Accelerate Innovation Engineering | Podcast 2: Digital Twins
In our new 3-part podcast series, “Accelerate Innovation Engineering,” experts from CBT and HPE will talk about how industrial IoT contributes to building a successful predictive maintenance strategy and more. In episode 2, Charlie Stack, Chief Technologist for Operational Technology discusses Digital Twins with host, James Hilliard.
Hello there, everyone. Welcome to our podcast brought to you by CBT. James Hill onboard to really continue a series of conversations we’ve been having with team members at CBT about industrial IoT. It is my pleasure today to have onboard Charlie Stack. He’s the Chief Technologist at CBT. And really, that’s where Charlie and the team, focus on bridging the gap between information and operational technology. So we’ve got about 10, or 15 minutes to spend here with Charlie and a couple of things that we want to focus on is breaking down this idea of digital twins and how that can help manufacturing operations. We’re gonna look at kind of the promise of industrial IoT, the impact it’s having today, impact it can have in the future, and really happy to be able to share a little bit of a case study as well, with all of you. We’re gonna be talking a bit later about Texmark Chemicals, and their refinery of the future project, and how CBT was involved with that. So looking forward to covering some ground with you here today, Charlie, thank you for being here. Let me start with this. And in one of our previous podcasts, we had a chance to talk to Preston Johnson, your Senior Solutions Manager gave us pretty much a high-level overview of what digital twins are and how they can help out teams and the inside representation, the virtual representation of physical objects or processes out there. I want to focus this on the manufacturing process and operations out there. Why do you think and what do you see in terms of digital twins and why they’re so important to manufacturing processes and ops?
Actually, for two reasons. The first one is when we operationalize a manufacturing process, that means build-to-scale so that it actually produces something, that is a huge, huge capital investment. You want to make it work right the first time out the gate, the days are gone when we could put something together, make it run, and iron out everything after we started it up. Time, money, and more so safety is just too precious. That’s the other reason, we want our employees to be safe when we build a new manufacturing process. Digital twins give us an opportunity to use mathematics, IT, and compute power in order to build and design a digital simulation that totally emulates what the physical plant will be like. And it does it at a fraction of the cost. And not only that, the digital twin continues to build on its value. When you make modifications, when you make improvements, when you want to optimize the process, and the digital twin, you can actually see what’s going to happen and have the twin tell you whether or not the solution is what you want. And if it is, you can go ahead with it in the real world. Or if you can’t, then it’s not worth the time and effort. So the twin really is an advantage, it gives you a leg up and the ability to predict.
I know you said that you want to be able to utilize the digital twin, so you can get up and running with something without having to pour all that capital in there and get it right the first time. But isn’t there also that idea of failing fast too? I think you were kind of alluding to that you can make some changes. Oh, wait, no, that change isn’t going to work. But you didn’t do that in the physical environment. And you did it in the digital version. So now, you know, that’s not where we’re gonna go, we got to revamp that.
That’s true, optimization is a true reality when it comes to the digital twins, not necessarily available to you in the real-to-scale model.
The idea of companies leveraging industrial IoT to really modernize their business is under a bigger umbrella. I still use the term digital transformation, but what are you seeing out there in terms of the desire of businesses to really, especially in manufacturing, lean into the industrial IoT revolution, and when can they benefit from all the advancements that we’ve been seeing recently.
Businesses generally fall into two brackets when it comes to this. It’s established businesses that have facilities that are of some age and others that are brand new, or greenfield. So if I have a brownfield or existing process, I want to make it better. I want to be competitive and be better than my competition. And the way to do that in a brownfield process is to lean into that and go with the sequential improvements. So looking at attacking things that are my worst enemy: biggest downtime producers, and biggest challenge to safety. And if I can conquer those, then through agile steps take smaller and smaller increases, biting off a bigger and bigger piece of the apple so that at the end of the cycle I’ve completely optimized my brownfield process. On the greenfield side, it’s an opportunity to hit home runs out of the park from day one operations by having proven my methodology, digitally speaking, mathematically speaking, and be armed with that and factor all those improvements into my first-generation process.
So I mentioned Texmark Chemicals, how did CBT help them optimize the manufacturing operations there. Were they brownfield or greenfield? Give us an idea of what was going on there, and how have they been working towards this new refinery of the future.
Texmark is a collage of five processes, the oldest of which is 1967 vintage, and the newest of which is 2019 vintage, so it’s a mix. For Texmark and the RotF project, five use cases were selected to try and look at various parts of the system, the process, and the facility, to bring technology to see if we could do things that were grown out of issues identified by operations. So CBT had meetings with the plant staff. Texmark management allowed the plant staff to say, hey, we have an issue with this, or this is really causing us some headaches, and try to focus the use cases as best we could in those areas. Now four of the five use cases are ready to go into production. In other words, to bring them out of the experimental stage and operationalize them. Coincident with that is a leap forward with Texmark, which I really consider the final use case. And that’s the addition of a brand new distributed control system DCS as part of the RotF project. That will allow us to do complete optimization, digital training and just really put artificial intelligence into the plant for the future. And within the next three, four years have it to a point where safety is increased several 100% to where the operators who operate the plant are not just operating a facility but are watching a state of the art facility that actually learns and self improves day on day.
Charlie, do you find a lot of the teams you work with as they are approaching their drivers are twofold. It’s the safety and the return on the investment. Obviously, we’re in business here so we want to make our profits. But it seems to me that safety has really jumped up to the forefront in a lot of the companies that I talked to, especially those in the manufacturing space. Is that something that you find out as well, that that’s such a lead driver for a lot of these companies these days?
Yes. And not only is safety the first priority but there’s an absolute link between return on investment and safety. If employees are working safer, if they have the tools and the environment to be safer, they in fact are more compliant and more productive. Generally speaking, my experience with clients has been production increases so manyfold once their safety margin is improved and their compliance and margin has proved through the appropriate application of technology.
I appreciate it, Charlie, it is definitely interesting times that we’re in. I mean, I’d love to follow up with you in those three to four years and see what Texmark is at, once all these projects have rolled out. Best of luck working with them and appreciate your time in sharing that story. The whole idea of these digital twins gave us some more insights there. Folks, if you want more information, you can visit www.cbtechinc.com. You can also schedule a time to talk to any of the CBT experts there. Depending on where you’re at in your industrial IoT journey, maybe you’re at the very beginning, there is an offering that the team has called the Quickstart. And actually, Charlie, we talked to a couple of your colleagues recently on another podcast, Lonnie, and Kendall, who told us about the Quickstart. And really, it’s just an information-gathering conversation where you can get an idea working with the CBT team. Where are you on the journey, and what might be some of your next steps? So if you’re interested in the Quickstart, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule conversations and continue your organization forward. Charlie, again, appreciate the time folks, thank you for joining us as well. On behalf of the entire CBT team James here. We do look forward to talking to you all down the road.
To learn more about Texmark Chemicals and our RotF project, read the full case study here.
Ready to discuss your innovation journey? Schedule a meeting with our innovation team here.
You can also watch Episode 1: Condition Monitoring and Predictive Maintenance here.