Smart Machines & Factories
Securing a return on investment from IIoT
Published:  02 June, 2017

Suboptimal performance in safety, reliability, production and emissions is causing industrial manufacturers significant operational losses every year. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is being presented as the new frontier of manufacturing, but can it help reduce these losses? Emerson’s Travis Hesketh explains how IIoT applications are already providing measurable operational performance benefits plus a significant return on investment.

Whilst the Industrial Internet of Things might be seen to focus on supporting discrete manufacturing, the need to make operational improvements within the process industries makes the use of IIoT applications an attractive proposition. Companies within food and drink, oil and gas, refining, petrochemical and power industries face ongoing pressure to achieve improved financial results. Enhancing the performance of existing production facilities can help accomplish this, yet many companies have become stuck in decades-old work practices that fail to take advantage of the advanced digital technologies now available. Across the sector globally, suboptimal performance causes combined operational losses of more than $1 trillion per year.

There is enormous potential for improvement in core areas such as safety, reliability, production and emissions. But before goals are set and improved performance can be achieved it is important to understand what is possible based on the latest technologies and which levers can ensure measurable results.

For example, Top Quartile performers (defined as achieving operations and capital performance in the top 25% of peer companies) within the process industry incur one-third as many safety incidents as their average industry peers. They spend half as much on maintenance, one-third of the industry average on energy costs, and 20% less on production-related expenses. They also achieve 15 days more production availability per year and produce 30% less CO2 emissions. Implementing Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications can help companies achieve operational performance improvements such as these, and gain a significant return on their investment.

Distributing data and information seamlessly via the internet makes IIoT the new frontier of manufacturing - it has even been referred to as a phenomenon that will reinvent manufacturing. IIoT makes it possible for companies to empower their experts with the additional information they need for decisions and action that can facilitate operational performance improvements. As well as being performed in-house, either on site or remotely, analysis and decision-making can, for the first time, also be completely outsourced to third party domain experts.

Digital ecosystems

Process plants have been utilising digital networks to monitor and control processes and understand the status and health of equipment for many years. Now expanded digital ecosystems, that take advantage of wired, wireless and cloud-based networking, provide the technology foundation for companies to securely implement IIoT applications. These digital ecosystems are scalable portfolios of standards-based hardware, software, intelligent devices and services, and their implementation can have a transformational impact on a company’s business performance and improve its earnings by as much as 15%.

There are four critical aspects to achieving this: the provision of rich, real-time operating data from intelligent sensing and automation technologies across the business; secure transport of that data to where it’s needed anywhere in the world; robust, scalable software to convert the data into actionable insights; and domain expertise, either in-house or external, to make the decisions and drive the actions that will lead to improved performance.

Gathering plant-wide data

Knowledge is power and the more you know about your plant, the better you can maintain it, the fewer ‘unfortunate events’ that will occur and the lower your operating costs. With the increased availability and affordability of innovative sensors, along with advances in wireless technology and analytic capabilities, the ability to gather plant-wide data has become much more widespread.

Within production environments, the pervasive nature of this data capture provides measurable and significant improvements in process and worker safety, regulatory compliance, equipment reliability and energy efficiency. It makes it possible to detect and respond to hazards early, protect people and equipment, predict failures, reduce shutdowns, and avoid environmental issues. Enhancing and adding sensor points to a plant’s infrastructure enables improved understanding of operations without adding complexity, and makes it possible to optimise processes and therefore attain operational goals by increasing productivity and profitability.

Intelligent and actionable insights

Once plant-wide data has been generated and securely transported, cloud-based technologies and analytic tools then enable this glut of information to be converted into intelligent and actionable insights which can lead to increased reliability and significant business performance improvement.

As previously mentioned, this analysis can be performed either in-house (on-site or remotely) or externally. However, many companies find it costly to develop their own dedicated experts who solely focus on value-added analysis - and tough to retain them. As technology continues to expand, the result is a widening gap between a technology’s capability and a plant’s ability to fully realise that capability. Automation technology providers can bridge that gap by offering remote, continuous assessment of a plant’s critical equipment and processes by experts, to deliver the actionable performance insights plant managers need to improve efficiency and avoid costly unplanned downtime.

Delivering performance improvements

These continuous health monitoring services remove the need for in-house domain experts, and are already delivering operational performance improvements and significant cost reductions across many areas. For example:

● Diagnostic data is being used to identify potential control valve failures before they cause significant interruptions to operations. This service employs time series trend analysis to generate predictive data and has already helped a major chemical company identify failure conditions on a critical valve that would have caused a multi-day plant shutdown resulting in millions of pounds of lost production.

● Wireless acoustic transmitters are remotely monitoring steam traps, even in hard-to-reach locations. Up-to-the-minute visibility of all steam traps allows manual rounds to be eliminated and energy waste to be dramatically reduced. Application of this technology can be on a subscription-based service requiring no capital investment. An outcome-based business model based on operational expenditure can be transformative. One of the world’s largest facilities for continuous polymerisation has reduced its steam consumption by 7% this way.

● Continuous health scanning of integrated control systems at plants is identifying intermittent issues and underlying health warnings, therefore avoiding costly unplanned downtime, eliminating manual health checks and enabling efficient use of maintenance resources, leading to improved asset availability, reduced maintenance costs and improved personnel efficiency. In practice, using a third party to perform this service, a global chemical company has not only increased its awareness and system diagnostics, but also feed up an entire full time role to focus completely on production.

● Advanced online analysers are collecting data from plants’ key rotating equipment, which is analysed to identify potential degradation problems and to determine optimal efficiency. By using a service that adopts a network of global expertise on vibration to provide machinery condition monitoring equipment availability can be increased and operations and maintenance costs can be reduced.


Automation technology providers can offer a compelling suite of IIoT applications to expand digital intelligence throughout an entire manufacturing enterprise. These applications are easily and quickly deployable and can have immediate quantifiable business benefits for industrial manufacturers looking for improved operational performance. There has been so much talk about the promise of IIoT, but today’s digital ecosystems in process plants are delivering on that promise and enabling companies to put the ROI into IIoT.

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