room and can fully take over in case of further restrictions or illness. Our engineers can now support operations and execute essential tasks from remote locations, maintaining social distancing while keeping the same number of eyes on the plant.

According to Urso, “software was up and running in less than two hours and is protected by the highest levels of cybersecurity protocols and best practices.”

Remote Services and Support

Our customers are also looking for Honeywell to provide remote support in light of restrictions on personnel traveling and entering a site. Honeywell has deployed multiple remote service options to continue providing expert support via remote connectivity to our equipment. These remote options also use the power of Honeywell Forge offerings to proactively detect issues and bring them to the attention of both the customer and Honeywell experts.

Because our remote offerings help our customers in essential industries maintain critical activities in a safe manner during this crisis, Honeywell Process Solutions has trained all service technicians to build awareness of this capability and collaborate with our customers through this challenging time.

Honeywell Expedites Development and Production of Vaccines

There is nothing like a crisis to spur innovation. The Covid-19 pandemic is not an exception. My Inbox runneth over with announcements—all good. Many are safety related, but this innovation reminds us that the controls and automation sector—both suppliers and manufacturers—plays a vital role in bringing vaccines and new therapies to market.

Honeywell announced Fast Track Automation, a combination of proprietary technology innovations for the life sciences industry that enables vital vaccines, treatments and therapies to move from regulatory approval to full production in as little as two months depending on process requirements. The solution incorporates process automation elements that can be configured in a virtual environment, then implemented rapidly once a therapy is approved and ready to be produced for public distribution.

By the way, this reflects a trend in the industry toward packaging products and solutions to make implementation easier and bette for the user.

Fast Track Automation is a response to the global COVID-19 outbreak, which has highlighted the need to accelerate delivery of medical solutions and devices to patients by focusing on ensuring more efficient production and testing capabilities along with facilitating strengthened supply chain. Life sciences manufacturers are leading the race against time to overcome the pandemic through innovative science. At the point in time when clinical trials are nearing completion, the ability to rapidly pivot and scale up to meet production demand will severely test existing technology infrastructures.

The most efficient way to ramp up the production of potential therapies is to facilitate development of commercial-scale manufacturing earlier, while treatments and prevention therapies are still in clinical trials. Fast Track Automation has been designed to be used in development applications in as little as two months, and then to help manufacturers scale up to full production immediately after the appropriate regulatory approvals are granted.

“Honeywell has provided the life sciences industry with consistently innovative advancements in automation technologies, systems and services for over 30 years, and Fast Track Automation offering is one of our most valuable offerings to date,” said Cynthia Pussinen, vice president and general manager, Life Sciences, Honeywell Process Solutions. “Our solution allows for end-to-end manufacturing process and data visualization, providing real-time visibility and predictive insights while offering benefits like enhanced audit-readiness and data integrity, minimized regulatory risk, increased operational efficiencies and reduced rejects and waste.”

Fast Track Automation leverages the power of the cloud, virtualization, batch software running in the controller, flexible assignment of computing power, remote asset management from a data center, and efficient, fast-track lean project implementation.

The technology prepares manufacturing automation designs in parallel with clinical trials to ensure production is ready to go once a medical therapy is approved. Manufacturers can even use the system to digitize manual steps during clinical trials to better consolidate and analyze data and more seamlessly prepare electronic submissions for regulatory body review and approval. Manufacturers can then use that data to prepare the final production automation design. Additionally, the system can be quickly scaled up or down depending on needed changes and demand.

Fast Track Automation is available now.

Continual Market Development Pays Off For Process Control Supplier

Continual Market Development Pays Off For Process Control Supplier

I have known Eddie Habibi, founder and CEO of PAS (now PAS Global) for about 20 years. So I’ve followed the development of his company for that long. There was alarm management, and process safety, and process asset management. And the company grew at a typical pace for the market.

Then he went all-in on process control system cybersecurity. He accepted some investment money, hired some pros in the field, and combined security with what the company was already known for.

