Siemens has that problem but at over 100,000 stock keeping units (SKUs), it has a much bigger organizational challenge that you or I will ever face. The mammoth Siemens AG was founded over 150 years ago, has around 343,000 employees in over 200 countries and generated revenue of €72 billion last year. That’s a lot of people, offices, divisions, manufacturing plants, partners and customers. It all started with electrical telegraphs and has grown to encompass the whole “electrification value chain” –power generation, transmission, distribution— and, from there, grown into all sorts of industrial applications.
It’s hard for a software person (at least this software person) to wrap her brain around. Coming at this industrial powerhouse from the relatively narrow perspective of design, manufacturing and product support. What else is there in the parent AG? Lots, as it turns out. A LOT.
Two weeks ago, Siemens AG hosted an Oil and Gas Innovations Summit in Houston to showcase the breadth of its entire offering for this one vertical. We had software, lots of hardware, services, consulting and mixes of all of these, and a couple of hundred end-users all eager to see how the latest offering could help them be more efficient and cut costs in a tough end-industry environment. Company, partner and user presentations were bookended by displays of industrial controllers, analytical products and inline components for the oil and gas upstream (getting it out of the ground), midstream (moving it) and downstream (turning it into gasoline and other high-value products). It was really cool to see it all come together but so much remains to be done.
Did you know that Siemens makes sophisticated instruments that analyze production? Everything from the gas chromatographs and continuous gas analyzers that identify composition of the flow in a particular line, to level, temperature and pressure measurement devices. The data can be read on-site from gauges, transmitted to operations centers for action and to data loggers for record-keeping and historical analysis. But the instruments are often in hazardous locations —on a drilling platform, in a refinery, very hot, Arctic cold and so on— and need to be protected and made safe for operator access. Enter Siemens Analytical Products and Solutions’ systems integration facility, where they build shelters to buyer’s specifications that combine instruments, add air conditioning and other features. Think a small house, or 10 foot x 10 foot (or 20 foot or bigger) trailer, $500,000 and you’re in the ballpark. We can’t look too closely because each shelter is custom, but this is the general idea:
Back at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, the conference brought together Siemens assets to improve efficiency, visibility and reliability in the oil and gas world. As speaker after speaker pointed out, this industry is old and still uses a lot of manual methods, which don’t scale and are often localized which means they’re not connected to anything that could improve efficiency or provide advanced warning. Too often, this lack of integrated monitoring and real-time operating data means that processes are inefficient, and that safety is an after-thought. Add in cyber-security, a very real talent shortage in the industry, regulatory pressure and the stresses placed on the industry by political and macro-economic effects, and it’s no wonder that those in attendance are looking at Siemens to tell them what’s next.
But they also see Siemens as either too big and disjointed to even begin to know where to start, or as a niche provider who doesn’t offer much beyond the measuring instrument or process controller they’re currently using. Several of the attendees I spoke with had no idea that Siemens made/sold a product outside what they’ve already bought; several partners expressed frustration at not being able to sell a more diverse set of Siemens’ products. It’s hard to know what Siemens AG does, when you’re used to dealing with one time piece of it.
On the second day of the conference Siemens’ Andreas Geiss explained Siemens’ offering for the industry this way: Siemens covers the digital enterprise from product design (in this context, the grade of heating oil, for example), through process and plant design to engineering, operation and service. Maybe this graphic will help, from a presentation made to industry analysts and the media:
But it’s not all control systems and measuring devices. Design software also plays a major role in these projects, as you may imagine, and Siemens has plenty to say there, too. We all know about Siemens PLM, which is aggressively targeting this market with Teamcenter-based solutions for equipment data management, master document list (MDL) transmittals, bid management, project and issue management and modular construction — 7 solutions, so far. The point: if it’s digital, a PLM system can manage it and perhaps replace a lot of homegrown solutions. Creating a single source with real-time collaboration and specific workflows can remove a lot of the adhoc or manual methods and help leapfrog a project into the 21st century. Siemens is working with Accenture on a number of these solutions, applying its cross-industry and deep oil & gas expertise to these implementations.
