JULY 17, 2018
Written by: Deena Ghodrati
A Technology Geek at Heart
Growing up in Sarnia, Ontario – or what the expert of all things Operational Certainty, Blair Fraser, describes as Canada’s “Chemical Valley” – was what first prompted Blair to get into the manufacturing industry. A technology geek at heart with a love for abstract thinking and creating visions of what is possible, Blair Fraser is the Leader of Operational Certainty (Digital Transformation) at Lakeside – a market leader in the Automation Industry and the exclusive local business partner of Emerson Automation Solutions in Ontario and Manitoba. As a Certified Reliability Leader (CRL) and a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP), Blair holds over 20 years’ experience designing, commissioning, maintaining and improving manufacturing equipment and processes for the manufacturing industry. He has led the development and implementation of Industrial 4.0 solutions to some of the biggest companies in North America. Adding to his roster of impressive career highlights, Blair has been invited by global-tech companies, such as Microsoft, Emerson and ARC Advisory Group to educate industry thought leaders on Operational Certainty. I sat down with Blair to understand what Operational Certainty exactly involves and hear his take on what the future of the automation industry holds.
What is Operational Certainty and Why it Matters?
Being in a constant process of change and growth, Blair explains that Operational Certainty can be essentially understood as an approach to deliver top-quartile performance. Broken down even more, Blair’s role as Leader of Operational Certainty can be divided to two central tenants. The first is Business Development and the second involves what Blair defines as a “mode of learning”.
Addressing the technological and digital gaps in a business is a fundamental aspect of Operational Certainty. Whether it’s about reliability, safety, energy management or availability, companies are rated by how well they perform and are constantly working towards having certainty in their operations for a multitude of reasons. Top performers in the market – what the industry defines as Top Quartile companies – endure less safety incidents, produce less carbon and get more return on their investments, “saving upwards of $50 billion in wasted maintenance alone – plus over $10 billion in energy costs.” (Emerson, 2018). With greater concern and attention given to safety standards across the manufacturing industry, Blair explains that majority of safety incidents that happen during the operations of a plant occurs when it’s in a transient state; the plant either slows-down or speeds-up, in other words it’s not operating in an optimal state. “Many businesses need to innovate and develop, “says Blair, “there are still businesses that haven’t fully automated their system”.
“Technology adoption is not a linear process. There’s great technology that’s out there today, that even if you haven’t implemented all of Industry 3.0, you could apply and make huge gains around your operational certainty with Industry 4.0…”
A ‘Mode of Learning’
What exactly is a ‘mode of learning’? Essentially, it goes back to the notion that the industry is always evolving. Looking at the latest technological trends, discovering the insurgence of tech start-ups that are developing new software, research on the latest academic papers and understanding how these technologies and sources of knowledge can leverage into the business, underpins a ‘mode of learning’, as described by Blair.
“We’re at point where we’re going to have the greatest adoption of technology that we’ve ever seen before. [When it comes] to technology adoption on a time series – you can’t see what’s going to happen, but we’re at the cusp of exponential growth. When you create technology, you create a wheel. When you look at AI and virtual reality, we’re laying that foundation. In my opinion, we are building a new wheel that we are going to build other technology off of.”
Technologies That Will Disrupt the Automation Industry and the Challenges Around Them
Now that we know what Operational Certainty is – how do you achieve it? With an influx of new technology and exponential growth, what should we look-out for in the automation industry? What will drive the industry forward? What challenges will operators face in integrating this technology? Here’s what Blair had to say –
“What needs to be addressed is the lack of insight among customers – there are a lot of businesses that just don’t know where to get started. Technology adoption is not a linear process. There’s great technology that’s out there today, that even if you haven’t implemented all of Industry 3.0, you could apply and make huge gains around your operational certainty with Industry 4.0. Virtual reality and AI are two major technologies [that] will disrupt what we consider are normal in terms of process automation.”
“…the biggest concern for customers is security”
While uses of virtual reality (VR) is still in its early stages in the manufacturing industry, AI is the most promising, says Blair. Companies in industries such as Power Generation, Food Processing and Pharmaceutical Manufacturing are making astounding use of AI because of its promising returns. There is rapid adoption of AI seen across manufacturing industries, including Pharmaceutical and Nuclear Manufacturing, which historically, because of strict regulations, have been skeptical in adopting new technologies. Yet neither VR nor AI can be enabled without data, or more specifically, a software that is taking the industry by a storm – IIoT.
Still, there are businesses apprehensive about adopting IIoT. In Blair’s opinion, the biggest concern for customers is security. Companies are fearful of potential threats, such as hacking and viruses that would compromise their operations. But, as Blair explains, the internet or the cloud does not have to be involved when it comes to IIoT – rather it’s communication between machines, devices talking to devices. It’s not the same internet that we use everyday to access Facebook, eBay or online banking. There are great technologies safeguarding these devices, such as segmenting IIoT into its own network, having network assess restricted, encrypting data and having ISA cyber security standards.
When it comes down to it, Blair says it’s important to show customers results of what’s possible and more importantly, show precedent of companies that have utilized these technologies and their advances as a result. Once this insight is built, businesses will get past the adoption barrier. Perhaps opening channels of communication will be part of the solution – having seminars or trainings to inform customers of the latest technology and its uses, their benefits, and the measures taken to secure these devices and detect potential threats.