Sponsored by
Sponsored by

COVID-19 & the Future of Autonomous Operations

COVID-19 & the Future of Autonomous Operations

COVID-19 & the Future of Autonomous Operations

It is clear that there will be no return to “normal” in the wake of COVID-19. In order to ensure worker safety while also maintaining operations, manufacturers have been forced to shift to remote processes wherever possible. Companies have therefore begun investigating, piloting, and expanding industrial autonomy in their operations. Whether these are small or large applications, the result is an unprecedented wave of industrial autonomy, which is providing the manufacturing industry with the capabilities necessary to both withstand the pressures of the current crisis and thrive in the post-COVID future.
“Industrial Autonomy: Plant assets and operations have learning and adaptive capabilities that allow responses with minimal human interaction, empowering operators to perform higher-level optimization tasks..”
“Industrial Autonomy: Plant assets and operations have learning and adaptive capabilities that allow responses with minimal human interaction, empowering operators to perform higher-level optimization tasks.”

IA2IA

IA2IA

(Industrial Automation to Industrial Autonomy)
(Industrial Automation to Industrial Autonomy)
(Industrial Automation to Industrial Autonomy)

IA2IA

IA2IA

(Industrial Automation to Industrial Autonomy)
(Industrial Automation to Industrial Autonomy)
Yokogawa Electric Corporation is a well-established provider of Industrial Automation and Test and Measurement technologies. Furthermore, Yokogawa is championing the transition from industrial automation to industrial autonomy and has announced “IA2IA” as a new direction in the control business. Choose from the options below to learn more about IA2IA.

Yokogawa Electric Corporation is a well-established provider of Industrial Automation and Test and Measurement technologies. Furthermore, Yokogawa is championing the transition from industrial automation to industrial autonomy and has announced “IA2IA” as a new direction in the control business. Choose from options below to learn more about IA2IA.

 

IA2IA – The Gateway to a Fully Autonomous Future

Imagine you are walking through the factory floor of the future. The first thing you notice is the pristine condition of the space, and the elegantly orchestrated movements of the machines around you. You can see that not only are products being rapidly and precisely built, but that the machines themselves are also working together to adapt and make changes customizing each product seamlessly as if each were built for just one unique customer. You are interrupted gently by a robot looking to pass by you. As you step aside, that robot moves to the line to replace a worn machine with a brand-new replacement, stopping the line for only a minute or two to make the swap.

You pull out your smartphone or tablet and find a series of reports waiting for you. One report shows how the plant is operating, including productivity levels, tolerances, material usage, supply chain health and product demand forecasts. The other report shows how the advanced algorithms have been able to consistently generate efficiency and quality gains, and how those gains have converted to more profitability, agility and satisfied customers. The final report is one indicating suggestions that would allow for breakthrough performance, new technology recommendations, fundamental product redesign suggestions, and plans for how to make the plant more resilient to environmental, societal, and cyber events and anomalies. 

When anything like this kind of future is presented, it can sound like fantasy. But converting fantasy to reality starts by naming the future, much like when the Internet of Things (IoT) and digital transformation were new concepts. The good news is when it comes to autonomous operations illustrated in the story above, more progress has been made than you might think. Yokogawa has been working on the vision, strategy, and pragmatic development and application and proving of these ideas for years. They have even coined a global standard for it called IA2IA. 

Back
What Is IA2IA?

The moniker is the first, if not only, attempt to articulate the importance of moving toward true autonomous operations — especially in a post-pandemic world — and what moving toward that really means. Yokogawa suggest it is imperative that we recognize that current conditions and future uncertainty require us to introduce more autonomy into the processes required for the making of essential goods and breakthrough discoveries. For humanity to be more successful exploring the newest frontier — and to become more resilient to unforeseen circumstances — we need to appreciate the spatial, temporal, and cognitive distances that are out of the reach of human workers due to a variety of changing circumstances. As a couple of examples of this, consider the following. 

Modern cars are equipped with automatic decision brakes for this same reason: In critical situations, sensor-driven systems can interpret data and react to it faster than any human operator. This is a pragmatic example of the IA2IA evolution, and we believe that the number of similar needs will increase further in the future.

Another example, that even though it has to do with space, is very relevant to being able to operate at a distance right here on earth.

Because of the vast distance between Earth and Mars, it takes ~28 minutes to communicate back and forth, which makes real-time operation impossible. It is necessary for the equipment in the field to autonomously judge the situation and put thoughtful responses it into action. The situation requiring such autonomy is not limited to Mars. 


