Plant Construction & Process Technology

The IIoT Needs You and Me

19.02.2021 - The IIoT continues to evolve, with countless solutions touting end-to-end process automation. However, one of the most important elements of IIoT — the human element — has taken a back burner in this hype cycle.

To realize its potential, IIoT solutions must address the role of the connected industrial worker in this brave new world. “People-focused” IIoT brings back the balance of power between people, processes and technology, and ultimately will enable industrial enterprises to unleash their true potential to optimize plant operations, improve productivity, enhance efficiency and ensure worker safety.

Refocusing on the Human Element of the IIoT

At the center of the IIoT is the human being who is charged with making use of the applications and services enabled by the devices and their unprecedented integration provided in the IIoT. The human element is an important one within an IIoT infrastructure because ultimately it holds the final decision on how the system will learn how to react to processing anomalies.

In any processing operation, it is also important not to overlook the vital role of communications. Today, we think of this more as people-to-people, among or between teams. This is because industrial processes are largely controlled by human operators, who have final oversight and responsibility for a safe operation. As emerging automation systems come online with the ability to crunch vast amounts of IIoT data, decision-making is being shared between humans and machines, thus taking the communication between operators and machines to a new level.

Now comes the time when chemical processors need to instrument the people tasked with using and managing machinery in the overall process. A safe and effective plant needs to be able to rely on a workforce equipped with contextual information about the physical processes taking place. Plant process management (PPM) helps to do that and embraces the “you and me” with IIoT, the missing link that supports smart manufacturing.

PPM describes a system that enables processors to manage, monitor and optimize their operations around work activities and production assets. Applicable to any type of plant regardless of the amount of IIoT instrumentation, AI, machine learning or predictive maintenance, PPM ensures knowledge can be ingested and analyzed from any human contact point in a process.

People-focused during a Crisis

With Covid-19 still a concern, consistent capture of team-to-team communication has become a must-have capability, especially as irregular work patterns have been emerging for individuals due to isolation and social distancing measures. As many operations have learned recently, having an electronic knowledge base describing issues and their resolution based on this communication is an essential investment in maintaining an operation resilient in times of crisis.

Beyond Covid-19, an investment in PPM capabilities will also serve the organization’s IIoT strategy – think AI applications that “learn” from historical observations by experienced operations staff (again, the human element). In this way, PPM offers a low-risk, high-impact investment.

Solutions for the new Digital Age

Any investment in digitalization for processing operations must address how a company’s workforce and automation infrastructures work together. Successful digitalization projects make a difference on the shop floor by reflecting the needs and experience of the workforce. Plant digitalization initiatives must include the support of all stakeholders, which also means the plant floor workers doing the everyday tasks. Make them the companions on your digitalization journey. A “people-focused” IIoT with PPM capabilities will help chemical processors get ready for the next crisis, as well as address today’s great crew change.


Andreas Eschbach, CEO, Eschbach