Plant Expansions - Don't forget the data!

I have several clients working on capital project spending planning. It's especially exciting to see a number of brownfield plant expansions and even a few greenfield plant expansions here in the Midwest.  

As I review RFQs, a theme that comes up over-and-over is the unintentional creation of islands of automation and disparate communications, which ultimately leads to in-actionable data. We see more skid based assets throughout industry since so much can be built and tested offsite. There is such an emphasis on getting equipment on-site, installed and then commissioned that we forget the data side - "Let's just drop a network connection and we will figure out data collection and analysis later."  

Plan for your data collection and reporting needs

It doesn't take much in up front planning to develop a sound digital transformation strategy when you have the opportunity to start with a clean slate. Start with the basics -  

  • How do we measure success?  
  • What data do we need internally to measure success?  
  • What data will our customers need to certify that our product meets their needs?  
  • What data will our government regulators need to certify that we are in compliance?  

Planning ahead for your data strategy will reduce the manual record keeping and streamline your reporting. 

Collect data efficiently

Since storage is cheap, it's also easy to fall into the trap of "collect it all." In other words, historize every transmitter, every valve position, every operator action, every alarm, etc. That way, we have the data if we ever need it. 

Licensing costs and the familiar annual "support agreement" becomes a significant operating expense with this approach. Furthermore, we spend significant time during commissioning validating historical data that has little if any effect on your process performance - it's good live information but not worth archiving.

Defining data collection up front reduces your licensing requirements and then makes it less overwhelming to use the data to make sound business decisions. We can always add additional records if we find something missing later on.

Design to leverage automatic reporting

Everything from traceability, raw ingredient usage, CCP verification, lab analysis, regulatory reporting requirements and customer reporting requirements generate piles and piles of manually compiled paperwork. Anything collected manually or on paper can be collected digitally, streamlining reporting and eliminating human errors. Furthermore, automatic electronic reporting allows us to securely share information easily.  

In addition, implementation of blockchain technology seals electronic reports so that it can be easily verified whether any of the information has been tampered with. The blockchain ledger assures data integrity and identifies if anyone including the report's end user modifies anything.

Thanks in part to Industry 4.0, commercial off-the-shelf data analysis solutions are becoming more common and the days of complicated, custom reporting are behind us. However, planning for it needs to be a key component of your plant expansion design strategy. This is especially true when incorporating assets from several skid manufacturers into your process.

Digital Transformation insights in your inbox.

Subscribe to our newsletter to get articles, videos, guides and tools like this in your inbox regularly

About The Author

Tim Malyszko is the founder of Intelligent Industrial Strategies. When he’s not serving his clients, he can be found on the golf course or creating a new piece of art in his woodworking shop. He calls St. Louis, Missouri home.