Blackmore’s clearly bullish on the power of analytics and on cloud technology, comparing the cloud to a puzzle that can be put together in multiple ways for value or cost advantages. The cloud may even be the ultimate solution to IT/OT convergence issues, he says. “Industry can collect data directly to the cloud,” he notes. “What if it took on 100% of the data? Security and performance are important attributes, of course, but what if OT gave up control?”
Even as a newly minted chemical engineering grad, Steve Bitar saw his mission in life as finding better ways to do things. “I wanted to see step changes, not incremental gains—all I wanted to do was innovation,” he says. And when he learned that one of the new computers they had onsite at the Mobil refinery in Paulsboro, N.J., could be used move valves, he was hooked.
But this was the early 1980s, and some of the control applications he had been developing on the side ran up against a supervisor who—unbeknownst to him—had promised the refinery manager that the computers would not be used for control. Management came around in the end, but not before Bitar feared for his job. “It almost went terribly wrong,” Bitar says. Since that time, he’s worked at 13 different plant locations in the ExxonMobil organization and has learned that in conservative industries like oil refining, you have to be careful with respect to innovation. “Too much and you make people nervous.”
It was fitting, then, that Bitar ultimately found a home in ExxonMobil’s Research and Engineering organization, where he’s had a freer rein to “find ways of doing cool things that no one has done before.” He cites an early multivariable control application where a new model development methodology dramatically reduced the time required to build a model—largely because they moved as many as nine variables at a time, rather than the tradition one-at-a-time approach. “It took four business days rather than two weeks of 24x7 effort,” Bitar says. “I’m always amazed when we can do things better, faster and cheaper. I’ve always found enough pockets of innovation to keep me happy.”
But Bitar’s biggest innovation likely remains ahead of him. Starting in 2012, he took up the company’s initiative to figure out a way to make modernization, migration and lifecycle management of the company’s fleet of distributed control systems (DCS) a less painful proposition. That initiative resulted in the Open Process Automation Forum, an industry-wide initiative designed to develop a more open architecture that would ultimately allow the continuous evolution of on-process control systems technology—without the need for extensive, multi-year updates. “We’ll upgrade as a matter of course,” Bitar predicts, “adding compute as needed and unlocking innovation along the way.”
THE EDGE OF TRANSFORMATION
Ask Irene Petrick and Faith McCreary about the work they do at Intel, and it’s easy to see how the duo found each other “at the edge of transformation,” studying the factors that influence how readily industrial organizations embrace digital technologies—and what can be done to ease that transformation’s disruptiveness for the individuals involved.
Petrick and McCreary bring complementary perspectives and experiences to the task, which perhaps explains why their collaboration has been as productive as it has. The pair recently published the results of a six-month joint research project in which they examined the role-based differences likely to influence acceptance of IIoT technologies, obstacles to change for both manufacturing workers and leaders, and leadership strategies for accelerating the transition to the intelligent factory of Industry 4.0. (The two will present the results of that study at the upcoming Smart Industry 2018 conference to be held September 24-26 in Chicago.)
A human factors engineer by training, McCreary’s study of mathematical modeling—“I loved the patterns”—ultimately brought her to NASA’s Jet Propulsion lab, where she worked on the human side of deep space navigation. Then it was on industrial and systems engineering, where she studied how technology is introduced into organizations. She’s currently a principal engineer and user experience researcher in Intel’s Internet of Things group.
Petrick took a similarly circuitous path to her current role as director of industrial innovation in the company’s IoT group. She started in business and economics, but she wasn’t quite satisfied with how the models used in these fields often require one to “assume away reality” in order to make them work. She then turned to industry where she studied manufacturing strategy from both technology and business perspectives with a focus on innovation. A stint in academia including a broad range of industry collaborations led to a project for Intel, “and when they asked me to stay, I said ‘yes,’” Petrick says.