The Value Chain and Legacy Systems

The Value Chain and Legacy Systems

The pickup truck drives through the unlocked gate, turns and starts to follow the pipeline. The truck drives along the dirt road parallel to the pipeline. The driver scans a length of the pipeline looking for anything unusual. His eyes dart back and forth from the dirt road to the pipeline. When he has completed his physical verification of this section of the pipeline, he will drive to the next location and check for pipeline leaks there. With thousands of miles of pipeline, this is his full time job.

North America has millions of miles of pipelines carrying everything from crude oil and natural gas to water and sewer. A pipeline is part of a value chain delivering goods from point A to point B. Steel, cast iron and concrete pipes will operate for decades and are built to withstand the harshest of conditions. Pipeline leaks can range anywhere from costly to catastrophic. Visual inspection by a human being for leaks is still the common safety standard today.

The technology exists to replace archaic methods of pipeline management. Wireless sensor networks and cyber physical systems are changing the standard for pipeline safety.

For example, sensors can pinpoint a leak due to temperature changes of the pipeline in the immediate surroundings. Leaks can be detected due to the temperature changes they cause. Sensors track a variety of measurements such as pressure, flow and temperature. Thermal cameras can also be used to find temperature changes. Data is transmitted to a central location in real time where analytics can be performed, and communications can be managed.

Legacy systems, such as reliance on humans for detecting pipeline leaks, are often inefficient and costly. Value chains are often bogged down by legacy systems creating significant constraints. The quality and speed of an organization’s value chain can make or break company performance and profits. Using the pipeline as an example, a leak can exist for days and weeks before a human being can detect it. Small leaks are a problem, but big leaks can be disasters. The costs associated with pipeline leaks can be enormous. Minimizing leaks and the costs associated with them improves the quality and speed of the value chain that delivers a finished good to the customer.

Competitors are continually striving to compress the value chain and make it more efficient. Deriving quality data from the value chain leads to insights that can make continuous improvement a reality. Delivering a product or service better than the competition can be a significant advantage. A company’s value chain has many points of value where efficiency and effectiveness can be improved. Cyber physical systems enhance the performance of the value chain by creating or collecting impactful quality data from a particular point in the value chain. The insights derived from the performance of the device can lead to improvements in the overall performance of the value chain. It can also take care of monotonous tasks humans cannot or do not want to do.

What if the driver turned down the road and reached a communication center where data was being received from cyber physical systems measuring all the thousands of miles of pipeline at once?