In the world of industrial facilities, big data is fast becoming a part of the operations lexicon.
However, as with many new buzzwords, the exact definition of big data can be elusive, especially when it comes to industrial compressed air systems.
After 30+ years in the compressed air business, we’ve come to believe that it is essential that facilities have access to actionable data to make the best decisions they can for energy solutions, savings, and efficiency.
But when it comes to compressed air systems, what does actionable data – and therefore, big data – actually mean?
And why should you care about it?
Read below to find out.
When discussing actionable data, we need to step back a moment and describe what it is not.
As Brent Dykes points out in his Forbes article about this topic, “Data, information and insights are not synonyms.”
Data, as Dykes defines it, consists of “raw and unprocessed facts that are usually in the form of numbers and text.”
In terms of compressed air systems, data would consist of the raw numbers – e.g., your system pressure, your compressor flow, the vibration of your centrifugal compressors, etc.
Then we come to the next definition: information.
Dykes defines information as “prepared data that has been processed, aggregated and organized into a more human-friendly format that provides more context. He adds, “Information is often delivered in the form of data visualizations, reports and dashboards.”
For compressed air systems, information can be provided in a variety of ways. For example, you might be provided with information from a site survey.
In reports such as these, you might see your average system pressure or proposed operating pressure over different shifts and weekdays vs. weekends.
Then we come to actionable data – also known as actionable insights, or just insights. Dykes writes: “Insights are generated by analyzing information and drawings conclusions.”
Here’s how this works with compressed air systems.
Following our project process flow at Bay Controls, after the data collection process, we move to the data analysis stage to derive actionable data.
In this stage, you won’t just have a chart or graph listing information about your compressed air system usage and efficiency. You’ll be provided with next steps; tangible ways to improve your compressed air system. This is actionable data.
Another definition is: specific, pragmatic conclusions and advice about how to bring about savings and reduce your energy spend through steps like identifying and fixing leaks or matching your system pressure to your actual needs.
So, let’s say you’ve just had your compressed air system analyzed, and you learned that during weekend shifts, your air compressors vent air (blowoff).
Not only do you have proof of this, but with actionable data, you know what steps you need to take to rectify or remedy the situation.
In a perfect world, you could make these changes yourself, without having to get buy-in from your plant manager, energy team, or operations manager. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Buying decisions are longer and have more constituents involved than ever before.
And like any business decision involving change or capital (or both), you need actionable data to justify or influence a decision to create business value.
And then, ultimately, change.
In other words, you can bring your actionable data to the table to discuss and make plans for different ways to improve your production efficiency, reduce your energy spend, or find opportunities for savings.
Here’s the thing about industrial compressed air systems: when it comes to the systems themselves, the sub-systems and sub-components of both the supply and demand side haven’t changed that much over the years. Air compressors are similar to the air compressors facilities used 30 or 40 years ago.
But even though compressed air systems themselves have remained relatively unchanged, the way people monitor them has changed drastically.
As we move towards a more visible and transparent world (especially with IoT), people not only have the opportunity to monitor their compressed air systems, but to do so all the time, from anywhere.
If, say, you’re using a cloud-based plant controls and monitoring system, you can see how your compressed air system is running, whether or not you are physically present at your facility. And things are anticipated to only become more proactive and visible.
Here’s another way of looking at it.
Smartphones are not only de rigueur; they’ve become deeply entwined in our everyday lives. In fact, in January 2017, the Pew Research center reported that roughly three-quarters (77%) of Americans own a smartphone.
As smartphone usage has grown vastly and increased in their capabilities, a large percentage of the American population has access to a staggering amount of data right at their fingertips.
This trend is influencing the way that companies view their compressed air systems.
Though change is happening slower than smartphone adoption and usage, we can expect the same technology (or similar) to be applied to compressed air systems in the future.
And mobile as well. It isn’t inconceivable that you soon will be able to access, monitor, and control your compressed air systems right from your smartphone or another mobile device, with more insight into your actionable data than ever before.