29 July 2020

Connecting the dots

A short article that explains what a popular children’s puzzle has to do with ‘Dark Data’, the big picture and Steve Jobs. And why this is extremely important for owners/operators of process plants.

Do you know the children’s puzzles in which you only see a lot of dots at first? Maybe you also remember the shining eyes of children, when the little ones connect the dots one after the other with a pencil and a picture emerges? “Mommy, that’s a monkey!” or “Daddy, look, I drew a tractor!” is then shouted quite enthusiastically. Even for adults, it is sometimes amazing what a complete picture can be created by correctly connecting individual dots.

Dormant data treasures

I have often experienced this enthusiasm. Not only with my children, but also with our customers from the process industry. Here, admittedly in a slightly different form, an insightful overall picture emerges: In the intelligent combination of data from very different sources into a holistic view of a process plant. Every plant operator knows the situation: plants produce not only products but also data – messages, alarms, real-time or maintenance data. Furthermore, plants are constantly changing, they are expanded, optimized and adapted. So even more data: from process engineering, hardware project planning, possibly from simulations, process models, etc. All this information is important – not only for the work of individual trades, but also for the productivity and safety of the entire plant.

Now, however, this data is distributed over countless systems, software applications, databases and, as before, tons of file folders. Plant operators are confronted with countless formats and with data that is often outdated, inaccurate, difficult to access and barely synchronized. Like children, plant operators therefore see a load of dots and have at most a vague idea of what might result.

PlantSight – Alexander Mankel about the digital twin in Process Industries

Shine a light into the darkness

This unstructured, distributed and diverse information is called ‘dark data’. It is invaluable in any plant – but only if it is correctly connected. This is where PlantSight comes in: the cloud based digital twin solution can be used from small to very large and complex plants. The solution is based on an open architecture and uses a networked data environment in which coordinated microservices are integrated. These modular, independent processes collect and aggregate data. Further services consolidate, contextualize and standardize them. A special tagging service ensures a synchronized data basis. With PlantSight all this information can be visualized. This web portal displays relevant data or calculated KPIs in a clearly structured manner – from world scale level to plant sections and down to component level.

With PlantSight, the big picture is made up of connecting individual dots!

Creation of a holistic digital context

The resulting image is not static: PlantSight permanently provides the basis for a realistic, living digital twin. This dynamic image, which is created from data from process and plant engineering, plant design as well as maintenance measures, is of great importance. Especially for the process industry that is characterized by permanent plant modification. For plant operators, one of the greatest challenges is knowing what has changed where and when – throughout the entire operating phase! I don’t have to point out explicitly what enormous effects even small technical changes can have on processes, documentation or safety reviews.

PlantSight is the ideal platform to sensibly connect data from the real plant with that of the virtual plant. This creates a permanent basis for a realistic, lively digital twin.

Consequently, PlantSight provides a fully integrated data basis. It offers all disciplines and participants easy access to up-to-date, comprehensive and contextualized information. Not only can better decisions be made on this basis. The seamless integration of process engineering or maintenance-relevant lists and standard operating procedures, information from 3D models or current operating figures ensures continuous improvement in terms of efficiency, sustainability, profitability and safety.

In other words, connecting the dots means understanding the relationship between different knowledge, ideas or experiences. So, in order to improve innovation, efficiency and sustainability, many – at best all! – seemingly unrelated dots must be connected with each other. By the way, this picture is also found in Steve Job’s famous Commencement Address to Stanford University graduates from 2005:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.“ [1]

PlantSight – gaining invaluable insight in brownfield environment

I like this inspiring life wisdom. Trust in particular is an essential factor in all important decisions. In my opinion, however, plant operators should rely less on gut feeling or karma when it comes to everyday business in process plants. Rather, I would recommend a data basis validated with PlantSight.

[1] See transcript of Steve Jobs’ Commencement Address at https://news.stanford.edu/2005/06/14/jobs-061505/ last retrieved on 2020-07-29

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