By Gregory Hale
As if manufacturing automation engineers didn’t know it, this is the age of thinking different.

That is the thought process behind ExxonMobil’s new way of looking at how it can do business better.

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“We are trying to find ways to improve processes,” said Sandy Vasser, ‎I&E Manager at ExxonMobil Development Company, during his keynote address at Schneider Electric’s Connect 2016 in New Orleans, LA, Tuesday. “We learned we had to challenge our traditional practices and policies. As we started thinking differently, we had to put all the old practices aside and think differently.”

What they found is what worked before when they created these polices and processes just won’t work in today’s economic climate where technology has evolved to the point where users need to take advantage of technology changes to achieve greater productivity and profitability.

Schneider Bold

What ExxonMobil is talking about is bold and innovative to be sure, however, one of the pillars buttressing the concept is security. It needs to be built in by design – not like today’s method of being reactionary.

“Security cannot be reactive,” he said, adding users and integrators keep bolting on more and more security which helps keep things secure, but it can become way too cumbersome.

“If we keep going this way, we will have a secure system that does a little bit of process control,” Vasser said.

He added security cannot be solved by rings of protection, but rather smart advanced thinking from the beginning.

“Security must be built in at the chip level,” Vasser said.

Over the coming decade at ExxonMobil, a significant percentage of control systems that will face obsolescence. So to remain competitive in the oil and gas industry that right now is not doing all that well, companies must lower capital costs which should improve profitability.

The problem is with entrenched DCSs in place and anchoring facilities across the globe, yes, you can update, but it does not allow users to reap the benefits of new technologies that can take advantage of any derived benefits.

He talked about the new approach characteristics:
• Reduce customization and rely on standardization
• Reduce complexity and simplify
• Eliminate, simplify or automate processes
• Reduce number of dependencies
• Reduce the amount or automatically generate documentation
• Take managed risk
• Develop and enable trust with our suppliers and contractors

As a result, Vasser said suppliers need to offer products that can “age in place. We need a solution that can update at any time.”

So that means no system stays in place for 30 to 40 years anymore.

There are fundamental changes going on in the industry “that makes things possible that we could never do before,” said Gary Freburger, president process automation at Schneider Electric during his keynote. “We have to do things differently at every level. We have to bring value every time to our customers.”

Thinking differently and talking about change is a task everyone has to embrace or manufacturers will remain treading water instead of moving forward.

To move forward, people have to embrace change. That, however, is easier said than done.

Mike Lipkin understands that challenge and he knows change is possible, only if people are willing to embrace new and different.

“No matter how old you are, you always want to be new. Especially when you are not new,” said the author and founder and president of Environics/Lipkin, a global research and motivation company during his keynote.

He talked about the six stages people have to go through across their career: Beginner, breakthrough, the wall, consolidation, masterly, and plateau. He said once you go through those stages, you have to start all over again to remain an enthusiastic and positive worker.

Workers need to keep those six stages in their minds at all times to help keep their enterpiser moving forward. The catch is, though, while there are industry veterans running companies and controlling the decision making but often they are either not open to new ideas or their innovative ideas remain stilted.

“A lot of our good new ideas are from those who just came off the campus,” Vasser said. “Think about what you want to achieve and just think differently.”

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