We see a lot of promising new projects in refinery : Anil Bhatia, VP & MD, Emerson Automation Solutions - India

  • March 30, 2021

Anil Bhatia, Vice President and Managing Director for Emerson’s Automation Solutions business in India, shares his insights on digital trends in India and globally, his company’s performance in India, as well as expansion plans, and solution offerings. Excerpts of the interview: 

What are the global digitisation trends in 2021?
As we bid goodbye to 2020 and welcome 2021, digitisation has led to transformation across industries in the aftermath of the pandemic. A large number of organisations globally have taken significant measures to enhance digitisation in their working methodologies. According to a Gartner report, 89 per cent of hi-tech CIOs expect the increase in the use of digital channels to reach customers. Digital transformation will become essential for economic recovery in 2021. Digital trends like cybersecurity have become the need of the hour; work-from-home, remote and virtual spaces shall remain the new normal; Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) will be the backbone of most digital tools, and the concept of software as a service (SaaS) is gaining momentum. Creating a digitally empowered workforce with actionable insights is the next step to achieving game-changing performances.

What are the digitisation trends that you see in India?
Advanced analytics powered by AI and ML are the critical enablers that will fuel India’s digital transformation. We’ve seen repeatedly how a practical approach – one that generates short-term wins with measurable gains – can be replicated for an enterprise-wide impact., Indian chemical companies are investing in digital technologies such as sensors or connectivity devices, as well as software and applications. This would generate a lot of data, requiring big data solutions.

By using data-driven approaches to our plant operations, which are the most energy-intensive processes, ML and AI-based analytics are the best place to start. A classic example is a heat exchanger which is a high-energy intensive asset in any chemical plant.

Today, data from multiple host systems, both structured and unstructured, is being brought to a data lake wherein it can be analyzed in a secure way to help operators make the right decisions.

The pandemic has certainly brought agility into this process because of the RoI it yields by helping the chemical industry achieve significant cost reductions, enhanced safety and improved reliability.

How would you rate Emerson’s performance in 2020 and what is your forecast in 2021?
In 2020 we were doing very well until the pandemic stuck. It affected the industry as a whole, so ripple effects were felt in more ways than one. But we were able to get back on our feet soon, with the momentum picking up by September 2020. I am being cautiously optimistic about decision-making and I hope the markets will recover soon as more and more companies start investing in new projects or upgrades. I feel we will lead the pack as we move forward towards economic recovery during 2021.

Will this cautious optimism be for the entire year or do you see it changing in the second half?
I believe our outlook will improve significantly in the second half of the year. As the COVID-19 situation gets better on the ground, so will the momentum of activities that are already moving in the right direction.

Are you seeing any new projects coming up?
We see a lot of promising new projects in the refinery sector. The market has slowed down but now EPCs are getting awarded and the projects will get executed. Even in the chemical space, we foresee many new projects gearing up for launch. I am very positive about the recovery of the chemical industry and I am sure the geopolitical situation will further support the chemical sector in India.

How is Emerson’s automation business geared to take up this challenge in India? What solutions will make it a reality?
Emerson has introduced the Digital Maturity Model Quick Index, which is a tool that lets businesses know where they are in their digital transformation journey in comparison to others in the industry. This is based on decades of Emerson domain expertise as well as the Smart Industry Readiness Index and the Biophorum Digital Maturity Model. We are encouraging the executive leadership of the chemical process industry to adopt this index to understand where their organizations stand in various areas like risk and security, health, safety and environment, people and culture, business insights, and analytics, reliability and maintenance. This will help them identify specific operational improvement areas which will then yield high RoI and improve KPIs regarding their business value propositions.

At Emerson, we take pride in being associated with the chemical sector as a most trusted partner in their journey towards automation and modernisation. With all these sensors in place, Emerson is now ready with its software solutions and IIoT platform to ensure how we make data accessible and then get the right data to the right person, in the right format, at the right time to make a decision. It’s about transferring digital data into digital intelligence by using the thousands of touch and sensing points in a chemical plant. With the help of advanced analytics and ML, business leaders can recognize patterns and make decisions based on these patterns instead of individual measurements. As I always say, start small, think big and move fast to start the digital journey. If already initiated, scale it up quickly to remain relevant in this highly competitive business environment.