To get more involved in elevating the concept of autonomous operations and support for the IA2IA standard, visit www.yokogawa.com/special/ia2ia/


Back

Benefits of Autonomous Operations

Improves Productivity & Efficiency
Ensures Worker Safety
Improves Product Quality
Reduces Facility Operating Costs
Allows for Remote Operation

COVID-19 and Manufacturing

In most manufacturing sectors, widespread use of fully autonomous systems — which operate with minimal to no human interaction — seemed like a breakthrough still far out in the distant future. And then COVID-19 happened. As manufacturers race to redefine processes and build new systems that operate remotely to keep their workers safe and healthy while maintaining output and operational efficiency, they are looking at cutting-edge technologies that are making unmanned and industrial autonomy a reality. In this sense, the pandemic has acted as a powerful catalyst to pull us closer to that fully autonomous future that many never expected.
Safety has always been a top priority for manufacturers, and COVID-19 has only worked to emphasize the importance of maintaining the well-being of workers. Social distancing guidelines have forced an immediate realization of the need for autonomous solutions that allow workers to operate remotely. For certain companies, social distancing guidelines require most processes, including maintenance, service, and general operations to be performed remotely or with minimal human intervention.
Certain aspects of developing autonomous systems that were expected to take years to accomplish have taken place over only a few months. In a recent survey* carried out by Yokogawa and Omdia, a majority of many manufacturing companies have indicated they will increase their investments in autonomous operations in the next three years, and 80% of companies indicated that they expect to achieve fully autonomous operations within the next 10 years. COVID-19 has also directly impacted what specific aspects of industrial autonomy companies are looking to invest in. Post-COVID-19, companies prioritized investments in the areas of worker safety, remote servicing, and remote operations applications more than they did pre-COVID-19. Additionally, more companies are looking to remove workers from hazardous working environments and are future-proofing in preparation for future pandemics, an invitation for industrial autonomy technologies and investments.
*Source: Yokogawa Electric Corporation (2020) - The Outlook for the Shift to Industrial Autonomy
“Changes that had been expected to take a few years may actually occur in just a few months, and progress in the direction of autonomous operations is expected to accelerate.” 
Although the industry was already heading towards autonomous operations, COVID-19 has drastically shifted perspectives on how quickly an autonomous future will become a reality. Although there is still a lot to learn about what fully autonomous operations will look like, it is hard to deny how quickly these systems will become our new normal. Now is the time for manufacturers to invest in expanding autonomous systems in their own companies, embracing what is soon to come. 
Although the industry was already heading towards autonomous operations, COVID-19 has drastically shifted perspectives on how quickly an autonomous future will become a reality. Although there is still a lot to learn about what fully autonomous operations will look like, it is hard to deny how quickly these systems will become our new normal. Now is the time for manufacturers to invest in expanding autonomous systems in their own companies, embracing what is soon to come.

What characteristics have allowed certain manufacturers to fare better during COVID-19?

In times of volatility and crisis, there are certain characteristics that help some manufacturers navigate better than others. For example, companies that have prioritized flexibility in their manufacturing processes can quickly adjust to meet changing demand, which is especially important during COVID-19. For example, we have seen several companies across the industry who traditionally produce ethanol alter production to make hand sanitizer to help meet rocketing demand for it. That is no easy transition for any company to make and one that demands extreme process flexibility and business agility. 
In times of volatility and crisis, there are certain characteristics that help some manufacturers navigate better than others. For example, companies that have prioritized flexibility in their manufacturing processes can quickly adjust to meet changing demand, which is especially important during COVID-19. For example, we have seen several companies across the industry who traditionally produce ethanol alter production to make hand sanitizer to help meet rocketing demand for it. That is no easy transition for any company to make and one that demands extreme process flexibility and business agility.
Companies that have gone above and beyond in ensuring worker safety during COVID-19 have invested in expanding mobile and remote monitoring and processes. Achieving higher levels of automation allows manufacturers to continue operations while maintaining social distancing guidelines in the best interest of their workers. Throughout this process, it is also imperative to have a leadership team that is open and excited about implementing new technologies. Teams that have operated under the same conditions and are more rigid will not be flexible enough to stay ahead in expanding automation. Additionally, as information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) converge, an increased collaboration between both will benefit companies greatly.
Because the need for raw materials and spare parts is unwavering, companies who have worked to develop strong relationships with their suppliers tend to fare better during times of volatility like COVID-19. Those with a digitalization of operations and supply chain will also have an advantage, as it allows for more flexibility and resiliency in the face of change. 
Because the need for raw materials and spare parts is unwavering, companies who have worked to develop strong relationships with their suppliers tend to fare better during times of volatility like COVID-19. Those with a digitalization of operations and supply chain will also have an advantage, as it allows for more flexibility and resiliency in the face of change.
Beyond just having better systems and supply-chain insights, the real path to responsiveness and resiliency in the face of change is about a mindset and commitment to operational excellence across all aspects of the business. An operational excellence mindset is required to make progress toward the promise of autonomous operations because it requires a holistic approach that addresses all challenges simultaneously. Not only does this eliminate duplicate or conflicting effort, it assures an optimum outcome.

Journey to Autonomous Operations

How to Get Started

For existing facilities and operations 

Adoption will most likely occur in a step-by-step fashion.

