The Transformation of Technologies
Sensors, data, trust
With the proliferation of new 5G technologies, sensors are able to communicate in real-time, unlike bandwidth or wireless-enabled sensors. Moreover, automation companies like Yokogawa are now working to develop AI on the sensors themselves, allowing these to handle simple commands without the interference of a control system. Fluke Reliability also works on sensor improvements, attempting to increase the sensors’ lifespan and battery life, as well as making them faster. Both the advancement of sensors and the democratization of these technologies - as wireless sensors are becoming cheaper and more accessible - will lead to more data. This will entail a need for expert data curators and interpreters.
Lim Khay Guan, CEO and managing director at E+H Southeast Asia, adheres to the view that data is the new oil: “Data allows for more rational, science-based decisions, helping our customers improve their processes, speed their troubleshooting, predict shutdowns and continuously monitor decentralized measuring points.”
But too much data can also be a problem if this is not properly contextualized, hierarchized and categorized. “Data can be powerful only when translated into actionable information,” said Tobias Botzenhardt, VP and head of process automation at Siemens ASEAN.
“Technology has been greatly democratized in recent years. Items like wireless sensors used to be expensive, difficult to learn and hard to get hold of, but today these are becoming cheaper and generally more accessible.”
Arun Nair, Managing Director, Fluke Reliability APAC
To answer this challenge, Siemens is developing a consulting arm to help customers make the most of data. German measurement and automation company Endress+Hauser (E+H) answers the challenge of data overwhelm through a digital solution system called Netilion IIoT through which customers are fed bite-sized data volumes tailored to specific needs.
Moving past the question of data saturation, a big inhibitor to digital adoption is data protection and fears of cyber leaks, intensified with the growth of smart work. Therefore, tech providers focus their efforts not just on improving the technologies to obtain and curate data, but also to make it safer, running cybersecurity technologies such as white hats alongside their digitalization programs. Similar questions around safety apply to automation: according to Andreas Hauser from TÜV SUD, “black boxes” inspire little confidence. The German company found an opportunity to work on sensor network verification technology that makes sensor-generated data more trustworthy. Similarly, TÜV SUD also works on a rigorous quality system for AI to increase its reliability and enable broader adoption rates.
Hauser expanded on this newfound market gap: “Smart cities and industries including chemical plants need to manage countless sensors and sensor networks of different qualities - some more accurate than others, and whose use involves both sensor providers and data providers. We see a huge potential for trustworthy data as a service so that built-on applications can be sufficiently reliable and accurate.”
A more diverse, integrated offer
Even though the pandemic impacted revenues for digital companies, new territories of growth are emerging. Digitalization is found in a relationship of “tango” with sustainability, because carbon initiatives rely on smart insights, while software and digital companies find a new demand driver.
German sensor technology player SICK experienced a 20% drop in sales during 2020. Operating in Singapore as two separate entities- SICK Product Center Asia (focused on manufacturing and R&D in the region) and SICK Private Ltd (sales unit of SICK AG Germany), the company supplies about 40,000 sensors to different industries, 40% of the business coming from factory and logistics automation services. However, moving forward, the decarbonization value chains present SICK with the next growth arena: “We are increasingly more involved in the renewable markets and we think the development of hydrogen as a fuel will be a major focus for the Singaporean government,” said Apparao Myneni, strategic industry manager, SICK sales and service (SICK AG).
The energy transition undertaken by many industrial clients has attracted digital players to expand their offerings in this field. ABB, for instance, offers both hardware and software to help customers integrate green energy into their operations or to adopt technologies like carbon capture. Schneider Electric is the first in the industry to bring into the market a switchgear technology free of SF6 (a greenhouse gas), as well as offering technologies like Smart Grids.