Recently, Emerson has deployed smart wireless technology. Do you see its deployment in the chemical and petrochemical sector?
The chemical and petrochemical sectors are always early adopters of new technologies. Some of the largest WirelessHART installations in India and globally are in the chemical and petrochemical sectors. This is hardly surprising. The environment in these plants is much more corrosive compared to other industries such as power, food & beverage or metals. So, the failure of instrumentation signals due to the corrosion of wires is one of the perennial problems these industries face. With WirelessHART that problem gets nipped in the bud. Also, employee safety and emissions are two other important metrics monitored by the top management of the plant. WirelessHART has very effective solutions addressing both these areas. Some of the benefits derived from wireless technologies are non-intrusive measurements that do not require mechanical penetrations, elimination of manual operator rounds at hazardous locations in the field, timely and accurate detection of passing valves contributing to emissions and monitoring the health of critical plant assets. With these solutions, plants benefit in terms of increased safety, improved equipment availability and reduced emissions.

When do you see chemical factories being run remotely in India?
Large petrochemical complexes have been running remotely with nominal personnel intervention. But smaller chemical plants have the potential to run remotely in clusters with the right investments and technical support.

How will an integrated manufacturing campus help chemical and petrochemical companies in the country?
The Emerson Integrated Manufacturing Centre (EIMC), in Talegaon, near Pune, is one of Emerson’s biggest capital investments in India to date. It will help consolidate our manufacturing footprint and improve service levels for our customers in India and around the world. Developed with full support from the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) and Invest India, the total build-out in phase 1 is over 450,000 square feet of manufacturing and engineering space, with an opportunity for future expansion. We inaugurated this facility virtually on December 16th, 2020, with our isolation valve and actuation businesses moving in first. With the addition of the Pune facility, we will not only strengthen Emerson’s Automation Solutions manufacturing capabilities and network across the region but also foster a hi-tech workforce and enable operational excellence that will drive our ongoing commitment to exceptional customer service and sustainable future growth for all process industries across India. In addition to our KTM Virgo ball valves and Keystone butterfly valves, we will also be manufacturing our prestigious Vanessa triple offset valves at EIMC, while we continue to add new product and engineering capabilities to better service our customers. In addition to valve manufacturing, our capability to automate these valves with actuation technologies brands such as Biffi and Bettis, the chemical industry will greatly benefit from reduced lead times driven by products manufactured in India and strong local aftermarket support.

Is the manufacturing plant at Pune already operational?
Phase 1 has started and we have moved the actuation unit there already. Since we have to get certifications, the valve unit will move there in phases. Then in the next six months, the isolation valves will also move there. In the coming four to five years, we are also planning to expand further and for that, we have acquired land from MIDC. Overall, in the next six months, it will be fully functional.

In phase 2, the plan is to have our measurement systems business relocate to this site and if we acquire other companies, we plan to integrate them into this one location. We have three manufacturing facilities in India and we are now expanding our base.

What solutions do you offer to chemical companies for better energy management?
Extracting value from applied industrial energy requires a holistic approach all along the value chain. Energy is purchased, converted, distributed, consumed, and sometimes exported on every industrial site and the environmental, financial, and productivity impacts are significant and complex. Emerson’s industrial energy experts can tame complexity and improve business results. From the captive powerhouse to energy-intensive process units, we have monitoring, control, and predictive solutions to optimize energy performance. Our flexible, integrated and scalable Plantweb digital ecosystem provides secure and robust real-time insight from pervasive sensing technologies. A suite of analytical applications is available to provide embedded domain expertise across the enterprise. Steam trap monitoring for steam blow-through and/or blocked flow to reduce energy wastage, critical asset monitoring of energy-intensive assets like pumps, heat exchanger monitoring that provides a complete report on energy consumption and loss, and real-time predictive energy alerts, have been deployed at multiple chemical and other process industries sites across India.

Do you see India latching onto hydrogen? What is Emerson’s role with regards to hydrogen?
There is no doubt that India will have to catch the hydrogen wave to stay competitive. Green hydrogen is evolving quickly on the economic side, so Emerson is fully engaged in the US-India Hydrogen Forum and working with petrochemical companies in this regard. We look forward to positively contributing to this sector.

You mentioned deep tech technologies such as AI, NLP, blockchain, ML as well as software and cybersecurity as a service. How will these technologies help Emerson to be more sustainable and economical for clients?
Deep tech technologies like AI, ML, data science analytics, and the Industrial Internet of Things are built into our digital transformation software portfolio. Our analytics software, including Plantweb Insight and Plantweb Optics Analytics, use AI, ML, and data science analytics to provide smart persona-based real-time predictions to our customers. Many of the other technologies you mentioned were developed for other industries and applications but will soon find their way into control systems to support what’s required and continue to operate as safely, efficiently, reliably and profitably as possible. Some of the features which will deploy these technologies are facial recognition for secure operator login, voice and gesture user interface for simplified operations, drone inspection of problems in the process, augmented reality to overlay diagnostic information with artificial intelligence, location awareness for safer field operations, and predictive analytics for optimized operations.