 

Identify the specific tasks or functions that could benefit most from industrial autonomy. Look for remote field activities and repetitive, hazardous, and difficult or error prone tasks. Also consider ways where autonomy can assist and augment human decision-making in important areas like safety, productivity, etc. 
 
Implement “autonomous components” that accomplish the specific task or individual function identified in the first step. For example, the autonomous component could be in the form of an AI algorithm that learns to manipulate process variables by opening or closing valves.

Combine and coordinate multiple autonomous components to achieve higher levels of autonomy. Moving from the semi-autonomous level to the autonomous orchestration level will enable autonomy to expand to other functions like asset management, predictive maintenance, and value chain optimization.
 
Encourage employees to work alongside autonomous components and systems.
“Yokogawa provides world class products and solutions that predict impending equipment and process faults, identifies root cause, and predicts product quality.”

For new facilities and operations 

Operations can be designed with minimal to zero manual tasks right from the start.


Optimize process and equipment reliability by including additional sensors and analytics to monitor equipment and process conditions to predict anomalies.
Design tasks and access for robots that perform: taking samples, turning values, pushing buttons, performing inspection, conducting surveillance, doing leak detection, implementing repairs, etc.
Design tasks for drones that need clear flight paths and unobstructed views.
Simplify processes by streamlining designs, reducing process steps, and eliminating complexity which might cause unwanted issues.
Design for higher reliability and condition monitoring by eliminating overly complex processes and equipment prone to failure.
Design remote integrated operation centers that provide multidisciplinary staff with greater collaboration capability and situation awareness (AOG).

Roadblocks

Outdated Technology
Current Regulation
Failing to Review ROI
Workforce Skill Set
Outdated Facilities

Outdated Technology

Manufacturers that insist on using only established technologies will find it difficult to make the rapid headway that emerging technologies allow for.
 
Outdated Technology
Current Regulation
Failing to Review ROI
Workforce Skill Set
Outdated Facilities

Current Regulation

Current regulations can limit options when it comes to manufacturing processes and technologies especially in sectors like the pharmaceutical industry.
 
Outdated Technology
Current Regulation
Failing to Review ROI
Workforce Skill Set
Outdated Facilities

Failing to Review ROI

The tendency to go into full-scale implementation before proving ROI. Start small, prove the benefit, scale up carefully until full implementation is a clear benefit.
 
Outdated Technology
Current Regulation
Failing to Review ROI
Workforce Skill Set
Outdated Facilities

Workforce Skill Set

The nature of work and the skills of the workforce will need to shift to higher value-add activities, requiring leadership to invest in training, and ongoing support.
 
Outdated Technology
Current Regulation
Failing to Review ROI
Workforce Skill Set
Outdated Facilities

Outdated Facilities

Older facilities with more antiquated equipment, infrastructure and processes will find the journey much more difficult than new organizations starting with a clean slate.
 

Core Technologies That Enable Autonomous Operations

Artificial Intelligence
Robotics
Cloud Computing
Data Analytics
(real-time & predictive)
Remote Monitoring & Control
5G Smart Sensors
Cyber Security
Reliability Solutions

What Role Must Humans Play in the Development of Autonomous Operations?

In order for industrial autonomy to continue to expand in manufacturing, people obviously will play a critical role. Initially, it will be imperative that those knowledgeable in skills and experience focus on digitizing their knowledge. Doing so allows for this knowledge to become an accessible and reusable asset in the process of designing and building an autonomous infrastructure. It is also important to note that the full expression of autonomous operations are largely new to us, and research and collection and application of experiential data is necessary to continue expansion and implementation.
At the beginning of the transition, people will need to work alongside autonomous systems as they are being developed to ensure the systems are working correctly. This would likely occur in three phases; first, with use of a digital twin, people can create and experiment with the autonomous technology in a low risk fashion. Once the technology is developed enough, it will then move to an “advisor” role, giving recommendations to a human operator. Once the autonomous system is perfected, the final phase would include having the system act as the operator, and intervention by people is the only rare/scheduled exception to its ability to work autonomously.

Conclusion

COVID-19 has allowed manufacturers to experience the potential of a fully autonomous future. The need to keep workers safe in the face of this pandemic has forced companies to expand what is done remotely, changing perspectives on how quickly processes can be turned to operate with minimal human contact. The possibilities and benefits that come with autonomous operations have become even clearer, and COVID-19 has acted as the catalyst. COVID-19 requires companies to make courageous decisions in the name of keeping their workers healthy while producing products efficiently and, as a result, manufacturers have the potential to face future challenges with a new resilience.

Additional Resources

The Path to Autonomous Operations Infographic
Learn how your company can embark on the journey toward a fully autonomous future.
Download Infographic
Autonomous Operations Video
Learn about Autonomous Operations, and how they can benefit your organization.
Download