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Dynamic Innovators: 2023 Connected Plant 'Game Changers' 

Along with technology and process, this year’s Connected Plant Conference (CPC) spotlights the people driving digitalization, the holistic transformation of business models and operations into a more connected, data-driven, versatile, and efficient environment. The 7th annual conference, which took place June 25–28, 2023, in New Orleans, Louisiana, in an award ceremony, celebrated the achievements of several “Game Changers.” These digitalization champions have, “through insight and experience, contributed to innovation, solved problems, or made extraordinary improvements to industrial operations in the power and chemical process sectors,” said Matt Grant, vice president of the Access Intelligence Power & Chemical group, who unveiled the award winners on June 25.

From left to right: Andrew Tang, Wärtsilä; Penny Chen and Sandra Fabiano, Yokogawa; Patrick Oglesby, Albemarle; and Dr. Lenonid Lev and Barak Davidovich with Israel Electric Corp. Courtesy: Connected Plant Conference

Pioneering a Secure and Innovative Future for Power Technology

James Goosby, director of business technology, planning, and strategic initiatives at Southern Co., has for decades spearheaded innovation at the giant Atlanta-based energy company, which is renowned for prolifically pioneering technology. As a testament to his remarkable engineering background, extensive experience in power generation, and leadership acumen, Goosby was entrusted with leading the company’s newly established office of Business Technology Planning and Strategic Initiatives last year. In that role, he ensures Southern Co.’s technology integration adheres to a framework that guarantees predictable outcomes. He also chairs the company’s Operations Technology Leadership Team, which is vital in facilitating strategic business technology planning and implementation while prioritizing alignment with overall business objectives.

James Goosby is the director of business technology, planning, and strategic initiatives at Southern Co.

But Goosby’s influence extends beyond Southern Co. He recently assumed the role of executive-in-residence at the prestigious McCray Institute. This appointment places him in a strategic position to not only lead Southern Co. in cybersecurity and critical infrastructure security but also to assist other organizations in their technology adoption endeavors while addressing the crucial issue of cybersecurity. Goosby, whose unwavering dedication to ensuring the safe digitalization of processes and relentless efforts to safeguard critical infrastructure and prioritize cybersecurity “has been a true industry Game Changer,” Grant noted.

In an interview, Goosby told POWER that driving innovation is a multi-pronged effort requiring a holistic vision. Crucial first questions should, for example, be: “What are we trying to innovate around, and what is the driver for innovation?” he said. “And one of the things that we’ve experienced in regards to technology implementation is that we have not taken into consideration the organizational changes.” While technical solutions may solve problems, they may not effectively reach their intended audience or achieve desired outcomes if the impact on people and processes is overlooked, he suggested. Goosby also highlighted the significance of stakeholder involvement and education in implementing innovative ideas.

An Unwavering Effort to Modernize Energy Management

Fifteen years ago, industry observers first began hailing energy storage as a potential “holy grail” that could transform intermittent energy production into firm capacity, effectively kicking off a new trajectory for energy management. Andrew Tang, then involved in market development for Intel’s 4G technology, had already recognized the nascent industry opportunity. After successful efforts to lead Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s upgrade to digital wireless SmartMeters, Tang joined smart grid analytics firm AutoGrid, and then, in 2014, Greensmith Energy. Finnish firm Wärtsilä acquired Greensmith in 2017, and Tang currently serves as Wärtsilä’s vice president of Energy Storage and Optimization.

Tang has played a pivotal role in reshaping Wärtsilä’s energy storage business, which has achieved remarkable milestones over the past five years, including booking a record number of energy storage projects in 2022, surpassing the total of the previous 10 years combined. But one of Tang’s key achievements has been expanding Wärtsilä’s software applications, such as its GEMS Digital Energy Platform.

The GEMS Digital Energy Platform is now “a mature software platform that monitors, controls, and optimizes energy assets on both site and portfolio levels. Using machine learning, and historical and real-time data analytics, to optimize the asset mix, GEMS enables customers to remotely monitor, operate, identify, and diagnose equipment with unrivaled safety, reliability, and flexibility,” Grant noted. GEMS’ flexible architecture—dynamically adjusting based on market conditions—addresses a critical need for intelligent and adaptable software. In addition, addressing complex technical and economic factors, GEMS integrates and controls individual resources and entire fleets comprising energy storage, renewables, and thermal generation.

