Digital transformation in the process industry
Speed as the key to success
Industry is in the midst of the digital transformation. The most important thing at the moment is to ensure that it’s implemented swiftly. Eckard Eberle, CEO of Siemens Process Automation, explains how Siemens can offer specific support to businesses right now.
Mr. Eberle, what are the current trends in the process industry?
Eckard Eberle: It’s been clear for some time that the digital transformation is the only way forward. Businesses in the process industries are now employing digital solutions at all stages of their expansion. The degree of digitalization in each case differs significantly, depending on the size of the company, the market, and the technologies used. In the current phase of the transformation, however, one factor is of increasing importance for every business: the speed at which digital solutions can be deployed.
That’s also reflected in the theme adopted by Siemens for this year’s ACHEMA: “Accelerate the digital transformation.”
Exactly. Using the Digital Enterprise throughout the entire life cycle ensures that technological conditions are met, from integrated engineering to integrated operation to data-driven services. In specific terms, that means that more flexibility, shorter times to market, greater efficiency, and better production, process, and plant quality can be achieved at every point in the value chain using end-to-end digital solutions.
How can Siemens provide its customers with specific support in this area?
We ensure future viability thanks to new technology concepts based on industry standards. One example is modular plant construction, which allows machine manufacturers and plant operators to be more flexible in the future. Our Simatic PCS 7 process control system is already supporting modular automation concepts using module type package (MTP). And our Comos engineering software has been offering a large number of functions to support modular plant construction for some time now.
But our portfolio is capable of even more: An example in the area of drive technology is the innovative Sidrive IQ. By using this digital platform for the entire drive train, it’s possible to evaluate and use drive data in our open, cloud-based IoT operating system MindSphere. This is only one example of many digital applications that we make available to our customers to optimize their plants. Other apps can reduce valve maintenance costs and effort, for example, or can increase transparency by evaluating control loops using data directly from the process control system.
More flexibility in production: Doesn’t that mean that existing processes and system architectures need to be made more and more open?
Yes, and that’s why our commitment in the areas of norms and standardization is also important to ensure system openness on a lasting basis. The User Association of Automation Technology in Process Industries (NAMUR), for example, operates a new standard for data transmission with its Namur Open Architecture (NOA). It enables all relevant data to be fed directly into the cloud, from the field level to the management level. You could say that our products and systems – from the Simatic Net portfolio to MindSphere – are designed to get the most out of the potential offered by this new standard and to create new opportunities for our customers.
In your view, what impact will these changes have on existing company structures?
It’s becoming more and more important to look at the entire value chain, because it impacts everyone, from suppliers to end customers. The subject of connectivity will play an important role in this area. It includes both horizontal and vertical integration within a company as well as networking with other business locations and partners. The traditional value chain is turning into a value-added network.
Of course, it’s essential to ensure that data transmission for industrial applications and infrastructures remains secure. Our portfolio of industrial security solutions offers protection from current and future cyber threats.
What will the essential factors be in the future for dealing with faster and faster developments in the area of digitalization?
In the future, we’ll place greater emphasis on partnerships, like our current arrangement with Process Systems Enterprise (PSE), a company based in the UK. We work with PSE to bring technologies for advanced process modeling together with our expertise in simulation. The result is a thorough understanding of processes right in the control room. We’re striving to build our technologies on a foundation of partnership.
And that also applies to the development of cloud-based applications using the process of co-creation. For example, we are developing an app, or more specifically a “minimum viable product (MVP), together with a selected customer. This is an initial product that covers specific customer requirements at low cost. And it is ideally suited to quickly testing ideas and rapidly driving innovations. The keyword here is agility. As you can see, this takes us full circle: speed will determine the success of the digital transformation.