Analysis: Processors living with variability


During a recent visit to Control Engineering’s offices, Jack Bolick, president of Honeywell Process Solutions had a few minutes to record a podcast with our editorial director, Marc Moschetto. While the whole podcast is interesting, Bolick made a particularly interesting point about a new set of problems that he sees process producers facing in all verticals. The two issues are unrelated, but they compound to make life more complicated.

First, he notes that producers are having to deal with higher levels of variability in raw materials and feedstocks. He says an obvious example of this is an oil refinery where many operators hardly know where the next shipment of crude is coming from, or what characteristics it will have. The same issue applies to many less visible industries, including pulp & paper where producers often don’t know what fibers in a given batch will be like due to changing waste streams.

Second, he notes that the nature of demand for finished products is changing with an ever growing range of variations of many products. Others have made similar observations citing food processing and pharmaceutical manufacturing as very visible examples. How many kinds of pain relievers or soft drinks are available today compared to 10 or 20 years ago?

Creating a wider range of high quality products with less predictable raw materials can certainly put a strain on producers, manufacturing systems, and automation platforms. There is little reason to expect that the situation will improve given the massive redistribution of resources and manufacturing throughout the world.

Needless to say, there is no single answer to this problem. The extent of either side depends on a given industry segment and processes involved. One thing is for sure: The role of manufacturing control and supporting automation will only become more critical. Producers that can’t respond and adjust will find themselves under increasing pressure and could ultimately collapse. This may force retirement of older automation platforms that do not feature the necessary versatility or support process optimization. When suppliers and customers are both causing stress, you need an automation platform that is capable of helping you cope, regardless of who supplies it.

Do you see these problems in your situation? Or, do you face a different set of problems? How are you coping with the rapidly changing manufacturing field? Send me an email (link below) and give me your opinion. I’d like to hear what you have to say.

Check out the complete catalog of Control Engineering podcasts.

—Peter Welander, process industries editor, ,
Control Engineering Weekly News

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Safety for 18 years, warehouse maintenance tips, Ethernet and the IIoT, GAMS 2016 recap
2016 Engineering Leaders Under 40; Future vision: Where is manufacturing headed?; Electrical distribution, redefined
Strategic outsourcing delivers efficiency; Sleeve bearing clearance; Causes of water hammer; Improve air quality; Maintenance safety; GAMS preview
SCADA at the junction, Managing risk through maintenance, Moving at the speed of data
Safety at every angle, Big Data's impact on operations, bridging the skills gap
The digital oilfield: Utilizing Big Data can yield big savings; Virtualization a real solution; Tracking SIS performance
Applying network redundancy; Overcoming loop tuning challenges; PID control and networks
Driving motor efficiency; Preventing arc flash in mission critical facilities; Integrating alternative power and existing electrical systems
Package boilers; Natural gas infrared heating; Thermal treasure; Standby generation; Natural gas supports green efforts

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role of plant safety and offers advice on best practices.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
This article collection contains several articles on strategic maintenance and understanding all the parts of your plant.
click me