For years now businesses like utilities and manufacturing plants have struggled with the challenge of retirement age workers who are leaving and not being replaced. As they depart, they take their institutional knowledge with them and their organizations are left behind scrambling to fill the gap.
At the same time, millennials have graduated from schools all over the world. For many, the idea of working at a utility or in a factory never enters their minds. Working at an internet start-up? Great! Studying exoplanets in a laboratory with a telescope in Chile? Cool! Working for a manufacturer of belt buckles or at a power plant? Not even a consideration. This appears to be a desperate situation for manufacturers and utilities who need an influx of younger, skilled individuals.
Fortunately, technology has come to the rescue in the form of both groundbreaking analysis software and a growing “internet of things” revolution. Let’s explain a little. Over the last several years, the cost of connected sensors has plummeted, allowing companies to accelerate their digitization programs and leverage a highly mobile work force. Smart devices like programmable logic controllers (PLCs) gather process data and send it up to the cloud for analysis. This evolution / revolution has been dubbed the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) by the press. What it really means is connected sensors, control from the field, an astounding level of granularity to real-time data, and a robust network of connected devices.
In a factory setting these technology changes allow gains in operational efficiency that result in faster time to market. A typical 3-month project could be shortened by as much as three weeks and up to 30% in energy savings can be achieved.
How does this happen? Users can manage process, instrumentation, and power data in real time to improve production control while optimizing energy consumption. Operational intelligence and analytics also provide key performance enhancement capabilities.
But these gains don’t happen automatically. On the energy management side, the process application must first be audited and measured in order to establish a baseline and identify areas for improvement around energy consumption. Experts install the devices needed to record and measure energy usage. Processes are then optimized using automation devices such as AC drives and controllers and are continuously monitored using software tools to sustain the improvements.
What do all of these new tools mean to millennials? It means that, more than ever, many important utility and factory processes can be run from a laptop, a tablet, or even a cell phone. These are tools that millennials are quite comfortable with.
The look of a spreadsheet need no longer make them feel queasy. Cumbersome spreadsheets are now converted into powerful, Web-based, interactive, user-friendly platforms. In the apparel and footwear industry, for example, you get 3-D views of the dresses, pants and shoes before they ever make it off of the assembly line. At an oil and gas distribution center, a 3D view of the pipeline network lets you see where a leak could happen, if service isn’t performed within the next 3 months. In factories across the globe, Operator Training Simulators (OTS) are utilized as advanced training tools that provide young operators the skills they need to run a process or plant. Operators learn how to manage a refinery in a safe virtual control room that simulates plant responses to different scenarios. This provides trainees the opportunity to learn how to react appropriately when a similar situation occurs in the actual plant.
The new generation of technology is geared towards solving a puzzle or navigating through a “maze” of sorts. Many millennials have been honing these types of skills for years as they have spent countless hours devising solutions to managing SIMs games or catching bad guys in sophisticated video games. Like the other generations of workers before them, millennials like to do what they’re good at.
Although user interfaces may be simple and intuitive, they mask some complex processes that represent the fundamental core of utility or manufacturing operations.
The business value that is generated includes lower capital costs and improved plant design—giving the organization the opportunity of “getting it right the first time”. Behind the scenes are design checkout control systems for Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), Emergency Shutdown Systems (ESDs) and Distributed Control Systems (DCSs), all working together to optimize the production process.
Millennials are much more attuned to the health of the planet compared to their parents and grandparents. They realize that the planet is theirs to inherit and are more focused on creating a better world. New energy management solutions that leverage the power of IoT and all the connected smart control devices will allow utility and plant operators to save much more energy and to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 30%. These new technologies will also help to make plants safer by optimizing burner management systems, fire and gas safety systems, and digital turbine control of power generating plants. Plants will be made safer and more profitable through the new wave of process improvement tools.
Today, forwarding looking plants and utilities that invest in software-based advanced control automation solutions shout out the message “we’re not your father’s factory!” And millennials are prepared to respond.
For related information, click on any of the links below:
[White paper series] Preparing for the IIoT, exploring the impact
To learn more about IIoT-ready products such as the M580 range of PLCs with built-in HTML5 mobile-friendly technology, visit: For information on the powerful M580 ePAC