Better Cybersecurity Increases Confidence to Outsource Data Analysis

Plantwide digital ecosystems, such as Emerson’s Plantweb, are now enabling process and manufacturing organizations to gather more data than ever before relating to the performance, health, and status of their equipment and automation systems. However, analyzing potentially complex data can be difficult, especially if there is a lack of suitably skilled resources on-site. Many companies have therefore turned to automation vendors to provide data analysis and support services.

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Advancements in cybersecure solutions for remote connectivity are increasingly giving companies the confidence to allow external experts access to their automation systems and sensing networks.

Because of concerns over network security, data has typically been collected on-site and then periodically provided offline for analysis by the automation vendor, with recommended actions sent back to the organization. However, in a Maintworld article, ‘Outsourcing analysis of key plant data helps to increase efficiency, reliability and profitability, Emerson’s Digital & Connected Services manager Vladimir Nitu explains that advancements in cybersecure solutions for remote connectivity are increasingly giving companies the confidence to allow external experts access to their automation systems and sensing networks, without fear of exposing themselves to data breaches or disruptions. The article states:

Allowing automation vendors remote, real-time access to process equipment and automation systems data enables organisations to achieve faster and more comprehensive results, without having to develop specialised in-house expertise. Personnel are free to respond to more urgent daily priorities, and maintenance activities and shutdowns can be better planned.

The article looks at some typical applications in which remote services provided by automation vendors such as Emerson can be used to achieve significant benefits, starting with control system health monitoring. Vladimir explains:

To help optimise DCS performance, automation vendors can provide system health monitoring as a remote service. Such a service provides continuous centralised monitoring of control system assets, including controllers, servers, switches and network components. An on-site monitoring device automatically checks important health information, enabling issues to be detected quickly and alerts routed to the automation vendor. The vendor’s experts can then diagnose the root cause of the problem and recommend actions to mitigate the issue.

Digital valve controllers such as the Fisher FIELDVUE DVC6200 ensure valves are operating correctly, and provide access to diagnostic data.

The article next looks at valve health monitoring and explains that digital valve controllers are positioners that ensure valves are operating according to the control signal, and also provide access to diagnostic data. Vast amounts of such data can be captured and it can be so complex that it requires deep expertise to undercover the specific corrective actions that will be required. Vladimir continues:

Many companies simply do not have such expertise in-house, but they can overcome this challenge by using a remote monitoring service. Automation vendors can securely gather, visualise and aggregate real-time diagnostic data from valves. A global network of analysts can then view a valve’s health data and inspect its condition history to determine trends and predict impending deterioration. This allows them to provide valuable insights, and data-driven recommendations that enable maintenance to be scheduled and performed well before an alarm is triggered and operations are significantly interrupted. This then leads to improved plant safety, availability and profitability.

The article then describes the challenges involved in monitoring the condition and performance of critical plant assets such as pumps, compressors and turbines. Organizations need to prioritize which equipment to monitor and when, and choose the right monitoring technology for each asset. The data they gather must be accurate, and if they want to implement an in-house condition monitoring and data analysis program, they must have the resources and skill sets to do so. An alternative option is for an automation vendor to take on the responsibility of building a comprehensive performance and monitoring strategy for critical assets. Vladimir explains:

This way, a team of highly skilled analysts with extensive product knowledge provide remote condition monitoring. Having access to real-time key machinery health data enables these experts to not only deliver insights into performance anomalies that could lead to a critical failure and costly downtime, but also recommend resolutions.

Real-time automated monitoring of steam trap health and performance is vital, because a steam trap failure can cause significant damage to plant equipment, put personnel at risk, and affect product quality and throughput. However, Vladimir explains that sporadic manual surveys and limited effective maintenance can lead to steam trap failures going undetected and unrepaired for months on end. Steam trap monitoring can be provided by automation vendors as a remote service. The article explains:

The service includes installation of the necessary hardware and software, plus continuous monitoring by steam system experts. These experts analyse the data that is generated by wireless acoustic transmitters attached near each steam trap, collected through proprietary software, and transmitted to the vendor’s monitoring service. The vendor then provides actionable information so that corrective steps can be taken immediately – not in weeks or months, as losses mount. Even steam trap repairs and replacements can be handled as part of the service, making the process completely hands-off for plant personnel.

It is also critically important for organizations to implement an effective corrosion and erosion monitoring system. If not well understood or controlled, corrosion and erosion can lead to poor plant availability, high reactive maintenance costs and potentially major incidents due to loss of containment of the process fluid. However, in industries such as oil and gas, refining and chemical, it is challenging to obtain measurements, because of the extreme temperatures of the equipment being monitored and the hazardous and inaccessible locations involved. The article explains that automation vendors can help organizations to meet these challenges by providing automated corrosion and erosion monitoring systems, along with experts to monitor and analyze the generated data as a remote service, helping the effective planning of maintenance tasks. Vladimir continues:

At the heart of the latest monitoring systems are compact, non-intrusive, ultrasonic wall thickness measuring sensors that monitor areas at elevated risk of internal corrosion or erosion. The sensors deliver wall thickness measurements with unparalleled accuracy and frequency, providing much greater visibility into the condition of the plant. As part of a remote service, expert analysts will combine data from all the corrosion monitoring equipment installed on-site, analyse it and then interpret it into actionable information to ensure process integrity.

Visit the Remote Monitoring Services section on to learn more about the variety of remote monitoring services provided by Emerson.

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