The process industries: A look ahead to the next 30 years

Oct. 2, 2017

Key industry leaders discuss future trends in the process industries.

As Processing celebrates its 30th anniversary, we reflect on our history as a publication as well as the industries we serve. We celebrate our milestones (see our October print issue) and remember some of the most important industry technology developments along the way. And more importantly, we look forward to what the future holds for the process industries through the eyes of those working on the technology we’ll see introduced in the coming decades. Now and in the future, process automation and digitalization will continue to revolutionize our industrial processes. Insights from industry leaders give us a glimpse of what’s in store for the process industries of the future.

Processing: What do you see as some of the major trends or key developments that will continue or emerge in your industry/equipment sector over the next few decades?

Peter Zornio, Chief Technology Officer Emerson Automation Solutions:

“The next 30 years of automation advancement will change how workers interact with technology. Artificial intelligence, advanced analytics, augmented reality, virtual reality and cloud computing will become embedded in automation. These technologies will be used to automate knowledge and best practices in areas beyond process and production control – reliability, safety, energy consumption, for example – while also spreading expertise beyond global boundaries on the path to improving our customers’ operational performance. The process industries will continue to grow as populations across the globe expand and we strive to find new ways to solve the greatest challenge: How to efficiently produce and distribute resources across the globe to better the lives of people through technology.”

Michael Robinson, National Marketing Manager, Projects, Solutions and Services Endress+Hauser, USA:

“Enhancing quality instrumentation and improving safety and plant availability are a few priorities of an automation company and will continue to be priorities in the years to come. To be able to provide and meet customers’ growing business challenges, companies will coalesce toward platforms, applications and analytics, combined with digital cloud services. Companies are moving to a digital world and will continue to strive to develop digital platforms.

Companies will continue to develop innovations around the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), wireless networks, fieldbus and asset management systems, thus helping customers improve their processes with higher accuracy and enhanced efficiency. Customers will be provided actionable insights from their processes that have been validated, analyzed and measured, all while being secure.”

Martin Phillips, Product Manager, Fluenta:

“Just as nobody could have foreseen the oil and gas industry’s incredible progression over the last three decades, no one can truly predict what will happen in the next 30 years. However, areas such as flow measurement and cybersecurity will see significant progress.

The amount of gas being flared in the oil and gas industry may be reducing, but it will never be nonexistent. Accurate and robust flare gas measurement will continue to be a key consideration for all operators. With increased regulation and initiatives such as the World Bank’s Zero Routine flaring by 2030, inaccurate reports of gas flaring can lead to significant fines, penalties and even imprisonment.

Historically reluctant to invest in technology, oil and gas companies are now embracing cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) to improve operational efficiency, visibility and safety. The explosion of IoT technology will drive developments in connected products, software and techniques – providing new opportunities for accurate reporting, improved risk management and regular maintenance.

With the increased adoption of connected technologies and the proliferation of big data – cybersecurity will be an important area for development in the next few decades. The high-value and high-profile nature of the oil and gas industry, together with its complex layers of supply chains, processes and industrial controls, make it a high value target for hackers. A problem in one system can affect an entire operation. As cybercrime grows more sophisticated, and state-sponsored cybercriminals begin to emerge, the energy industry must develop a stronger and more responsive defense.”

Greg Patterson, Vice President, Hapman:

“The most important trend we see is the rapid development of smart equipment and technologies, whether you call it IIoT, Industry 4.0, or simply smart equipment. Sustainability is vitally important for most processors, and the increasing use of elementary artificial intelligence connected to their equipment is assisting them in achieving that goal. Equipment that will diagnose itself, advise when more raw material is needed, warn of pending issues and use analytics to determine what caused those issues is leading the advancement of this technology. Soon, everything in the entire process will be able to feed itself, diagnose itself, and change what it does based upon equipment and material availability. Today’s fastest growing industries are connected with robotics, automation and artificial intelligence. With those industries expanding at such a rapid pace, it is not hard to see what tomorrow will bring. Driverless cars, robotics and advanced automation are indicators that we may not be very far from human-less operations in just about every industry.”

Leah Friberg, Global Content and Influencer Relations Manager, Fluke Corporation:

“We at Fluke are incredibly excited by the opportunities in front of us to leverage measurement and systems integration technology in process manufacturing. With all of the developments in sensors, Fluke has and will continue to innovate new sensors specifically designed for various aspects of the process flow, from equipment reliability to production line to research and development (R&D). At the same time, Fluke’s new mobility division (the SCHAD group) is enabling us to connect existing third-party SCADA and EAM systems with our measurement data, all through a mobile interface that puts direct control of the manufacturing line in the engineer’s hands, no matter where they are. Every year that goes by only increases efficiency requirements at process manufacturers, and we at Fluke feel very strongly that systems and data integration will play a crucial role in moving everyone forward.”

Mike Karas, Director of Marketing, Schenck Process LLC:

“Schenck Process is a bulk material handling equipment manufacturer specializing in pneumatic conveying, weighing, feeding and air filtration systems for a wide variety of markets. The expectations we have for our industry and the markets are dependent upon the development of new technologies and government regulations.

From a technological standpoint, we continue to see more use of equipment monitoring systems through web browsers, smartphones and apps. Users are now able to receive information on their equipment from anywhere in the world. Going forward, the expectation is that more companies in our industry will continue to develop software and programs that will simplify and enhance the use of their equipment and systems.

Government regulations will also play a large role in how our industry changes in the future. As more laws come on the books regulating sanitary or environmental conditions, manufacturers will have to adapt by building more hygienically acceptable equipment as well as producing energy-efficient systems for keeping in-line with green initiatives and policies.

For equipment and systems that Schenck Process specializes, we expect solid global growth as companies around the world continue to invest in automating their material handling processes and in improving the environmental conditions at their facilities.”

Todd Gardner, VP, Siemens Process Industries and Drives, U.S.:

“Process manufacturers operate in a world of tight margins and ever-changing requirements but often lack the technology and integration necessary to generate meaningful insights that would help them to optimize operational performance. In the coming years, not decades, many sense that they need to address this by becoming more “digital.” Siemens believes that it is possible – and, in fact, necessary – for companies to begin to increase their manufacturing value through what we call strategic, incremental digitalization. Our goal is to lead the processing industry down the digital path and to begin the journey today to modernize their plants incrementally, strategically. This results in an increased ability to securely exploit the value inherent to the IIoT and its surrounding technologies and ultimately, to maximize the life cycle value of their operations.”

R. Todd Swinderman, CEO Emeritus of Martin Engineering:

Having worked in conveyor design and engineering for over three decades, I see primarily two separate markets using conveyor belts. One is in process industries such as food, chemical, paper, cement and power, where the bulk materials entering the processes are generally of a consistent size and quality and handled in relatively low volumes. The other market is mining, where the bulk materials’ quality and size vary considerably, and the volumes are typically much greater.

While both segments face similar issues with safety and environmental control, the properties of the materials handled and the volumes transferred will make the approaches different, with one thing in common: increased speeds requiring modern equipment upgrades….

…Ultimately, moving large quantities of bulk materials inexpensively and safely will result in the development of many new and higher capacity semiautomated bulk transfer sites. Previously fed by truck, train or barge, long overland conveyors transporting materials from the mine or quarry site to storage or processing facilities may even impact the transportation sector. Read more in R. Todd Swinderman’s blog, “Bulk material handling by conveyor market forecast.”

Processing thanks the company leaders who contributed to this article.

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