Company Announcements

Why automation is the future of industrial cleaning


IoT is the future of heat exchanger cleaning

As we watch the world change around us during this pandemic, you can see that the future will look much different than what we are used to, and automation will become necessary for efficiency and safety as well as adhering to social distancing practices.  We anticipate that COVID-19 will speed up innovation and adoption of automation for this very reason. We are happy to be on the front-end of developing the technologies we will rely on in the future as connected systems collect and distribute data to help internal and external customers monitor and optimize productivity and safety.  The COVID-19 crisis raises the question, “how can automation help us recover faster and keep our workers safer?”

What is industrial automation and the Industrial Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT) has become a buzzword to describe applications such as self-driving vehicles, wearable devices, and smart home technology. IoT has made its way into industrial applications, using sensor, GPS, Bluetooth and wireless technology to monitor and predict maintenance issues on production lines, automation processes such as cleaning and mechanical repair, track inventory and waste levels and monitor human activity in business facilities.

Why is Industrial Automation and IIoT important?

By now, most of the industrialized world understands that the future workforce is changing due to demographics, technology advancement, and now, pandemic considerations. The old way of doing things is unsustainable and the digitalization of our economy requires education and workforce training that prepares us for what’s ahead. Smart technologies will open doors to new ideas and ways of working, enabling more efficient and sustainable manufacturing and safer delivery of products, maintenance and systems. Fear of pandemics will bring supply chains closer to home, changing the focus from cheap labor to the development of technology.  

Condition Based Maintenance

In the oil and gas industry, maintenance is critical to keeping organizations up and running. Companies spend countless hours and dollars on preventative maintenance. Many of these companies view maintenance activities as high-risk and low-value and are looking for ways to keep their assets running longer while reducing risky maintenance procedures. Industrial automation and the development of IoT has opened the doors for condition-based maintenance, in which the systems enable real-time monitoring and assessment of the actual conditions of an asset. This “smart” system does several things such as notifying production and maintenance personnel when maintenance needs to be performed, indicating a reduction in performance or an impending failure, performing visual inspections, providing performance data and more. A condition-based maintenance strategy allows for a more proactive approach to maintenance activities, helping facilities optimize maintenance cycles and reduce asset failures. While this type of equipment is expensive to develop and install, in the long term it can reduce the cost of asset failures, improve asset reliability and minimize unscheduled downtime and maintenance.

Improved Worker Safety

Using automation and technology has drastically improved worker safety. According to the US Bureau of Labor, worker injury rates have been dropping for years. The advancement of IIoT will continue to help improve these statistics. The use of sensors and software to monitor potential failures can reduce catastrophic accidents. Using robots to perform work in unsafe environments can reduce or even eliminate exposure to high-risk activities such as confined space entry, chemical and particulate inhalation, extreme temperatures or other physical hazards. The safety benefits of industrial automation are plentiful, and we are excited that it’s where we are headed.

Job Creation

There has been criticism that the acceleration of automation has resulted in job loss, which is not undeserved. We can’t forget about the pain that many people have felt and will continue to feel as the job market evolves. As IIoT takes hold, new jobs will be created to analyze performance data and manage systems and workers can be retrained and find upward mobility by moving from physical labor to software/data and systems management. Shifting the workforce away from hazardous and grueling operating conditions might also increase employee retention, enabling companies to better leverage their investment in employee development. Total job displacement doesn’t have to happen. This transition won’t be easy, nor will it be well received by everyone, but this is what comes with a dynamic and evolving economy. The burdens and benefits of the future way of working must be distributed thoughtfully and fairly as possible. Rather than denying the future of automation, we must prepare for this future, focusing our resources on retraining of the workforce, enablement of technology, the development of more sustainable products, processes, and systems, and shared prosperity.

How is StoneAge addressing this future state?

In alignment with this future, StoneAge recently acquired Breadware, Inc., an Internet of Things (IoT) product development company. We partnered with them on the development of several connected, smart products including our Sentinel™ automation system which is launching later this year. Our vision is to be the world’s leading providers of industrial cleaning robotics and automated systems, and the Breadware team will help us bring this vision to fruition faster. They have an exceptional product development team, and their expertise will help us continue to advance our industry with robotics.

The uncertainty of the future can feel overwhelming, especially in times like these. At StoneAge, we are choosing to reframe the challenges we are facing…instead of looking at the pandemic as disastrous (although we acknowledge that to many, it is), we are choosing to see this as a much-needed disruption.  Doors are being opened to a world where automation saves lives and improves opportunities for the industrial cleaning industry, and we look forward to driving towards that future.