From PI World: Some Ideas Out of Left Field That Just Might Work

Why do people flock to conferences? To get the first hint of burgeoning things that might become part of the mainstream over the next few years. Some of the novel ideas heard at PI World Gothenburg:

  • Photovoltaic (PV) in the Day; Thermal at Night. A decade or so ago, solar thermal technology-where highly polished mirrors help harvest thermal energy from the sun to serve as a heat source for generators-was predicted to be the first “new” renewable energy source that would compete directly with fossil fuels. More rapid declines in PV and wind, combined with regulatory problems with thermal, scotched that idea.

Solar thermal, however, is making a limited comeback in the Middle East in tandem with PV, David Gamez of Atlantica Yield mentioned. In these hybrid plants, PV supplies power by day while thermal plants capture and store heat in molten salt for generating power at night.

  • The Oil Industry Will Learn from the Pharma Industry. To diversify its revenue base, refiner MOL plans on expanding into specialty chemicals, says MOL's Tibor Komroczki. That involves more batch processing know-how, and a great deal of the world's batch know-how happens to be in pharmaceuticals. Interestingly, many pharma companies want to move into continuous processing so this could become a two-way street. Tibor PI World 2019

MOL, which has added over $1 billion EBITDA to its bottom line through digital transformation, also continues to fine-tune its processes. One aspect we hadn't heard before: MOL leverages data to predict mercury accumulation in heat exchangers and other equipment to improve safety.

  • Digital Twins Are the World's First Four-Dimensional Objects. Analysts, companies and reporters regularly debate the definition of a digital twin. Here's a new one: a digital twin is a model that effectively lets you view CAD/CAM like representation of an asset over time. You can “see” how it performed in the past, monitor it in real time, or project it into the future. The fourth dimension - time - is added to 3D objects. (This notion emerged during a panel discussion in manufacturing.)
  • Helicopters Are Generators Turned Sideways. Founded in 2014, UK's Senseye, which specializes in condition-based monitoring analytics for rotating equipment, has already landed customers such as Nissan. Its secret sauce is two-fold. One, it only needs a limited amount of data streams and only needs refreshed data every 15 minutes or so. Second, the company's researchers come out of the helicopter industry and have studied spinning equipment for years.

“You need less data but you need the right data,” said Peter Portner, GM for Germany. “The onboarding costs are coming down to zero,” he added, with data being prepped through the PI System.  Some customers have achieved payback in six weeks, Portner further added.

  • Step One in Analytics: Interview the Subject Matter Experts. Canvass Analytics, which counts a steelmaker and a noodle producer as customers, limits the data input in a different manner. It gets input from engineers and other users about which data streams they need or use most. Then it runs those through its systems to conduct diagnostics.

“They sort and select and tell you what's important,” said CEO Humera Malik, adding that many analytics efforts in the past have foundered because “most of the time they've tried and failed or found it too difficult.”

  • The Utility Industry Is Leading the Way in Data Sharing. Norway launched an exchange called Elhub in February where power providers and others bid on contracts based on meter data from 3 million meters, 110 electrical suppliers, and 130 distribution network operators. 70 million data values are shared daily on Elhub and it juggles 190 power supply offers, says Bloomberg NEF analyst Eleonore Lazat. (And an interesting stat: by 2050, the world's transmission and distribution networks will grow in cumulative length, respectively, by 36% and 71%.) Lazat PI World 2019
  • FitBit for Worker Safety. Mining companies have wired up trucks and other equipment for predictive maintenance. Why not put wristbands on employees,  particularly those that work underground, to keep them out of dangerous areas or notify them of changes, suggests OSIsoft mining industry principal Martin Provencher.
  • What Works for Nuclear Power Can Work for Municipal Water Agencies. Data diodes-which transmit data from OT networks to IT but physically prevent IT traffic from coming in-remain one of the more effective OT security technologies. The problem? They used to cost $50,000. Owl Cyber Defense has released smaller versions in the $3,000-$5,000 range, says Owl's John O'Connell. At that price point, utilities can rig up pumps, substations and remote equipment.

You can watch all the talks from PI World Gothenburghere.