Energy, info make the world go ‘round and ‘round
The men and women who are “powering and digitalizing the global economy are engaged in a noble mission,” said Jean-Pascal Tricoire, chairman & CEO, Schneider Electric. “Energy is a fundamental human right and connectivity is the foundation of a decent life in the 21st century.”
Tricoire spoke at Schneider’s Digital Innovation Summit held mid-November at the Hilton Atlanta. In North America, Schneider includes 30,000 employees at 250 sites and accounts for 29% of the company’s global revenues, which in 2017 were $30 billion.
Schneider solutions straddle energy management and industrial automation. Primary drivers of the tremendous change both are undergoing, Tricoire said, include the usual suspects: Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the cloud, and analytics. “By 2030, IT will be the single greatest source of global energy demand,” he said.
Technologically speaking, event discussions were dominated by Schneider Electric EcoStruxure, an architecture or platform for digital transformation that includes connected products, edge control, and applications and analytics. However, “Products are not enough,” Tricoire said. “Expert services are needed. We have a community of 20,000 software engineers assigned to industries.” The primacy of services provision is become a dominant theme in the industrial internet age.
Just in from Houston
Specific to the oil & gas industry, Doug Kushnerick, senior scientific advisor, Exxon Mobil Research & Engineering, spoke at the event on that company’s on-going digitalization efforts and its long-standing partnership with Schneider.
“Global energy needs will increase 25% by 2040. It is a tough challenge to lift people in the developing world into the middle class,” he said.
Digitalization in the oil & gas industry has been underway for decades, Kushnerick said. About 15 years ago introduction of process-equipment digital twins and chemical-process modeling delivered benefits quantified in the hundreds of millions of dollars. A number can’t yet be put on the benefits following from the layer of infrastructure and applications being installed today, but the expectation is of greater speed in analysis and decision making.
“Some projects pay out very fast. Others may be painfully slow, but we need to make the infrastructure investment,” Kushnerick said.
A voice of reason
Later in the day, Kushnerick participated in a panel on industrial automation moderated by Robert Sloan, a research director from The Wall Street Journal.
“Connectivity increases calculation intensity,” Kushnerick said. “The connection of people in the field to the data around them empowers them to make decisions.”
Of primary interest, Kushnerick said, is the opportunity to look across an entire fleet of assets to derive benchmarks across facilities for insights into production machines and units.
The potential role of artificial intelligence remains a $64,000 question. “My impression is we’re still on the cusp with that. What we do see is [the efficacy of] advanced machine learning and modeling,” Kushnerick said. “Some AI is very good but integrating that into decision making is still a challenge. When someone shows us a new product and says, ‘There are five AIs in there.’ We say, ‘What do you mean by that?’”
A further important frontier is the opportunity to increase safety, through wearables and augmented reality, for example, Kushnerick said. Finally, “Many current projects are software projects disguised as hardware projects. That’s what’s changing the workforce.”
Kevin Parker, senior contributing editor, Oil & Gas Engineering, CFE Media, firstname.lastname@example.org.