MechChem Africa

MechChem Africa visits the Rockwell Automation stand at Electra Mining Africa (EMA) and talks to the company’s South African MD, Barry Elliott, who presents a slower, evolutionary approach to digitalisation.

“Digitalisation and convergence are the buzz words on everybody’s lips and most automation and software specialists are saying similar things: urgently warning operators that they are likely to become ‘irrelevant’ unless they begin the digitalisation process right now,” Elliott begins.

“But we still sell PLCs, VSDs, contactors, control panels, SCADA systems visualisation systems and all of the associated software that underpins these. We have a large portfolio built up over many years, which is the bread and butter of our business. It is what we have always done and we are still doing it. Digitalisation must add to this offering, rather than replacing it.

Rockwell Automation ema“For lots of companies, the digitalisation ‘revolution’ is a daunting and terrifying thing, perpetuated by the massive numbers presented by technology advisory agencies such as Gartner or McKinsey and Company: multi-billions of connected devices and a trillion-dollar industry, for example, which immediately makes people believe that millions of dollars must be spent in order to benefit.

“Scariest of all is the warning that huge numbers of operational assets are likely to become ‘irrelevant’ unless they are digitalised or replaced and that organisations that fail to become digitalised over the next few years will become totally out of touch with their markets and customers,” Elliott tells MechChem Africa.

“While there is some truth in these predictions, we believe that transforming existing assets need not be nearly as daunting as it first appears. It is possible to simplify the technology and to identify cost-effective and immediately beneficial upgrades that can put operators on a manageable transformation trajectory,” he adds.

Elliott says that people in industry are looking for specific solutions for their own manufacturing or processing systems: mine conveyor equipment to move extracted minerals, tyre manufacturing and inspection systems; or food processing and packaging lines. “But in all these cases, what digitalisation offers is the data behind the things people are processing,” he says.

Using a conveyor system as an example, Elliott says that these have long been controlled via variable speed drives (VSDs), which actually date back to the early 80s. The VSDs currently in use are not necessarily digital, but where a VSD is already in use, it may be an easy portal toward digitalisation.

“Anyone willing to give up their 4 to 20 mA analogue control signal currently being used to control their conveyor’s VSD and to replace it with a relatively inexpensive digital equivalent is ready to begin to transform,” Elliott points out. “Ripping out the entire conveyor and its legacy control system is not a condition for migration,” he argues. Read more…

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