The Disruption Myth: Digital Trends in the Process Industry

The Internet of Things (IoT) is part of everyday life and artificial intelligence (AI) is on the rise. But is the digital transformation of the process industry equally disruptive? Learn more out what developments you should be aware of.

By 2022, more than 50 billion devices and sensors will be connected via the IoT globally. Existing systems, technologies, and processes will be revamped or replaced by new ones. Uber has turned the taxi industry on its head, despite without owning a single taxi. We buy all kinds of products from Amazon with just a few clicks. Google Maps guides us to our destination if we don’t know the way. And, via social media such as Facebook, we are connected with friends.

Enormous amounts of data, known as big data, is processed automatically. An Uber driver’s private cab can be ordered quickly via an app and paid for using stored credit card details. Amazon can generate product recommendations based on our shopping behavior. Google Maps can inform us if we should avoid certain routes because of heavy traffic. And on Facebook, a news feed is built around our interests and searched terms.

It’s all very convenient, but there is a downside. We are increasingly losing control of our data. Data breaches and scandals regularly show us that user data is not sufficiently protected.

Will Digital Disruption in Industrial Environments Follow?

In industry, security gaps and a loss of control over data, or even systems and processes can have fatal consequences. First of all, the economic damage caused by data leaks is immense. Secondly, in critical infrastructures such as the in the process industry, it is important to protect the people, the environment, and the plants. In this environment, digital transformation is not as disruptive as we are used to in everyday life. Nevertheless, disruptive technologies influence industry, while presenting huge potential. However, the necessary foundations for widespread digitization of automation technologies, safety systems, and the use of disruptive technologies are still being established for the process industry.

Trend One: Ethernet down to the Field Level

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is one of the most important technologies for Industry 4.0. It is intended to enable continuous and fast data communication over long distances – from field level to mobile devices and cloud applications. Signal types currently used in the process industry only achieve this to a certain extent. An advanced physical layer (APL) serves as an Ethernet standard for field devices with a view to form a comprehensive communication infrastructure. Isolated systems can be integrated and, most importantly, become more networked in the future – enabling them to transmit large amounts of process data. This forms the basis for new digital applications in the field, such as predictive maintenance, which can prevent unplanned downtime. By using sensors and analyzing big data, abnormalities or inconsistencies from what is expected can be detected at an early stage. Software will then predict the economically optimal time to perform maintenance work.

“Disruptive technologies have the potential to shape the industrial environment. However, the focus must always be on security.”
Ivo Hanspach,
Director of Product Management – Safety Systems, HIMA

Trend Two: Secure Technology for the Digital Future

Digitization in the field level makes devices more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Only with further developments in cybersecurity and automation security can systems be digitized and networked securely. A HIMax security controller, for example, provides the necessary protection for field devices. The HART communication module allows you to integrate devices into the control system, as well as centrally into an asset management system (AMS). The data being communicated is monitored and security isn’t compromised. The HIMax firewall protects against security-critical hacking attempts.

Model-based security solutions are becoming a trend. They allow process variables such as system pressure, inlet, and temperature to be controlled flexibly. As process variables reach their limits, they are adapted to suit current process conditions – unlike conventional systems, which would shut down as a result. Plant productivity is more dynamic and complete process reliability and availability are maintained.

Trend Three: Minimizing Safety Technology

As systems become more interconnected, security risks grow and there is a greater need to protect applications. Microprocessors facilitate further security functions where maximum security is required, but pace is minimal. HIMA’s chip-based safety systems can be flexibly integrated into sensors and actuators – for safe fieldbuses and drives. Thanks to the chips’ extended temperature range, they can also be used in environments of up to 80 degrees and, as a result, help you to achieve decentralized automation technology directly in the field.

Gradual Development Rather Than Disruption

Transformation of the process industry tends to be less disruptive than in other industries. But incremental steps also mean that plant operators have to deal with new requirements regarding networking and safety. This article explains which capabilities are in demand now and in the future.