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 2013 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...
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Raising the standard: What's new with NFPA 70E; A global view of manufacturing; Maintenance data; Fit bearings properly
Sister act: Building on their father's legacy, a new generation moves Bales Metal Surface Solutions forward; Meet the 2015 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Pipeline vulnerabilities? Securing hydrocarbon transit; Predictive analytics hit the mainstream; Dirty pipelines decrease flow, production—pig your line; Ensuring pipeline physical and cyber security
Upgrading secondary control systems; Keeping enclosures conditioned; Diagnostics increase equipment uptime; Mechatronics simplifies machine design
Designing positive-energy buildings; Ensuring power quality; Complying with NFPA 110; Minimizing arc flash hazards
Building high availability into industrial computers; Of key metrics and myth busting; The truth about five common VFD myths

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

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.