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Editorial comment

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to result in increased investment in autonomous operations, according to a recent survey by Yokogawa Electric Corp. The survey, which focused on the outlook for industrial autonomy, found that 64% of respondents from companies in process industries are anticipating fully autonomous operations by 2030, with the majority of respondents expecting COVID-19 to accelerate the transition.1


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The survey looked specifically at how the process industries are moving from automation to fully autonomous operations. It defined five levels of progression, starting from manual (humans control the facility at all times) and working up through semi-automated (humans and automation systems share the workload, with humans responsible for safe operations), automated (humans are responsible for safe operations, assisted by traditional automation systems and limited autonomous functions), semi-autonomous (a combination of autonomous and automated assets, with human orchestration), autonomous orchestration (facilities operate autonomously and operations are synchronised to optimise manufacturing and safety under ideal conditions), and finally autonomous operations (operations are completely autonomous). The findings from the survey suggest that there will be a relatively rapid shift to semi-autonomous operations by 2023 and fully autonomous operations by 2030. Cybersecurity, cloud analytics, and artificial intelligence are three key areas that are likely to see significant investment in the short-term.

The survey notes that while the upstream, midstream and refining sectors are seeing the toughest investment climate this year as a result of COVID-19, these industries are set for the greatest investment in industrial autonomy over the next three years. In the refining sector, 54% of respondents expected to see increasing investment over the next three years as a result of COVID-19, while the figure climbed to 57% for respondents in the chemical/petrochemical sector. In fact, the survey found that 74% of respondents from companies in the refining sector expect to be fully autonomous by 2030.

It’s clear that the downstream sector is waking up to the myriad of benefits offered by industrial autonomy, including enhanced productivity, optimised operations efficiency, and improved worker safety. In light of this, Hydrocarbon Engineering will host a virtual conference on 22 October, dedicated to the latest developments and innovations driving the digital transformation of the hydrocarbon processing sector. ‘Downstream Digitalisation 2020’ will include presentations from the likes of Wood Mackenzie, AVEVA, Nexans, MISTRAS Group and Ionix Advanced Technologies. The conference is completely virtual – so you can join us from anywhere in the world, free of charge. And if you’re not able to join us on the day, don’t worry. Everyone who signs up to attend Downstream Digitalisation 2020 will receive an email containing all of the presentations after the conference has taken place, so you can catch up on all of the talks at a time that is convenient for you.

To guarantee your place at the Downstream Digitalisation virtual conference, register for free today: www.hydrocarbonengineering.com/downstream-digitalisation/

  1. ‘The Outlook for the Shift to Industrial Autonomy’, Yokogawa Electric Corp., (September 2020).

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