Smart Machines & Factories
Compressing the future of data analytics
Published:  25 May, 2017

There is no question that the digital revolution is upon us, but how is the Internet of Things (IoT) enabling users of compressed air services to manage, optimise and improve their processes? Smart Machines & Factories sits down with Gardner Denver at Hannover Messe 2017, to discuss the steps the company is taking to help oversee a new era of digital data: providing analytics with real value for the compressed air industry.

The fourth industrial revolution is driving every business to share and analyse asset data, and the IoT is showing no signs of slowing down. IHS Markit forecasts that the market will grow from an installed base of 15.4 billion devices in 2015 to 30.7 billion devices in 2020, and then 75.4 billion in 2025 . Take a tour of the stands and technology available at this year’s Hannover Messe exhibition – which saw over 225,000 visitors attend – and it soon becomes apparent that industry 4.0 is no longer a future vision, but a reality. Even the show's chosen lead theme of ‘Integrated Industry – Creating Value’ places a major spotlight on the benefits of industry 4.0 and the role of humans in tomorrow's integrated factories.

It is surprising then that, up until this point, the compressed air market – for all its consumption within industry, leading to its status as the ‘fourth utility’ by many – has yet to truly capitalise on the opportunities that the IoT presents. Indeed, UK industry uses over 20TWh of electricity every year to compress air, equivalent to the output of four power stations and over 8.1 million tonnes of CO2 emissions . As a result, high-quality energy and performance at a cost-effective price continues to be a key consideration for all businesses, and data-driven insights that can help achieve this are to be encouraged.

“Generating compressed air accounts for 10% of total energy costs in industry , so ensuring wastage is kept to an absolute minimum should be a key concern for all operators,” explains Charles Joel, Global IoT and Analytics Director at Gardner Denver. “And with industry averages suggesting energy costs account for more than 80% of the total cost of ownership of a compressor, any initiatives that can help companies identify inefficiencies and assist with performance optimisation, leak reduction and practical air management processes will be welcomed. Industry 4.0 and the IoT are, without doubt, the greatest opportunities available today to help organisations work smarter.

“However, a key point to remember is that not every business employee is a data scientist or analytical expert. As industry 4.0 has come of age, there has been a sharp increase in the number of scientific-based roles in industry, due to the desire to harness the potential of raw data and convert it into powerful outcomes; whether that’s in the form of improved efficiencies or identifying potential issues before they become a problem further down the line.

“Many organisations simply do not have the time or the resource available to make the most of the data and information they collect. Alternatively, the trend seems to be to only consider data when an issue arises, rather than using it to effectively manage a compressed air system on an on-going basis. In short, there is a danger that data loses its meaning if it is not used in the right way.”

The three phases of data analytics

According to Charles, there are three key stages to analytics. The first is as simple data, outlined above, which is where data is collected but not processed in any meaningful way. Most of the world’s digital data is unstructured, and therefore lacking value.

The next phase is predictive, whereby analytical tools are used to ‘consume’ data. This will then make predictions about unknown future occurrences, using a range of techniques such as data mining, statistics, modeling and machine learning to do so. ‘Edge analytics’ is a key term within this context too, essentially referring to an analysis that is performed at the point of data being generated.

“When based upon logical and intelligent rules, predictive analytics can give businesses the right information, when needed. This is why working with a company such as Gardner Denver is so important because, for the IoT to truly be successful in the compressed air market, businesses will need to work collaboratively with an informed and knowledgeable organisation that has the in-depth understanding to establish the right rules within a system. These are the rules that will provide valuable insights into how a compressed air system is running, and offer recommendations into how its operations could be optimised and improved.”

The final stage is cognitive analytics. This is a strategy that describes how analytics and technologies can be applied to help humans make smarter decisions. A cognitive system will learn through its interactions with data and responses from the end user. It draws inferences from existing data and patterns; draws conclusions from existing knowledge bases; and then learns from this to inform future decision-making and business intelligence. And because a cognitive system is in a perpetual state of learning, it will keep adapting to deliver the required outcomes in the most efficient way possible.

“Cognitive analytics is a true blend of human and artificial intelligence, and the desired outcome for those that are really trying to develop the analytical models available on the market. These systems learn automatically, helping to improve a business’ productivity, efficiencies and – as a result – the overall customer experience. The potential for this level of insight is really exciting, as it is technology that will automatically learn from past data and experiences, and create new systems as a result. This is the kind of smart digital future we are championing for the compressed air industry.”

A modern iConn

Gardner Denver looks set to shape how the compressed air market utilises data with its new digital platform, iConn. Colin Mander, Regional Director at Gardner Denver, explains: “iConn, our cloud-based, air management platform, has been developed to deliver advanced analytics, enabling operators to stay in control of their installation. The system provides historic, real-time, predictive and cognitive analytics, allowing users to rectify potential issues before they happen.

“The platform is particularly beneficial for businesses with multiple remote sites or unmanned installation, as it enables users to monitor compressor performance from a single location, via their mobile device, tablet or PC.

“iConn helps minimise fault incidences for increased uptime, and also provides detailed machine parameters and over-time trend analysis to enable plant managers to optimise system performance.”

In this day and age, data security is absolutely paramount, which is why Gardner Denver has ensured compressor or ancillary asset data can be transferred securely via GSM, Ethernet or Wi-Fi, to a wide range of connected devices. iConn’s cloud-based services allow users to view real-time analytics or access data through open APIs.

An open future

One of the biggest changes to the IoT in industry is the move from closed, proprietary mechanisms to open ones. Gardner Denver is assisting organisations with systems integration, helping information technology and operational technology work together.

While iConn is available as standard on all new CompAir machines and can be retrofitted to existing compressor installations, a key feature throughout its development has been the fact that the platform also supports ancillary and non-Gardner Denver based products. The aim is to provide a one-stop digital experience for managing an entire compressed air system.

Charles Joel explains: “We understand that most customers, over the years and various product lifecycles, will have purchased from lots of different brands. iConn, however, is not intended to be solely a Gardner Denver-based system. Indeed, other data provides richer insights into the quality of a compressed air system. Like the IoT, which has been successful because it’s been disruptive, our aim is to create a service that will provide truly meaningful insights no matter who manufactured the technology. We are focused on delivering the best compressed air systems to our customers – that is our mission.”

Given the level of expertise and effort that Gardner Denver has undertaken to launch iConn at Hannover Messe 2017, it seems certain that the analytics the company can offer organisations will provide the most valuable means of evaluating compressed air generation yet available on the market.

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