Dynamic Duo Trailblazing on Mobile Robotics Integration

Groundbreaking work spearheaded by Dr. Penny Chen, an International Society of Automation (ISA) fellow, who leads Yokogawa’s global mobile robotics initiative, and Sandra Fabiano, who leads the technology firm’s associated engineering research and development team, gave shape to the Yokogawa Robotics Integration (YoRoI) platform. Chen and Fabiano remarkably developed the platform through an innovative approach, which devised YoRoI as a unifying, open platform that could seamlessly integrate various mobile robots from different vendors. The platform allowed them to accommodate multiple models tailored to meet diverse customer requirements—from Boston Dynamics’ agile mobile robot Spot for indoor settings to the explosion-proof ExRobotics ExR for hazardous areas.

YoRoI “provides a common user interface, data storage for all vendor-robot data, and the ability to use in-house or third-party artificial intelligence (AI) services to integrate with Industrial Automation systems,” Yokogawa explained. “Developing AI helps to meet customer requirements such as distinguishing between safe and hazardous conditions, and detecting anomalies to bring a process back within spec. Without the accuracy of AI and consistent data capture by robots, the result would be a very expensive lost batch or even a shutdown of the entire facility.”

The team leveraged YoRoI to conduct demos and proof-of-concept testing with key customers. The success of recent PoCs (proof of concepts) catapulted the technology to a point where Yokogawa could offer robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) to customers. As industries increasingly explore autonomous operations and navigate workforce challenges, AI and mobile robots have emerged as game-changers, Grant noted. That’s especially important as a large portion of the workforce nears retirement, and companies are looking for solutions to enhance safety and operational efficiency as part of their environmental, social, and governance initiatives.

Fostering Reliable Decision-Making in the ‘Mill of the Future’

While International Paper Co.—the world’s largest pulp and paper company—has invested in many digital initiatives over the years, it hadn’t yet considered the quality of the data gathered and stored in its OSIsoft PI historians. “This data is used to optimize their processes from wood digestion through final paper production. The accuracy, consistency, and completeness of this PI data are needed to ensure decisions and models built on this data are reliable,” the company noted.

A team led by Allen Turner, head of Advanced Analytics, set out to transform how International Paper consumed and utilized process data as part of the company’s ambitious “Mill of the Future” initiative. Team members, including Tim Michaelson, Michele Davenport Fischer, Ian Ford, and George Brown, were determined to ensure the PI data’s accuracy, consistency, and completeness, which was pivotal in optimizing their paper production processes.

As pioneers in adopting APERIO DataWise, International Paper collaborated closely with the APERIO team—then a small, unknown start-up—and together, they directed the development of new functionalities, streamlining workflows, enhancing visualization features, and unlocking additional value through tag prioritization. The partnership enabled International Paper to scale its analysis to millions of live data streams, empowering them to automatically identify anomalies and their root causes while providing real-time remediation steps.

Today, the Advanced Analytics team remotely monitors data captured from its mills. It works directly with mill reliability teams to notify when there’s a deviation from a healthy operation, giving the mill time to react to avoid unplanned downtime and increased repair costs. “As an early adopter, the International Paper Advanced Analytics team took a huge risk partnering with a small, unknown start-up to identify, track, and fix their data quality issues, but their efforts really paid off,” Grant noted.

A Huge Leap for Knowledge Access

When Bayer, a multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology company, sought to document its historical knowledge, eschbach, a Boston-based management, communication, and intelligence software firm, proposed deploying its Shiftconnector enterprise platform. In a collaborative effort that began five years ago, a team comprising Lukas von Sperl, Daniel Däschle, Dr. Christian Matt, Veit Hora, Andreas Eschbach, Anastasia Zhukova, and Prof. Dr. Bela Gipp of Göttingen University in Germany joined forces with Bayer to develop and launch Shiftconnector’s groundbreaking “Smart Search.” This innovative search functionality, powered by AI, sought to address two critical challenges identified by Bayer: inefficient access to documented historical knowledge captured by Shiftconnector and incomplete entry items lacking comprehensive descriptions of problem-solving solutions in the production process.

