Connected services landscape maturing rapidly

Over the past year, the speed with which the global leaders in industrial automation have turned the spigot on new connected services for industry impresses. Building on new, secure pathways for connecting data to the cloud, most of the global leaders in discrete and process automation have unveiled some wrinkle on a new, subscription-based service designed to help industrial companies get more performance from their assets. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising, as connected services dovetail so precisely with several of industry’s most pressing needs.

Today, capital dollars remain tight worldwide, so productivity, efficiency and reliability improvements that can be delivered through operational expenses are most likely to get the nod. Plus, many a company’s most experienced operators and technologists are retiring, meaning that those industry experts who remain industrywide are of necessity best leveraged across multiple sites and companies.

The process industries, in particular, have for decades used secure remote monitoring to optimize the operation of critical, high-value assets. Today, with the aid of analytics and streamlined connectivity technology, the value of the assets that can be monitored and reported on has fallen precipitously, and now includes less expensive, less critical assets such as previously unmonitored pumps and even the often neglected steam trap (which nevertheless can lead to excessive energy costs when not functioning properly).

Interestingly, the business models for delivering this new range of connected services varies from one automation supplier to the next. Several are delivering services of their own, but also opening their platforms for other technology providers and machine builders to develop and deliver services to end-user companies relative to specialized machines or processes. Others are controlling the services offered on their platforms and over their connections a bit more closely, leveraging homegrown expertise developed over many decades of experience.

Speaking of steam traps and business models, one innovative connected service that comes to mind is from Emerson Automation Solutions. The company that pioneered a unique wireless acoustic sensor technology for monitoring steam trap health has now transformed what was once a solutions-oriented bundle of sensors, wireless gateways and supervisory software to its subsciption-based Steam Trap Connected Services offering.

Under this arrangement, the end user doesn’t buy or install any hardware. Instead, Emerson service techs bolt the wireless sensors to each of the wireless steam traps to be monitored, then installs a cellular modem to backhaul sensor data directly to Emerson for analysis. One early user of the service, Denka Chemicals Singapore, realized a 7% reduction in steam demand. Clearly, this subscription-based service is but one example of the transformative, outcome-based business models that are poised to proliferate across industry.

Keith Larson is vice president of content with Smart Industry.