The obvious trend for the tech industry is to develop more varied portfolios, often in an integrated way. Two things drive this: The needs base of their industrial customers has expanded from safety and productivity to reducing environmental footprint and increasing transparency in their value chains. Secondly, industrial customers, including chemical producers, require a more complex service across different domains, including automation, instrumentation, electrical services, telecommunications and digital solutions. This integrated, domain-complex offer is a key differentiator for ABB: “We can couple our deep domain expertise in electrical systems with our automation systems to control how the equipment interacts with the plant. Additionally, our digital solutions help extract and interpret data. Finally, digital insights are also used in designing the plant and developing the infrastructure for maximum optimization,” said Johan de Villiers, global VP O&G, ABB.
To match the need for a more holistic solutions package there has been a greater fusion between software, electronics, instruments, automation and digital suppliers realized through acquisitions and portfolio additions. One such example is the acquisition by US-based manufacturer of industrial test and measurement equipment Fluke Corporation (parented by Fortive) of German company Pruftechnik. The new entity, called Fluke Reliability, is an ensemble of different assets: “This new umbrella entity combines Pruftechnik’s core product line, especially in handheld devices, together with eMaint’s computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software, used to manage work orders, PM schedules and parts inventories, and, finally, the software tool of Fluke Connect, used in gathering and storing measurements from test tools and condition monitoring systems. The idea behind bringing these assets together is to create an Industry 4.0 connected system whereby, if a client buys a number of Fluke devices and Pruftechnik devices, these can be communicated to the cloud through Fluke Connect, while eMaint tracks the measurements of these tools to create a visual dashboard of these three components into one place,” said Arun Nair, managing director at Fluke Reliability APAC.
The two companies are in the process of integrating Pruftechnik’s 16 global subsidiaries, one of which is in Singapore.
There are many examples reflecting the greater merging between digital, electronic, electric and automation solutions. Siemens, for instance, acquired UK-based PSE in 2019, a software firm providing sophisticated models for simulation. Today, Siemens is a top 10 global software provider, whose digital offering is seeing greater demand. In 2020, Schneider Electric acquired ETAP Automation, a leading software platform for electrical power systems; at the same time, Schneider holds 60% shares of AVEVA - a provider of digital transformation solutions. Solutions such as Schneider’s EcoStruxure – an IoT enabled plug-and-play, interoperable architecture and platform that connects everything from shop building, plant and plant machinery, to IT, power and electricity grid into a cloud, make it difficult to define the company as an energy or automation player, its solutions stretching much further.
Just like their customers, smart solution providers do not only transform their product and service lines, but also their interactions with customers: E+H invested in a new digital platform, which Southeast Asia CEO calls a “smart collaboration platform where customers can easily manage their transactions, place and check their order status online, download documentation and get access to our contacts - in the office, in the field and on the go,” shared Lim Khay Guan.
“Singapore’s future in the petrochemical industry cannot be hardware; it is not about building extra plants or storage but taking a software-focused approach for fronting services and digitalization.”
Sudheer Vijapurapu, Managing Director, New Asia Shipbrokers
Holding over 50% of Southeast Asia’s data center capacity, the fastest broadband speed in the world and the best IP protection according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report (2019), Singapore offers great digital infrastructure. Singapore is also a good fit for tech companies in terms of the high adoption curve as the country plows forward with its Smart Nation and Smart Industry vision. At the launch of the Smart Nation in 2014, Prime Minister Lee defined the concept as a nation “where we can create possibilities for ourselves beyond what we imagined possible.” Indeed, six years ago, many of the developments in place today, including the use of drones or technologies like digital twins, were unfathomable.
In a context where policymakers barely keep up with the speed of new tech, Singapore is doing more than playing catch-up by fervently driving transformation. This year, the country passed the Electronic Transactions (Amendment) Bill through which it legalizes the digitalization of trade documents. “Singapore is one of the first countries to be doing this, which shows the technology-regulation gap does not pertain to advanced technologies only, but also the simple translation from paper to digital,” Ziyang Fan, head of digital trade at the World Economic Forum (WEF), told GBR.
Image courtesy of Siemens