Making equipment and skills go further

Posted on 9 Nov 2012

With a hall full of over 300 people, some big figures were reeled out in a Philadelphia conference centre the day before Rockwell Automation’s annual Fair.

Craig Giffi, head of industrial products at Deloitte, produced the standard overview you end up viewing over and over again. Just as I was beginning to think ‘tell me something new’… he did.

The engineering skills gap is constantly talked about and felt by many in the UK, but we aren’t alone. Giffi reeled off a series of stats, the most (un)impressive of which was the fact that there are 10 million manufacturing jobs unfilled throughout the world.

China tops the charts for Science, Maths and Reading – core skills required for manufacturing (and every other sector.) The UK featured 16th in the nationality chart for science but scored too low to be seen in the other categories.

People learn skills that will reward them with status and well-paid jobs. Government’s aim to produce the environment where these skills can develop.

For years Western countries focused on skills that produced strong growth in the service sector during the 2000s but the rise of China and the economic crash in 2008 has finally brought attention to the sector (which has long been neglected and thought of as something solely for developing economies with cheaper labour.)

Chasing cheap

But companies can’t chase cheap labour forever and why would you want to when the economies you moved to are the economic powerhouses of the 21st century.

Rockwell Automation’s integrated architecture and long-held partnerships with IT companies are allowing the mobility of data, energy usage in particular, to spread best practice through a company’s global operations.

M.G. Bryan, a US-based manufacturer of drilling equipment used in the oil and gas sector, is using Rockwell Automation monitoring equipment in conjunction with the cloud for remote asset management of its equipment.

M.G. Bryan’s new control and information system is a new hurdle for Rockwell Automation, leveraging Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud-computing platform so that the company can prolong the life of its equipment. How? (You may and probably should ask).

Young buck trucks

The engines used on M.G Bryan’s fracking trucks, an extraction method that has accelerated growth in the American energy market, has already discovered that filters need to be changed every eight hours.

This piece of information, although simple, could not previously be recorded and turned into intelligence as there wasn’t any remote monitoring of the equipment in use.

Now, with remote access to real-time information, automated maintenance alerts, and service and parts delivery requests, the company is informed when the eight hours has passed, (and has the data to have the parts ready when they are needed), so that the $1.1m engines are not damaged within the harsh operating conditions.

“It filters sand and dirt, which could lose the turbo or the whole engine if it is getting through a filter,” said Matt Bryan, president of M.G. Bryan.  “If you can notify them ahead of time you take greater care of a $1.1m dollar piece of equipment.”

“In the oil and gas industry, production has to follow the resources and never takes a break,” said Mr Bryan. “Fracturing vehicles operate in extreme, isolated environments. Leveraging the cloud, we can cost-effectively keep tabs on our equipment and help customers maximise asset uptime, dramatically improving their return on investment.”

Knowledge is power

Connecting its MicroLogic 1400 controller to the M.G Bryan control room back at base, it can also tell (in realtime) if there are disturbances on the drivetrain that will lead to power outages. This means that it gets more production out of each truck.

The move to record energy data from plants and put it into the cloud is now possible with Ethernet, a system for connecting a number of computer systems to form a local area network, allows for easier and quicker comparisons to be made between different plants.

Goodyear introduced a platform whereby its energy data for its numerous tyre-making plants in America feed into one master system, which it now expects to make $1m worth of savings from each year.

The automation of data recording has been a running theme, and Alex Jushchyshyn, site manager at drug coating company Colorcon, notes that it has saved one person 10 days work a year when you add up the daily checks.

With skills a priory, they need to be utilised in the right way. Focusing skills on high value rather than data-collection could free up the skills that are hard to employ afresh.

A triumvirate of data, automation and the cloud could save skills and equipment if used correctly and acted upon.