Laying the groundwork – how to digitalize your installed base

Whenever I talk to customers who are unsure about beginning their digitalization journey I’m always reminded of this quote from the late, great Steve Jobs.

“Start small, think big. Don’t worry about too many things at once.”

Jobs worked at the very cutting edge of consumer technology and yet he understood a crucial thing –– big things happen when you focus on the small stuff.

This is just as true of the facility management world. That’s why it’s worth beginning to think about digitalization not as a switch to be suddenly flipped on, but as a journey, with measured, thoughtful steps.

It’s about consciously building a foundation for successful decision-making with digitally enabled assets. That means working toward proactive maintenance, improved availability and reliability, reduced costs, a safer working environment and the ability to monitor systems remotely.

But it’s understandable there is some anxiety. Upgrades can seem expensive, and how can you be sure when you do invest, that they will work seamlessly with existing equipment?

Pre-digital assets with long lifecycles seem great for CAPEX, but if they require constant maintenance, cause unplanned downtime or have compatibility issues, costs can start spiraling. Worse still, your plant may start lagging behind competitors who planned more strategically.

That’s when I repeat the mantra: start small, think big. Change doesn’t have to happen all at once. Small digital experiments and quick wins are what help you discover what your facility’s digital future looks like.

Even the most impressive buildings start small. Take the tallest building in the world, for example, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The Burj Khalifa team decided to begin with the relatively small step of retrofitting existing air circuit breakers with digitally upgraded ABB Ekip UP plug and play devices, so that their existing equipment could start collecting and communicating operational data.

Now the building is maintained 24/7 by the ABB AbilityTM Energy and Asset Manager. The state-of-the-art cloud solution helps reduce operational costs by up to 30 percent, using smart equipment to conduct continuous condition monitoring, deliver real-time insights, and continually optimize operations, instead of waiting for scheduled manual inspections and tests.

It’s an impressive digital transformation made possible because the operational team had the vision to lay the groundwork.

So, what does a well-connected system look like?

A system that’s set up for success always follows what I call the transformation equation:

Digitally enabled infrastructure + Data integration + Software solutions
= The rewards of digitalization (optimized processes, better decisions)

And in figures, rewards mean savings up to:

… 20% savings in energy costs
… 30% savings in operational costs
… 40% savings in maintenance costs

Digitally enabled infrastructure
Your infrastructure is already capable of producing more data than you may realize. The key is getting assets to communicate. That’s why installing digitalized assets and retrofitting with upgrades like digital sensors is so important –– it unlocks the data you didn’t know you had.

Data integration
ABB’s plug-and-play products mean that you can be up and running in just a few minutes. A digital twin will provide a visualization of your entire factory, to give a complete picture of your design, engineering, and operational data.
But it’s also important that you get the most out of your data access by enlisting specialist support to create your digitalization roadmap. This is where ABB’s expertise really adds value, enabling you to set up small-scale pilots and work flexibly, so you can identify opportunities for improvement and get the quick wins you need.

Software solutions
Another crucial piece of the puzzle are software solutions like ABB’s Energy and Asset Manager, which display operational data, alerts and analytics from all your connected assets. Powerful diagnostic and prognostic analytics offer clear intelligence, from overall KPIs to data analysis charts. It’s all intelligently managed to allow you to focus on asset management and enable better, faster decisions.

Takeaway – three tips for starting your digital journey

#1 Consider upgrading to digitally enabled models
As we saw with Burj Khalifa, digital upgrades can unlock crucial strategic data hidden in your assets. Start now to build digital flexibility into your system, so that even if you’re not ready to go fully digital right now, you have the option to activate quickly in the future.

#2 Start on a smaller scale
With an understanding of your power architecture and the critical data you need, you can start to identify priorities for digitalization. This means locating where the appropriate sensors and data-gathering devices should go, and installing them to gather the insight you need. Starting small and creating more gradual change is a great strategy for not only improving existing processes but for building confidence.

#3 Test and learn
One of the pitfalls many sites encounter is fully investing in systems before they’re ready. You should look at building your people’s skills and confidence and achieving some quick wins, before you scale up. Another possible first step could be installing a local gateway (e.g. ABB Ability™ Edge Industrial Gateway) to connect and monitor the most critical onsite equipment first, and move on from there.

So, there you have it! Beginning digitalization is business critical, and I hope this blog has encouraged you to see it as a journey you can start safely, and take at your own pace. If you’d like to discuss how our digital solutions could help with the first step, just get in touch.

Categories and Tags
About the author

Luca Cavalli

Luca joined ABB in 2012 as the Product Manager for medium-voltage digital services, overseeing monitoring, diagnostic solutions and IoT cloud application. He began his role as Product and Marketing Manager in 2017, working for the Electrification Distribution Solutions division digital portfolio. Since October 2019, he has led the digital Asset Management of Electrification, defining the global strategy and roadmap applied to electrical systems from medium- to low-voltage, from e-mobility to buildings. This includes smart sensors, edge/cloud solutions, data analytics and advanced services. Prior to joining ABB, Luca worked for over 8 years in the industrial automation market segment in Italy. He initially managed automation projects for OEM using PLCs, drives, HMI and SCADA. Latterly, Luca led the sales of connectivity products to enable remote services on industrial machines and plants. Luca studied at the Polytechnic of Milan, Italy, and achieved an MSc in Software and Automation Engineering.
Comment on this article