Mobility, risk management on display at ARC World Industry Forum 2013

A keynote at the ARC World Industry Forum emphasizes mobility, information-driven manufacturing and risk management trends to watch.

ORLANDO -- While much of the East Coast continued to shovel out from Winter Storm Nemo, attendees at the 2013 ARC World Industry Forum in Orlando were focused on sunny skies, warm breezes and the technology trends that will be heating up manufacturing in the coming year. More than 600 attendees from 22 countries filled the Oceans Ballroom of the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld on Tuesday morning for an opening keynote where trends in automation, mobility and risk management took center stage.

Andy Chatha, president and founder of ARC Advisory Group, the research firm that hosts the annual conference, started the morning with what manufacturing professionals have on their wish lists. "When we talk to [technology users] and ask, 'What is your No. 1 goal? What keeps you up at night?' the answer almost always is 'We want zero accidents; we want zero downtime in our plants,'" Chatha said.

Knowing how to leverage the power of new technology is a good strategy for avoiding such downtime, according to Chatha. He observed that the current technology cycle for manufacturers is much broader and more disruptive than past cycles for a number of reasons. Wi-Fi availability has exploded across the globe, smartphones and tablets are becoming even more varied and affordable, and a large part of the population is "connected" 24/7 through these devices.

Chatha pointed to the automotive industry as an example of a vertical that is being transformed by this technology cycle. "In the last few years, we have seen Google -- someone from outside the industry -- build an autonomous car," he said. "Now, most automotive companies are also in the process of developing autonomous cars. In fact, several of them launched these cars last month at the automotive show in Detroit."

Driverless cars aren't the only byproducts of increased connectivity for automakers, Chatha said. Several automotive giants are also launching their own application platforms for use in their vehicles. "I've heard that several of these companies are planning to replace the dashboard of the car with a tablet," he said.

The main benefit of marrying such products as cars with mobility technology is that it allows manufacturers and consumers to be continuously connected, Chatha said. A natural extension of this could be taking the black boxes in cars -- traditionally accessed only after an accident or during repairs -- and using them as tools for predictive analytics and performance monitoring that immediately alerts the driver if something isn't working properly. "That is a powerful thing," he said.

ARC World Industry Forum stresses momentum of mobility, analytics

Another key area of research for Chatha is the ubiquitous nature of smartphones and tablets. "2012 was the year of the smartphone," he said. "We already have 10 billion of these devices being used. We're projecting that we'll have over 50 billion connective devices in just a few years." The "Internet of things" -- otherwise known as machine-to-machine technology -- is a natural extension of mobility that can be used to improve the performance of assets across an organization, Chatha added.

Chatha also discussed the concept of information-driven manufacturing. The growth of stronger, faster data analytics is making it possible for companies to get more out of the data they collect, he said. Information-driven manufacturing is about how to "leverage the information you have, to make sense of it using these predictive tools."

Make risk management part of company culture

Patricia Sparrell, department manager for automation, optimization and global support at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, took the stage after Chatha. She stressed the importance of integrating effective risk management strategies into corporate culture.

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For decades, manufacturers have faced ever-growing pressure to improve health, safety, security and environment , or HSSE, performance in their facilities, Sparrell said. "We've got the procedures, but we're missing the hearts and minds of our employees. That's where we put together management systems, not only to say how or what to do, but to motivate and reinforce [company] beliefs," she said. "I think we are continuing to improve, but we still have a ways to go." Risk management systems can be an effective way not only to manage, but also to bring structure and discipline, she added. "It's a platform where you can sustain ongoing performances, as well as identify opportunities for continuous growth."

ExxonMobil refers to its corporate-wide risk management policy as the Operational Integrity Management System (OIMS), according to Sparrell. The company has seen many benefits since implementing OIMS, including improved safety, environmental compliance, cybersecurity and increased sharing between employees across the organization, she said.

Sparrell stressed the importance of leadership -- from people at all levels of a business, not just management -- in making a risk management strategy work. "We expect our folks to behave credibly, to take action when needed, to have the resolve to see it through and to be engaged at all times," she said. "They need to be actively identifying hazards, assessing the consequences as well as the probability. You put all that together to identify the risk management approach at local, site and regional levels."

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