A couple of other software notes: Comos was front-and-center here, after years of playing in the background. You may recall that Comos is a data platform that supplies designers, engineers, operating personnel and others with a continuous flow of data tailored to each role’s specific need and the phase of the project. All component data is stored in a central database, and all roles access the same data for a given object, creating data sheets, drawings or other output as needed — which means that changes are always available to any user. As Comos becomes more a part of the Siemens family, this takes on interesting ramifications. Imagine being able to walk through the virtual plant with Walkinside, and navigate to the data stored in Comos, perhaps to find out operating parameters for a piece of equipment. Now tie that to actual operating plant data, coming in from Siemens Simatic PCS 7, and you can begin to answer questions like, How can we produce at higher quality and lower cost? Combining engineering and automation enables operator training (not sure if it’s man-in-the-loop yet, but it’s clearly on the horizon), trade-off studies, fact-based planning, easier programming SIMATIC PCS 7 hardware, and updates to the Comos database when field components are changed. I am trying to connect with a user and hope to write more about this soon.
Have you heard of XHQ? No? Me neither, and I pay attention to these things.XHQ used to be INDx, which was acquired by Siemens about ten years ago.XHQ is software that allows users to aggregate, relate, and present operational and business data in real time. It’s really cool — it’s an IoT-like dashboard that can include instrument data, the spot price of input commodities, stock prices or anything else one is interested in. XHQ can extract data from ERP systems, production databases, document management systems, process historians, and manufacturing automation systems (whether Siemens’ or not). All kinds of great applications already in place, and hardly anyone knows about it.
And one final, not-so-calming software note: One of the event keynotes was Alice Barnett, Manager of Information Technology Audit for ConocoPhillips. Ms. Barnett very calmly laid out just how vulnerable every electronic system is to bad actors, whether internal or external. She pointed out that while automation brings reliability, safety and operating efficiency, it also lays open far too many systems to cybersecurity threats. Industrial cyberthreats could have potentially deadly consequences: from service interruptions to off-spec products to unplanned environmental releases of hazardous equipment to serious injuries or deaths resulting from hackers who derail production equipment. Ms. Barnett told us that these treats are more frequent than the public knows, and are increasing as industry moves to standard hardware and software. Her suggestions: protect what you can with physical and digital tools, monitor everything that makes sense to detect intrusions as early as possible, respond to attacks with multiple layers and learn from every incident. Hackers are always evolving, so cybersecurity must also. My personal takeaways: never, ever turn off the firewall; don’t plug in random USB drives (and even from known sources, think about the giver’s cybersecurity efforts), and keep on top of security updates from trusted sources. It’s a scary, scary world.
So, what about Siemens’ offering for the oil and gas world? There’s something for everyone, for asset owners and their contractors, for design/engineering and operations/maintenance. But it isn’t completely tied together at this point. For example: are there digital representations for all of the Siemens hardware products, so that they can be quickly represented in a digital model? Not yet, but working on it, I am told. In a perfect world, a process engineer would spell out Siemens SKU 12345 in his design which would spawn all sorts of downstream activities for procurement, detail design, installation instructions, maintenance schedules and so on. For now, it’s OK that this isn’t connected –most oil & gas projects can’t do this yet, anyway; but it will become increasingly important, especially in a world of $70/barrel oil.
Siemens AG’s CEO Joe Kaeser laid out the company’s vision for 2020 as “gathering data, generating data, analyzing content and then drawing the right conclusions”. Many of the pieces are there. Connecting products, sales channels, partners, and customers so that everyone can see the breadth of it all is a daunting challenge.
Note: Siemens graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation at the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. I’d like to offer a special shout-out to the guys in the mobile exhibits for answering endless questions. Thanks!
Photos taken by me; slide image is courtesy of Siemens. That top photo is of the Siemens and conference logos on the jumbotron at the baseball stadium. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a logo that big.