Implementing this functionality led to significant improvements in plant performance, empowering teams to swiftly discover solutions based on the wealth of documented tribal knowledge amassed from plant operations. With the ability to retrieve the most relevant information in seconds, Smart Search expedited operations and equipped teams with the necessary tools to overcome disruptions by promptly identifying appropriate fixes. Moreover, the captured knowledge became a valuable resource in supporting workforce changes within the organization.

Eschbach noted that while the functionality was embraced by users—who accessed it multiple times daily—it also significantly reduced the time spent searching for information. Instead of minutes, users obtained results within seconds, streamlining their workflows and enhancing productivity, it added. In addition, the statistical analysis revealed that users now have access to all historical knowledge captured in Shiftconnector, spanning over eight years—as opposed to the previous limitation of records from just the last month. This comprehensive utilization of historical know-how empowered all users of Shiftconnector, ranging from shop-floor operators to process engineers, to use the valuable insights gathered in the production process, it said.

“The challenge for our customers was not only to gain more insight into the information collected on the plant floor but also to preserve that knowledge to recover from disruptions faster and to support workforce changes,” said Veit Hora, Eschbach Chief Operations Officer. “As we move forward into Industry 5.0 where the human element is in the forefront of its relationship to machine operations, using AI is a leap forward in gaining the information necessary to drive process efficiency, mitigate risk, and ensure regulatory compliance.”

Leveraging Digital Tools for Manufacturing Excellence

While global specialty chemicals firm Albemarle has long embarked on its digitalization journey, Patrick Oglesby, a senior Manufacturing Data Analytics Engineer, stands out for his exceptional engineering skills and innovative mindset. The company noted that Oglesby continuously seeks ways to leverage his computer programming expertise to automate manual tasks and develop novel capabilities and solutions that deliver immense value. His contributions have been instrumental in designing and building critical components of the Albemarle Intelligence infrastructure.

One notable achievement of Oglesby is his innovative approach to automating the mass generation of Event Frames and PI Analytics within the AVEVA PI Asset Framework system. This innovative solution streamlined processes and resulted in substantial cost savings for Albemarle, estimated to be in the millions of dollars. By eliminating the need for manual generation and implementing automated workflows, Oglesby’s work optimized efficiency and resource allocation. “Patrick’s contributions continue to support and add value to the Albemarle Intelligence program, which is generating estimated improvements in excess of $50 million annually,” Grant noted.

Establishing a Critical Cyber-Testing Zone

Operating in a challenging geopolitical environment, the Israel Electric Corp. (IEC)—Israel’s sole power supplier—is the country’s leading critical infrastructure organization. The distinction was honed because the utility is “one of the most-targeted organizations in the world, having experienced our first cyberattack 25 years ago,” it notes. “This dubious distinction has driven us to always stay one step ahead and to continuously perfect our SOPHIC suite of cybersecurity solutions.”

One of the suite’s most recent solutions is a new, specialized “dynamic” testing laboratory—the Sophic Zone. Developed by Dr. Leonid Lev, Dr. Hofit Kutai, and Dr. Barak Davidovich, the unique testing environment provides entities with a “non-intrusive, non-destructive breakthrough solution” that enables emulation, simulation, and validation of industrial control systems (ICS), operational technology (OT), and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems on a day-to-day basis. “Cost-effectively, quickly, and flexibly building a digital model of your operating system as a whole, Zone enables you to test the impact of planned changes in a near-real-time digital test environment before they go live. It also incorporates a complete cybersecurity scan of the system to ensure that changes won’t introduce new vulnerabilities, enabling you to keep your systems working safely and securely,” IEC says.

What makes the Sophic Zone different from similar solutions is a “fully-integrated, end-to-end ICS,” which allows for various simulative, dynamic critical infrastructure (CI) system environments. The system is also adaptable and continuous. “It covers the entire system lifecycle, including architecture, deployment plan, processes, procedures, and policy validation, providing reports on vulnerabilities, risk assessment, mitigation, and deployment recommendations.”

Dr. Leonid Lev, IEC chief technology officer and head of Cyber Entrepreneurship and Business Development, offered some advice for innovators, particularly in dynamic industries. “Do not be afraid,” he said. He noted that a lack of leadership endorsement may diminish ideas, but it is imperative to keep trying.

POWER staff

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