How one company is using remote operation technology at its specialty additive plant
IPP&T magazine’s editor Don Horne sat down – from a safe distance – with Jason Urso, CTO at Honeywell Process Solutions, to learn how they are successfully operating under the “new normal” of COVID-19.
IPP&T: COVID-19; many businesses have either closed down or drastically cut back, and those that remain operating are struggling to make do with social distancing and the new protocols of ensuring the pandemic doesn’t become worse.
Honeywell is using a form of remote operation technology at one of its specialty additives plants – can you walk us through how that is working?
Jason Urso: Yes, absolutely. There are many new challenges with operating industrial facilities during the pandemic in light of local distancing requirements, HSE protocols, and instances where the facility might require a temporary quarantine.
Early in the crisis, the Honeywell Process Solutions team explored methods to extend our technology to help our customers maintain business continuity while operating safely.
We focused initially on remote operations to assist with sites that were required to reduce staffing. By extending the capability of Honeywell technology, we quickly demonstrated that our Experion control system could enable remote operations in a way that is completely cybersecure. This capability opened the door for customers to operate with lower staffing onsite and augment that staffing with remote support using Honeywell Experion Remote Operations software.
Since Honeywell is also an operator of chemical plants, we had an immediate opportunity to deploy and test the new technology at the Honeywell Orange site – a manufacturing facility of low-density polyethylene in Texas. We were able to deploy Experion Remote Operations quickly with a simple download of software. With the new technology-enabled, the Orange facility was able to provide remote operations support from our other industrial facilities, from administration offices, and even enabling some employees to monitor operations from home.
With the successful Orange deployment in March, we quickly rolled out the capabilities to our global customers.
Look for this article featured in the June online issue of IPP&T magazine
IPP&T: The way we are doing business now is called the “new normal.” What happens if this “new normal” takes a turn for the worse for businesses?
Urso: Regardless of how we define a “new normal,” this experience will result in faster adoption of existing technology and will inspire completely comprehensive innovations we previously hadn’t considered. As we deploy new methods to operate remotely, service equipment remotely, and to execute projects remotely, we are experiencing an inflection point in industrial digital transformation. This inflection point is triggered out of necessity but will provide long term benefit by learning new methods to operate more efficiently while also improving upon safety.
IPP&T: What are some critical steps that manufacturing companies can take right now to protect their businesses and their employees?
Urso: Of course, it is fundamental to assure employees are working in a safe environment and complying with all local regulations.
Next, industrial corporations are familiar with detailed risk assessments associated with safety-critical processes. Apply those same risk assessment methods to evaluate operational risk associated with the crisis.
Finally, build a plan to mitigate the most critical risks associated with safety and business continuity.
As part of the mitigation steps, look for ways that technology can most effectively address a risk. We have found that the analysis often results in accelerating the digital transformation plans that were already in place.
We have also seen emphasis in the following areas:
- Remote Operations: Assure a remote operations capability is in place in the event rapid de-staffing is required as a site. Deploy and test the capability in advance of needing it. With the technology in place, explore how it can be used for improved efficiency and collaboration.
- Remote Service and Support: Augment existing staffing with support from suppliers to remotely monitor equipment – moving from more reactive to proactive support. By identifying issues proactively, it allows for better resource planning to address issues before they become critical.
- Remote Projects Execution: Use remote methods to execute projects. Leverage the power of cloud technology and digital twins to carry out project execution without requiring individuals to gather at the site and work directly on the physical equipment.
IPP&T: How about you? What have been some of the biggest surprises for you (working from home, Zoom meetings, etc.)?
Urso: I’m doing well and have been working from home since the restrictions went into place toward the end of March. Fortunately, Honeywell has been an early adopter of digital transformation technology which has allowed my organization and me to remain productive. We leverage a range of collaborative tools including video conferencing for communication, cloud computing for design/ development, and intelligent wearables for lab work.
While the tools and technologies are effective, we are looking forward to returning to the office and engaging our customers in person.