The results are in the latest press release from PAS Global LLC where it announced a 45% increase in term revenue year-over-year and increased market recognition of its solutions.

In March 2019, the company introduced an expanded Cyber Integrity offering with risk analytics for continuous operational technology (OT) endpoint security. Following this milestone, the company marked record growth in the adoption of this solution across multiple geographies and verticals including the United States, Europe, and the Middle East with leading organizations in the chemicals and oil & gas industries, in particular.

A Fortune 50 independent petroleum refiner was challenged with increasing cybersecurity risks as they deployed connected technology to achieve faster and more efficient production operations. PAS Cyber Integrity was deployed as the foundation for the refiner’s OT cybersecurity program to create an automated, comprehensive, evergreen OT asset inventory and to more quickly identify and remediate security vulnerabilities. What used to take the company months to assess “critical” or “high” ICS-CERT vulnerabilities can now be done in minutes across all refineries.

A global, integrated oil & gas company operating across five continents is pursuing digital transformation to grow its business, enter new markets, and compete more effectively. Underpinning this initiative is a cloud-based analytics platform. The team chartered with this program sought to leverage their multi-vendor industrial control system (ICS) data and ensure reliable data flows from field-level devices to their data lake. They sought a platform-independent solution that could not only deliver this data, but also provide a topological view of assets and site connections, monitor configuration baselines, and manage change. Additionally, the company’s cybersecurity team sought a solution that could provide comprehensive OT asset inventory and rapid vulnerability assessment capabilities. PAS Automation Integrity and Cyber Integrity were selected to address these needs.

A major electronic materials firm with operations in North America and Asia sought to establish an enterprise-wide cybersecurity program on an aggressive schedule to eliminate gaps in visibility and security controls. Cyber Integrity was selected to automatically build a detailed OT asset inventory for each site, identify patch levels across systems, and implement change management workflows. The company now has the inventory and configuration visibility it needs to support digitalization efforts including data lake, 5G, and artificial intelligence initiatives.

“Industrial organizations are increasing investment in cybersecurity solutions specifically built for OT not only to reduce their overall cyber risk but to ensure they can accelerate their digital transformation efforts safely,” said Eddie Habibi, Founder and CEO of PAS. “We are pleased to be working with a growing list of global companies who are leveraging PAS Cyber Integrity to give them the foundation they need for managing industrial cyber risk.”

The company also saw significant year-over-year growth in purchases of its operations management and process safety solution, PlantState Suite.

“Of equal importance is the work we do to help companies improve process safety through effective operations management,” Habibi added. “We are pleased to have been recognized once again as the market leader for both alarm management and safety lifecycle management. This is a testament to the hard work of the PAS team over many years and the confidence our customers place in our solutions.”

PAS cybersecurity and process safety management solutions are installed in more than 70 countries in over 1,450 industrial facilities for over 535 customers, including 13 of the top 15 chemical companies, 13 of the top 15 refining companies, 7 of the top 20 power generation companies, 4 of the top 5 pulp and paper companies, and 3 of the top 5 mining companies in the world.

Schneider Electric Foxboro and Triconex Innovation Days 2019

Schneider Electric Foxboro and Triconex Innovation Days 2019

I’ve followed Foxboro and Triconex for many years now in my coverage of the process automation business. A great company that, not unlike too many others, suffered now and again with very poor management. The company has now settled in nicely at its home in Schneider Electric and appears to be healthy here.

Much credit must go to Gary Freburger. He provided a steadying hand as the leader before and through the transition, as well as guiding the integration into the new home. He is retiring at the end of the year. I’ve met a number of great leaders and a few stinkers in my 20 years at this side of the business. Gary’s one of the great ones. And his chosen successor (see more below) seems more than up for the task of building on his successes.

