ARC’s Research Director, Mark Sen Gupta, recently interviewed Matilda Steiner-Arvidsson, Global Product Manager for Manufacturing Operations Management Solutions, with ABB. They discussed the challenges of operator procedures, customer expectations, keeping pace with trends, and how ABB’s recently released Ability Augmented Field Procedures solution addresses all of these. This blog captures the key points of their conversation. You can also listen to this podcast here.
Responding to Customer Requirements
Mark’s opening query was “What prompted you to create this product? What did your customers tell you?”
“ABB works with a wide range of customers across both process and energy industries, and one thing they have in common is the drive for improving operational performance,” said Matilda. Further, she said that when executing manual procedures, human errors emerge as the main challenge. Even in highly automated operations there are some areas that rely on manual execution, and when people are involved, errors are likely to happen. Although standard operating procedures (SOPs) are used to mitigate errors, avoid unnecessary downtimes and safety incidents, these are not always followed. So, the main challenge remains in finding ways to reduce human errors. “Customers are looking for a more integrated and flexible approach to SOPs to reduce the possibility of making mistakes by working on the right asset, in the right sequence, and doing the right things,” she said.
Another challenge that ABB’s customers mention is a lack of real-time information when they are out in the field. What they expect is reliable real-time information, field work synchronized with the control system, and simplified collaboration between the field operator and control room operator.
Changes in the Last Ten Years
Mark said that these are not new issues and several companies have provided solutions to address these. “So, what has changed in the last ten years?”
Matilda agreed that these are not new issues. “But what has changed in the last ten years is technology.” And two things that have significantly helped this course are: mobility (industrial grade tablets, smartphones, and emergence of wearables, like HoloLens); and the combination of industrial Wi-fi and IT. “Mobility has emerged as a megatrend in the industrial space, as it provides connectivity for operators,” she added.
How ABB’s Ability Augmented Field Procedures Solution Solves These Problems
The Augmented Field Procedure mobile app (tablet, smart phone) is a step change in the way work is done from the traditional paper-driven way, explained Matilda. The operator gets an up-to-date view on the scheduled jobs and step-by-step assistance when executing the procedures. So, there’s no hassle about latest versions or having it copied and distributed. In addition to that, on the mobile app, the operator also has easy access to supporting information (pictures and manuals) and can leverage the built-in camera to take pictures of the procedural steps or QR code to ensure that the work is being done properly.
Further, she said that “the core capability of the solution is integration to the control system.” The operator gets real-time field information to capture values automatically and is able to interact with the control system to execute procedures in a synchronized manner. This improves work efficiency and reduces the need to have back and forth radio communication between the control room and field. While the solution supports the users, it also ensures that the work is done in the right way. It has features, like voice synthesis and an industrial chatbot, to support the operators too.
In this context, Matilda spoke about the HoloLens application that has capabilities similar to that of mobile apps, but in addition, it also has augmented reality (AR). This enables hands-free operations and see field data in the augmented context of the physical area of their view. “This is an eye-opener and very powerful when it comes to work and training,” she said.
Further, Matilda said that HoloLens could be used for remote consultation. The offering includes insights and facilitates collaboration with offsite experts and enables integration with other applications.
Responding to Customer Needs
“Traditionally, these solutions take a lot of effort to implement. Has ABB addressed this aspect? And what about large companies vs. small, single site users?” asked Mark.
“One clear customer requirement is a high degree of self-service,” said Matilda. So, the workflow is simplified and can be done without an ABB expert on site. The customer also has the option of using preconfigured templates that can be reused as building blocks. She explained that this enables enterprise-level and global rollouts and supports sharing procedures across sites and delivering comprehensive global solutions.
Matilda said that current installations include customers in the chemicals space. The main objective is to improve operational procedures; to do things in the right sequence with the control systems. This will help to avoid errors and ensure that procedures are correctly followed; and also reduce the need for communication with the control room.