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Siemens and Dow have created a testbed to help bring digital transformation to chemical process manufacturing. This testbed will allow frontline chemical process workers to help inform the development of digital twins for process manufacturing.
The two industrial system and chemical industry giants hope to inspire new approaches to applications and the digitization of workflows in an industry that may otherwise be left behind by the rapid pace of technology innovation.
The effort demonstrates how digital threads can be woven across processes. It will also make it easy for Dow’s digitalization team to bring in frontline workers from across their facility to glean ideas about identifying and implementing new digital twin-powered workflows, Siemens chemical industry manager Iiro Esko told VentureBeat.
He said the testbed effort is being orchestrated as part of MxD, a manufacturing incubator that allows manufacturers and technology providers to showcase innovative technologies.
Analog processes go digital
In most businesses, process automation refers to streamlining the handoffs between different digital workflows. But in the chemical industry, processes are typically built on top of analog methods and workflows that have remained relatively untouched for the last 30 years.
In the industrial context, process automation characterizes most products produced in a continuous stream, instead of in individual units. This includes basic chemicals, plastics, pesticides, fertilizers, medicine, soaps, paper, and beverages.
The testbed is intended to demonstrate ways to improve factory control and integrated modular automation and to adopt augmented reality and digital twins for quicker access to safety manuals, maintenance forms, and other resources to boost productivity. Some methods also have uses in R&D and compliance.
To prove out methods, the testbed incorporates a variety of state-of-the-art industrial IoT hardware. This includes sensors; automation controllers; networking, power distribution, and power monitoring equipment; and drives and motors.
Birthing new digital twins
The Siemens/Dow testbed is a big part of Siemens’ strategy for promoting digital twins across industries. The company has dedicated significant investment in coordinating digital twins efforts across industries as diverse as aerospace, electronics, transportation, manufacturing, and medicine.
Digital twin uptake may lag unless the value of digital twins is demonstrated in a way that shows how companies can use digital threads to connect previously disconnected workflows. Today, many of these use cases are conceptual prototypes, but testbeds that demonstrate some basic workflows to frontline workers could open ongoing opportunities for improvement down the road.
Dow frontline workers will visit MxD to see for themselves which elements of a digital twin deliver the most value, according to Esko.
“We’re talking about field technicians, site engineers, third-party service providers, maintenance managers, reliability engineers, process automation groups, process operators, and plant managers,” he said.
Siemens’ manufacturing testbed work suggests a strategy for inspiring digital transformation beyond IT into a wider range of industries and real-world processes. In some ways, this follows in the footsteps of the Centers of Excellence (COE) concept companies have been implementing to drive digital process automation technologies such as RPA and process mining. In these cases, companies coordinate activities through a single center that helps showcase success to inspire other use cases across the company.
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