Marcotte Succeeds Freburger as Process Automation President

This week’s major announcement revealed that Nathalie Marcotte has been selected to succeed Freburger as president of its Process Automation business, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Nathalie Marcotte Official Picture  jpg

“After a long, successful industry career, including more than 15 years serving Invensys and Schneider Electric in various senior leadership roles, Gary has decided to retire,” said Peter Herweck, executive vice president, Industrial Automation business, Schneider Electric. “We thank him for his many contributions and his strong legacy of success. We wish him well, and I congratulate Nathalie on her appointment. She brings more than 30 years of industry knowledge, expertise and experience, as well as a long record of success. I look forward to working with her as we build on the success Gary has delivered.”

Since joining the Schneider organization in 1996, Marcotte has held several positions of increasing responsibility, including vice president of Global Performance and Consulting Services; vice president, North America marketing; general manager for the Canadian business; and, prior to her current position, vice president, marketing, Global Systems business. As the company’s current senior vice president, Industrial Automation Services, she is responsible for Schneider Electric’s Services business and offer development, ranging from product support to advanced operations and digital services. She is also responsible for the company’s Global Cybersecurity Services & Solutions business, including the Product Security Office.

“As we move through this transition, it will be business as usual for Schneider Electric and our Process Automation customers,” Marcotte said. “Gary and I are working very closely together to ensure there will be no disruptions to our day-to-day operations. This ensures our customers have the same access to the exceptional people, products and technology they have come to trust and rely on to improve the real-time safety, reliability, efficiency and profitability of their operations.”

“I thank Gary for his many contributions to Schneider Electric and to our industry in general. Under his leadership, our customers, partners and employees have never been better situated to succeed, today and tomorrow,” Marcotte said. “This transition will have no impact on our technology strategy and portfolio roadmap. We remain committed to our continuously-current philosophy, which means never leaving our customers behind. Now, by leveraging the strength of the full Schneider Electric offer, we can take the next step toward enabling an easier, less costly digital transformation for our customers, while keeping them on the path to a safer, more secure and profitable future.”

Following the opening keynotes, I had the opportunity to chat privately with Freburger and Marcotte. Following summarizes a few key takeaways.

Digitalization and Digital Transformation.

These topics were prominently displayed in the ballroom before the keynotes. In fact the welcome and opening presentation were given by Mike Martinez, Director of Digital Transformation Consulting. These are common themes in the industry—in fact, not only process automation, but also at the IT conferences I cover. Each company has its own unique take on the terms, but it still boils down to data, data integrity, databases, and data security. All of which were discussed.

Key Points From the Presidents.

Integration across Schneider Electric. One priority has been working with other business units (and their technologies) across the Schneider Electric portfolio. This could be PLCs and drives, but power is a huge emphasis. Schneider Electric management wants very much for its process automation acquisition to integrate well with its historic electric power business. This is seen as a strategic opportunity. One thought-provoking observation—is the process engineer/electrical engineer divide as serious as the IT/OT divide? No direct answer. But these domains have historically had little to no collaboration. One to watch.

Close working relationship with AVEVA. If you recall, Schneider Electric bundled its various software acquisitions including the ones from Invensys (Wonderware, Avantis) and used them to buy into AVEVA—the engineering software company. Bringing automation and software together was a constant source of pain for Invensys. Schneider Electric dealt with it through a separate company. Along the way, cooperation seems to be better than ever. Marcotte explained to me that Foxboro combines its domain expertise with the more broadly general software platforms to achieve customer values. See for example my previous post on Plant Performance Advisors Suite.

Cybersecurity.  Marcotte has been leading Schneider’s cybersecurity efforts. These are seen as a key part of Schneider Electric’s offer. See especially the establishment of the ISA Global Cybersecurity Alliance. They don’t talk as much about Internet of Things as at other conferences, when I probed more deeply about IT, cybersecurity was again brought up as the key IT/OT collaboration driver.

It’s been a struggle, but the Schneider Electric process automation business (Foxboro and Triconex) seems as strong as ever. And the people here—both internal and customers—are optimistic and energetic. That’s good to see.