The Australian manufacturing industry and the trillion-dollar question

Emerson’s Rob Garston explains how the right IIoT strategy can help Australian manufacturers gain an even better competitive edge without a high-dollar ante.


An advocate for digital transformation believes the manufacturing industry in Australia could benefit from new technologies and methodologies aimed at helping industrial companies achieve top performance and begin recovery of a whopping $1 trillion in operational losses they experience each year, globally.

Rob Garston, vice president for the automation solution division at Emerson’s Singapore branch, said that with a global contraction in capital spending, manufacturers are under tremendous pressure to hit financial targets with existing assets.

“The key to setting and achieving new performance goals is first understanding what is possible given today’s technologies and which levers can deliver measurable, predicable results,” Garston told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“Australia has been one of the early adopters of digitalisation that is transforming the industry. Driven by high labour costs, they have always been looking for ways to optimise activities and keep themselves competitive.

However, due to uncertainty about which approaches will yield the greatest improvement, companies are trapped by decades-old work practices that fail to take full advantage of advanced digital technologies, Garston noted.

“We observed that manufacturers remain stuck in a ‘grind-it-out’ mindset, frozen in a paradox of needing dramatically better results yet being risk-averse to new approaches.” Garston said.

Garston’s comments are based on comparisons between the operational performance of top-quartile performers and their average industry peers.

Emerson has been exploring the dimensions of operational performance to identify the specific behaviors and actions that separate top-quartile performers from those in the lower three tiers. The results formed the basis of an innovative initiative launched last year by Emerson – Operational Certainty.

Operational Certainty is a technology and engineering-based program encompassing new technologies, methodologies and consulting practices – all aimed at helping manufacturers achieve measurable gains in the areas of production, reliability, safety and energy and emissions.

“When we look at Operational Certainty, examining the behaviors of top-quartile performers and speaking to customers, we found that there is a trillion dollars in operational losses that can begin to be recovered simply by implementing the right IIoT strategy,” Garston explained.

“With the advent of new technology – such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and digitalisation – companies in Australia will be able to stay even more competitive, globally,” he added.

Optimising production, improving reliability, minimising emissions and ensuring safety are the four pillars of any top-quartile business, Garston said.

Achieving measurable gains in these areas and working toward top-quartile performance is possible with an enterprise-wide digital ecosystem that leverages domain expertise as well as IIoT capabilities, he added.

Emerson’s Rob Garston
Emerson’s Rob Garston

Emerson unveiled such an ecosystem last year with the launch of Plantweb, a scalable portfolio of standards-based hardware, software, intelligent devices and services for securely implementing the IIoT.

Plantweb technologies are designed to help manufacturers achieve operational excellence and put them on the path to becoming a top-quartile performer.

Garston will lead a series of seminars based on top-quartile performance as a key part of Emerson Connect Tour Events in Brisbane (August 28), Melbourne (August 30), and Perth (September 1). He will speak about harnessing the power of IIoT with the Plantweb digital ecosystem to achieve operational certainty.

Because of its robust network of sensing technologies, control and actuation equipment, a suite of scalable software applications, consulting services, integration, and remote equipment monitoring, Plantweb provides manufacturers total flexibility and scalability in the way they adopt IIoT.

Garston explains this means that adoption doesn’t have to be a “big bang” infrastructure investment or organisational overhaul. Instead, manufacturers can invest in small pilots, ensure return on investment (ROI), and take the next step, knowing that each investment can be leveraged toward an organisational top-quartile program.

“This is why automation is the highest impact investment organisations can make for ROI on their operational excellence initiatives,” Garston said.

For example, a petrochemical company with hundreds of steam traps recently employed an Emerson IIoT strategy that reduced steam consumption by seven percent, Garston noted.

The strategy makes use of wireless acoustic steam trap transmitters to monitor noise and temperature, then transfers the data to a Microsoft Azure cloud virtual server, so the analytics software can analyze the data and generate alerts.

Then, remote-access monitoring by experts provides actionable reports to maintenance for repairing or replacing failed steam traps before they fail.

“Operational excellence begins with pinpointing the causes of sub-optimal performance, prioritizing actions that can yield the greatest improvement, and establishing a scalable work plan,” Garston said.

“It also takes management leadership embracing and deploying the right technology and solutions, a commitment to break down silos and encourage expert collaboration across the enterprise, and courage to drive a culture where it is safe to advocate change.

“When this happens, manufacturers experience a return of greater productivity, less downtime, safer operations, and reduced energy costs. The path to getting the most from the IIoT becomes clear, and the journey to becoming a top industry performer begins.”