You can’t ignore the impact of IIoT in the process sectors but you might miss one low key yet significant benefit – in gas telemetry, says Air Products’ Simon Earnshaw
When we think about Industry 4.0, it’s the big-ticket changes which generate most interest. Major advances in technology are transforming our industry and we are all, quite rightly, in awe of these high-profile innovations.
However, for me, sometimes it’s the little things which best represent how our industry is evolving, and which will facilitate some of the greatest change.
An interesting example of this is in the ever-increasing benefit telemetry provides to firms using industrial gases as part of their operations. Gas availability has traditionally been monitored using a simple pressure gauge connected to the cylinder – hardly an exact science.
As this method isn’t refined enough to accurately track usage, gas is wasted, manufacturers are unsure of their supply and therefore unable to manage their inventory accurately. This means suppliers are working reactively to customers needs rather than proactively.
Lately, this has started to change. A process now becoming available places a sensor inside the cylinder to transmit data via Bluetooth. This instantly allows customers to get more granular information, which they can access via a mobile device. Before, someone could estimate whether a cylinder was full, half full or nearly empty. Now they are able to accurately read how many hours or minutes they have left before their supply runs out.
The improvements to efficiency bring a range of benefits. Workloads and ordering can be more accurately planned and at a touch of a button companies can find out how much gas they have available, how long it will last and when they’ll need to reorder.
Another benefit is that, once a sensor is in place, any issues with connection leaks can be spotted almost instantly. In the past any leak on a cylinder or distribution system was unlikely to be detected until someone came to use it and found it empty. Today, any abnormally high consumption would generate an alarm – cutting down on wastage and improving on-site safety.
Before, someone could estimate whether a cylinder was full, half full or nearly empty. Now they [can] read how many hours or minutes they have left
As valuable as these advances are, the next step for this seemingly small piece of technology will help it facilitate a much greater change. Gas cylinder sensors currently operate using Bluetooth, meaning the range that the data can be communicated is restricted to the site. Further advances will extend the range of the sensor – allowing suppliers to track gas usage from source.
This will have significant knock-on effects. From an off-site location, suppliers will be able to accurately track inventory, monitor customer usage, predict when new deliveries are needed, and the quantity required. Using all of this information, suppliers can factor in customers’ needs, calculate their own schedule accordingly and maximise efficiency.
This level of detail will allow suppliers to schedule ‘just-in-time’ deliveries and to reduce their, fuel consumption through less frequent deliveries. The impact of their work – and that of their supply chain – on the environment, is a growing concern of all businesses. This is another example of how technology can help us reduce that impact.
Telemetry is nothing new, and its advances are perhaps not the most high-profile change we will see during the Industry 4.0 revolution. However, its growing influence has the potential to turn the supply chain on its head, change the way our factories operate and create a more efficient industrial gas industry.
Simon Earnshaw is director of production & supply chain in Europe for Air Products