What if a piece of paper was the key to your safety and success at work?
For more than 30% of industrial maintenance workers, it still is.*
Driving digital into the heart of plant maintenance for safety, agility, and reliability
As told by Clark Dressen, Global IT Innovation Center Director, Dow
In partnership with Jason Jackson, Distinguished Engineer and CTO, Industrial Sector, Kyndryl
Dow has been driving digital innovation into manufacturing operations for more than a decade. So, when the company turned its focus to modernizing plant maintenance, leadership leaned in with an ambitious plan and pilot for its Freeport, Texas location.
With 40 production plants covering 20 square miles, Dow’s Freeport site is the largest integrated chemical manufacturing complex in the Western Hemisphere.
Each plant contains thousands of mechanical components, all with manual processes for production and maintenance. To execute a maintenance work order, an engineer from the control room often had to go out into the field to inspect the affected components, pull the relevant process documents from the paper filing system, write a safety analysis report, and deliver it to a field operator.
Operators then carried the printed documents back into the field to perform production or maintenance tasks. And because field operators needed to coordinate with the control room on certain steps, there was often much walking back and forth to communicate face to face, sometimes doubling the time needed to complete an operation.
The printed process documents also posed a safety risk as operators worked to keep up with the paper while inspecting, and sometimes climbing, components and manually checking off all the steps in order. Despite great care, the potential for human error remained.
Clark Dressen, Global IT Innovation Center Director and 34-year Dow veteran, wanted processes that enabled operations teams to work more efficiently and safely. And he was sure that achieving that goal would also increase plant productivity and reliability.
“One of the primary problems we were trying to solve was getting information into the field to change the way we do operations and maintenance tasks,” says Clark. “...we wanted to make that information available at the fingertips of the front-line professionals, impacting how they work, how they interact, how they collaborate, how they solve problems.”
For us, one of the biggest opportunities was just getting information out to where the work was happening.
What makes for safer manufacturing operations at speed and scale?
For Clark, the answer was to digitalize and modernize operations, including communications. With business leaders and CIO and Chief Digital Officer Melanie Kalmar, Clark sponsored a Digital Manufacturing initiative that brought together technology partners both in and outside Dow. The effort would digitalize all process documents, set up remote communications through Microsoft Teams, provide rugged devices for operators to use in the field, and implement augmented reality applications to aid control room operators in working with multiple documents related to different operations happening simultaneously. Much of the program would depend on a private cellular network and wireless device management system capable of securing access.
“Our digital transformation is about trying to solve real problems that our operations and maintenance personnel have faced,” said Clark.
It’s not just delivering shiny new tools or technology, but really embedding them into the work processes, into the procedures, and into the everyday activities.”
A question of connection
But there was one major challenge. A large industrial site like Dow’s doesn’t have the benefit of commercial connectivity, and the tons of steel and concrete make building a radio network difficult.
To get the right information into the hands of workers and realize the larger Digital Manufacturing vision, it was time for mobile connectivity.
“We looked at other solutions like Wi-Fi, but it’s hard to get that type of service extended over such a large geographic area,” says Clark. “The plant in Freeport is made up of four distinct areas where we have plants, operating units, and people working. To provide that type of coverage, it was going to be very expensive and very difficult to maintain and operate.”
Together, Kyndryl and Dow operations and maintenance teams mapped out requirements for a cost-effective, private LTE network that could securely cover the entire Freeport complex. Then, they worked to set up cellular bandwidth, enable firewall security, and create a container solution to flexibly manage security profiles. Implementation was quick, with the private network evolving from a proof-of-concept to a fully scaled production environment in about 12 months.
“We were introducing a lot of new tools to our operations and maintenance teams in terms of changing the way we do our daily work,” says Clark. “Kyndryl was a great partner for us, working with our internal teams from a security architecture point of view to make sure they would fit the Dow environment.”
The power of partnership
Jason Jackson, Kyndryl CTO for industrial sector, led a team of Kyndryl and Nokia experts that raised 4 poles around the plant, each with an intelligent radio core operating in the Citizen Band Radio Spectrum (CBRS). Jason and the team then used Nokia’s wireless device control system for registering devices and managing wireless endpoints as a network.
Once the team established stable connectivity on test devices, Kyndryl and Dow implemented an identity and access management solution. Kyndryl quickly and consistently deployed security profiles and containerized network functions using Palo Alto Networks firewalls and Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud. These technologies enabled Dow to accelerate the delivery of wireless solutions and roll out updates across devices within each profile, whenever needed.
With the new network solution in place, Dow engaged Microsoft to enable communication between floor operators and control rooms, making operations simpler, safer, and more productive. Using Microsoft Teams, operators remain in constant contact, remotely synchronizing work on procedures and digitally marking off steps as they are complete, minimizing the risk of errors. Floor operators can also send live or recorded video of components to the control room or bring in the engineering team remotely so they can observe and make the changes to job safety reports in seconds instead of the hours it often took before.
To facilitate safer communication in the field, the Kyndryl team customized Teams with push-to-talk functionality, relieving operators of the need to unlock their device or navigate to the application. They can also open a meeting with the control room with the push of a button.
Dow has also engaged Microsoft to build an augmented reality application that will help control operators work with process documents more efficiently through a worn device. When fully available, this tool will enable control room operators to simultaneously keep track of procedures with multiple process documents.
What progress looks like
In the first four months following the Digital Manufacturing launch, the Freeport plant completed more than 28,000 digital procedures, reducing the time it takes workers to complete operations and maintenance activities and increasing worker safety.
With Digital Manufacturing successfully up and running in Freeport, Dow is working with Kyndryl to roll out the program to other plants around the world. In each case, the Freeport team will serve as advisers to the local IT and operations leaders. As more locations join the program, Digital Manufacturing will enter an advanced delivery phase, with evolving goals to better serve the digital workflows in Dow plants.
One aspect of Digital Manufacturing that I’m excited about is training our site employees to develop their own digital procedures. With the number of sites we have, IT can’t develop every digital procedure. Now, we’re training employees how to do that themselves.
Dow is a multinational corporation with the ambition to become the most innovative, customer-centric, inclusive, and sustainable materials science company in the world.
* Of surveyed Plant Engineering subscribers responsible for maintenance. Industrial Maintenance Report, CFE Media and Technology, March 2021.