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Accenture’s new technology centre looks to the future of connected devices
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Accenture’s new technology centre looks to the future of connected devices

19 Jan 2017

Imagine miners and production plant workers donning a “smart” helmet that would improve their productivity and keep them safe. Or inspectors tapping on drones and image analysis software to check power lines and gas pipes with remote controllers. Accenture’s latest innovation venture could realise these technologies – in the near future.

On September 23, 2015, global management consulting and technology services firm, Accenture opened an Internet Of Things Centre of Excellence for Resources in Singapore to develop these and other technologies. International mining group Rio Tinto has signed on as the centre’s foundation client.

The centre, which will employ more than 30 researchers, scientists and engineers, will focus on improving firms’ productivity and safety in the agriculture, forestry, metals, mining, oil and gas, chemicals and utilities sectors. It will also develop the next generation of intelligent, connected devices and machines that comprise the industrial Internet of Things (IoT).

By the year 2030, the industrial IoT could add US$14.2 trillion dollars in gross domestic product to 20 major economies in the world, including China, India, Japan and the United States, through cost savings and productivity gains, according to a 2015 report by Accenture.

Ms Rachael Bartels, the firm’s Natural Resources Global Industry Managing Director, said it decided to house the IoT centre in Singapore as it is an international trade hub and base for some of the world’s top commodities producers, shippers and logistical supply chain firms: “Singapore is uniquely placed for companies to use technologies to achieve cost reductions, efficiencies and productivity gains, and, more importantly, to generate new revenue streams.”

The centre, for example, is developing a suite of sensors that can be installed in production plants to monitor the wear and tear of individual parts’ and alert supervisors to imminent component failures. The sensors in utility, as well as oil and gas plants, could track the parts’ degradation by keeping an eye on the flow of liquids through pipes. Supervisors can in turn use mobile applications to remotely shut down production lines temporarily for repairs and maintenance. 3D-printing technology could further reduce the cost of such upkeep by allowing firms to manufacture replacements only as needed.

Sensors, cameras and image analysis software in resource-processing plants can also be deployed to sort products such as coal pieces according to their sizes, and weed out extraneous items. Mr Senthil Ramani, Accenture Consulting’s Managing Director of Resources Industries, said this technology would protect the plant’s equipment as coal pieces that are too large might damage it, and have to be crushed to smaller sizes. 

Another technology which the centre is developing is augmented-reality helmets and spectacles. Workers in production plants can use these to get visual, step-by-step instructions on how to troubleshoot and fix equipment in front of them, turning even new employees into experts. Miners can also use them to call up virtual maps that highlight dangerous spots, and provide them with safe escape routes, in case of accidents.

According to another report released by Accenture in 2015, technologies such as sensors, remote monitoring and advanced data analytics, could reduce the chemical industry’s cost of goods by 7 to 12 percent. This translates to about US$250 billion in savings worldwide.

It also observed that industrial IoT enabled a global coal producer to reduce the duration of delays by 44 percent at a coal handling preparation plant, and the occurrences of such delays by 48 percent. After Accenture’s utility clients’ workers were equipped with “smart” wearables to give them access to more data and to teach them how to work faster, their productivity rose by 10 to 20 percent. In the agricultural sector, sensors, drones and data analytics also helped Accenture’s clients reduce farming costs by 20 to 30 percent.

Mr Yeoh Keat Chuan, Managing Director of the Economic Development Board – which is supporting the centre, said at its opening: “Singapore is already Asia’s largest commodity trading hub… This centre of excellence will further deepen the presence of resource companies here, and generate exciting career opportunities for Singaporean digital researchers, scientists and engineers.”  

Image credit: The Experiential Walkway at Accenture's new Internet of Things Centre of Excellence for Resources, Accenture