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By Gregory Hale
Change is inevitable. Change is omnipresent. Change going to happening. Change is a word the manufacturing automation industry does not warmly embrace, but the reality is the industry is in a transitional phase to a changed work environment.

“I have worked in the industry for 30 years and during the 30 years I have witnessed some remarkable advances,” said Sharon Beshouri, vice president catalyst, analytical and refining technology, chief engineer R&D technical function and president shell global solutions (U.S.) Inc. during her Monday keynote entitled, “Embracing transitions today – assuring a robust future tomorrow” at the 2019 AIChE Spring Meeting and 15th Global Congress on Process Safety in New Orleans, LA. “All of those advances have been preceded by a period of change, called transitions.”

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Transitions are a period of time where the industry is shifting gears and two areas Beshouri focused on were energy and digital.

“The first transition is the energy transition,” Beshouri said. “In this country we are fortunate because we have readily available and affordable energy. What we take for granted others can only hope for. Two billion people don’t have what we so readily enjoy. It is an indicator of a quality of life. Access to energy can lift an economy and lift you to prosperity. Energy does fuel an economy. Without energy a country can languish in poverty.

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To meet the world’s energy needs in the future, though, Beshouri said we would need to double the energy production.

Beshouri asked how can we produce more energy and not produce more pressure on the world’s carbon footprint?

We will continue to have hydrocarbons in the mix, but we will be less reliant on hydrocarbons. It becomes an and, not an or. We need hydrocarbons, we need renewables, and wind and solar and electrification.”

“We can learn about energy transitions by looking at the past. The energy transition is well underway and taking part today,” she said. “We are at a crossroads, on the way energy is used.”

Right now we are looking at 80 percent hydrocarbon to 20 percent renewable energy. “By 2100, I see that can come close to flipping. There is more of an energy mix in the renewable space,” she said.

The other transition Beshouri mentioned is the transition into the digital age.

She called much of the digital enterprise tools, like long ago when her engineer father was using a slide rule and then shifted to Texas Instrument calculator that cost about $1,000 back then and costs about $5 today. Tools of the trade, she said, have continued to evolve to laptops, ipads, smartphones to name a few.

What is the most important factor in the transitioning manufacturing automation sector? Safety.

“The biggest driver is safety,” Beshouri said. “Safety drives everything we do. Over 300,000 people die worldwide in occupational accidents every year.”

To help cut down on those deaths, manufacturers need to employ digital tools that can help eliminate needless incidents. By using devices like smart helmets, smart glasses, and wearables, it is possible to drop incidents.

“These tools can streamline maintenance inspection, compliance, and safety,” she said.
Tools can help move forward, but Beshouri talked about how engineers have to come together to help one another, and even mentor younger engineers, to transition into a greater level of productivity and safety moving forward.

“It is not just a profession,” Beshouri said, “we have a moral imperative to make our profession better.”

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