It’s that time again…each year, LNS Research puts forth predictions around the key trends in the Industrial Transformation (IX) topics where we focus our research. In the case of Asset Performance Management (APM 4.0), our 2021 forecast focused on multiple definitions of Digital Twins, the shift of APM 4.0 to a broader view in terms of Operational Excellence (OE 4.0) and Operation Risk Management (ORM), the Connected Worker (CW), now called the Connected Frontline Workforce (CFW), and the Open Process Automation (OPA) pilots and related progress. Two additional trends are that the path to autonomy flows through Operational Excellence, a concept that requires redefinition and reimagining compared to past approaches; and second, the scale and depth of what it will take to be autonomous is not yet well understood.
For 2022, despite the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, we see activity levels returning to pre-pandemic levels and continuing to increase. While we continue to focus on the progress of APM 4.0 and Digital Twins, we are keeping a broader perspective toward risk management, operational excellence, remote operations, autonomous manufacturing operations, i.e., the autonomous plant, and how all of this fits under the umbrella of sustainability.
Here are what we see for 2022:
The adoption of Digital Twins will continue to increase in 2022, though twins will still be defined in the eye of the beholder, meaning the vendor offering them. Several vendors, including TwinThread, Sight Machine, Braincube, Tulip, and ThinkIQ, regard their data models as Digital Twins. However, are these data models really virtual representations of the actual physical material, equipment, or machine? No, but they are representations of the manufacturing process and the supply chain, and as such are twins, just as many other twins do the same in their own way…for example, financial twins. I predict that these vendors are establishing a new category…not a new form of MES, but instead a form of manufacturing performance analytics where the data model is the twin. Hence, they complement MES, or in some cases, substitute for MES. The next step will be moving from prescriptive advice to a closed-loop supervisory control. Look for this capability to emerge in 2022.
Finally, the hyperscalers entered the twin market last year with AWS TwinMaker. We predict that AWS, with perhaps Microsoft to follow, will slowly but surely gain twin ground, as they move up the stack and move ever closer to operations.
APM spend will pick up steam. At the same time, the larger players are filling in their portfolios to complete their APM offerings via partnerships and acquisitions, a good example of which is Emerson’s acquisition of AspenTech. This will begin to squeeze out the smaller predictive maintenance (PdM) and analytics-only players, who must find a niche to survive. At the same time, what I will call mass-condition-based monitoring (CbM) and mass-PdM will increase market share and focus on the less critical assets that can be instrumented with low-cost sensors. The mass approach uses asset templates to provide starter models which learn over time to provide more accurate predictions. This will displace manual data collection and reduce the number of assets left in the Run-to Fail (RTF) mode.
Last year, we said that there would be increased friction between APM, EHS, and Quality in the pursuit of Operational Excellence (OE 4.0) and Operational Risk Management (ORM). All the attention is on EHS vendors because of their role in sustainability and ESG. More power to them as referees and scorekeepers. However, human performance and operational integrity are the keys to safe and responsible operations in the process industry. More operating companies will wake up to the fact that doing EHS and APM the same old way won’t get them to OE 4.0, let alone reduce risk and sustain operations. Organizational change and replacing the siloed software now in use will begin to make progress.
With ExxonMobil’s commitment to pilot an O-PAS in one of their Gulf Coast facilities in the 2022-2023 timeframe, progress will finally be made toward OPAF’s goals. ExxonMobil’s partners, as well as others, will begin to follow. And this movement toward openness will be further accelerated by Schneider Electric’s formation of UniversalAutomation.org (UA). UA, leveraging the IEC 61499 standard, will drive the development of a vendor-agnostic ecosystem of portable and interoperable “plug and produce” software that can run with almost any hardware. UA complements the open compatibility of O-PAS systems. Look for these two to “gel” in 2022 and build even more momentum in 2023. The long climb up to the peak of the “open Sisyphus hill” finally looks within reach. My bet that Schneider will be the first major automation vendor to release O-PAS conformant products remains in place.
Finally, LNS’s research into Operational Excellence and the autonomous plant revealed two things: first that the path to autonomy flows through Operational Excellence, a concept that requires redefinition and reimagining compared to past approaches; and second, that the scale and depth of what it will take to be autonomous are not yet well understood, despite the bloviation of some vendors. In 2022, we will start seeing more examples of autonomous operations, beginning with applications that work with control systems, such as operator advisors, to help guide decision-making during transitions and upsets. John Deere also announced a ~$500K autonomous tractor to be available later in 2022. Currently, its autonomous capability is limited to tilling the soil. It still has a cab so it can be used in manual mode for all the other farm tasks. We look forward to seeing how it will compare with the autonomous trucks used in mining operations.
How Did We Do on Our Predictions for 2021?
Not sure whether or not to believe our predictions for 2022? Let's review how we did on our predictions for 2021. At the start of last year, we made five predictions for 2021. Let’s look at what those predictions were and then drill into how things turned out…
Multiple definitions of Digital Twins
The shift of APM 4.0 to a broader view in terms of Operational Excellence (OE 4.0) and Operation Risk Management (ORM)
The Connected Worker (CW), now called the Connected Frontline Workforce (CFW)
Open Process Automation (OPA) pilots and related progress
Two additional trends are that the path to autonomy flows through Operational Excellence, a concept that requires redefinition and reimagining compared to past approaches; and second, the scale and depth of what it will take to be autonomous is not yet well understood.
For 2022, activity levels remain high, and IX acceleration continues as more companies progress toward true transformation. While we continue to focus on the progress of APM 4.0 and Digital Twins, we are keeping a broader perspective toward risk management, operational excellence, remote operations, autonomous manufacturing operations, i.e., the autonomous plant, and how all of this fits under the umbrella of sustainability.
First, the saga to define a Digital Twin will continue without any doubt. There are at least ten different twins, ranging from design and engineering through operations, maintenance, and the supply chain. Some vendors have added the concept of a data model as a twin whereby the data from production system equipment and material flows are organized into a twin. One can argue whether or not this is a virtual representation of the physical, as many other twins are. But considering that we can have financial and other data-based types, why not. Those vendors offering twins on the engineering side have and will continue to overweight their importance, which LNS’s research has shown is not a top priority for brownfield operations. Process twins remain king but still haven’t gained true predictive capabilities, as have asset twins. But process twins have been gaining AI/ML capabilities, particularly hybrid model twins. The hyperscalers have entered the field with AWS’s TwinMaker. On the industry organization front, the Digital Twin Consortium is gaining momentum with the introduction of the Digital Twin System Interoperability Framework.
Second, we said the focus on APM 4.0 will shift to a broader view in terms of Operational Excellence (OE 4.0) and Operation Risk Management (ORM). This will lead to increased friction, and at the same time opportunity, between APM, EHS, and quality too. Competitors will begin to react in 2021, and we’ll see more partnerships and M&A ramping up. We cited the Honeywell/Enablon partnership, but there’s been little press nor similar activity from other leading vendors since its announcement. So we missed this prediction, though we continue to believe there is considerable opportunity for synergy. Look for more on OE 4.0 from LNS Research in 2022.
Connected Frontline Worker
Here we predicted that no market area seems more hyperactive than CFW, where numerous competitors from automation to ERP major ISVs to startups are struggling for hand-room on the steering wheel. CFW is getting serious attention from end-users, but the field is crowded and differentiation is difficult. There are at least 20 vendors in the space, each adding 30-40 logos a year, though most of these new additions are single plant sites and not corporate roll-outs. Nevertheless, serious dollars are flowing to these mostly startups with new funding rounds in the $10 million to $50 million range. This past year has seen tremendous activity in CFW, so we hit the nail on the head with this prediction. Look for a lot more insight on CFW from my colleague Pete Bussey in 2022.
Open Process Automation (OPA)
This set of predictions was a mixed bag. ExxonMobil’s OPAF* partners, ConocoPhillips, Dow, Linde, and Reliance, still have yet to publicly announce when they will proceed with their pilots. However, ExxonMobil has announced they will pilot a system in one of their facilities in the 2022-2023 time frame. Exactly where and in what service remains to be seen. Progress also continued on the O-PAS standard, with v3 expected to be available later in 2022.
Last year, we missed the mark in predicting that at least two smaller independent hardware vendors would introduce OPA conformant components to the market. None have. But the good news is that a group of the original ExxonMobil testbed vendors, known as the Coalition for Open Process Automation (COPA), has introduced a pilot system for companies to test. COPA is directed by Collaborative Systems Integration (CSI) and CPLANE.ai.
Remote Operations and the Autonomous Plant
Finally, LNS’s research into Operational Excellence and the Autonomous plant was presented to several vendors and end-users. First, market feedback confirmed that the path to autonomy flows through Operational Excellence, a concept that requires redefinition and reimagining compared to past approaches; and second, the scale and depth of what it will take to be autonomous is still not yet well understood. Furthermore, there is still the tendency to look at autonomy solely through the lens of automation, with automation meaning, control systems. All of this means that transformation is necessary to achieve not only OE 4.0 but to make progress toward autonomy. LNS Research will continue our research on autonomy into 2022 as we explore the challenging journey of getting there.
By our account, we had three hits, one miss, and one mixed bag. In wrapping up our 2021 predictions, we said without any doubt, we have entered a new normal that we are defining as we go and what is certain is that it will not be a return to the old normal. So yes, even though we are getting a leg up on the pandemic, we still don’t see things going back to the same pre-pandemic way of working. For example, some changes like remote work have already become a permanent part of the landscape.
Well, we have again rolled the dice for 2022 and expect it to be an exciting year of growth and change. Come December 2022, it will be interesting to see just how well we did with these predictions. We are still riding the rollercoaster, so stay buckled up and tuned in. Without any doubt, we have entered a new normal still in the process of being defined. However, we think we would all agree that it will not return to the old normal. Undoubtedly, the journey ahead promises to be full of twists, turns, and hopefully, positive surprises.
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