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Getty Images 869155894
Getty Images 869155894
Getty Images 869155894
Getty Images 869155894

So What Is Industry 4.0?

July 22, 2020
Smart technologies are changing everything about the grid, including our understanding of the transmission system and the distribution networks.

Why do we like labeling everything? It probably helps us keep track of where we are and what brought us to this point. Some identifiers have environmental importance like the Ice Age. Then there are tags with social implications like the Victorian era. For technologies, we like catchy — the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution is appealing, but like the Energizer Bunny, it just keeps going and going. So, someone tacked on revision numbers like 4.0.

In the March 2020 T&D World’s “Charging Ahead” article, the Industrial Revolution 4.0. was mentioned in passing and said it would get more explanation later. Let’s look at the Industrial Revolution 4.0 (a.k.a. Industry 4.0). This isn’t a history lesson, but it is important to understand how this all fits into the current technological level of the smart grid.

The Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century when mechanized production using water and steam replaced the cottage craft producers. About a hundred years later, the second phase of the revolution came along when electricity provided the power and the workplace changed to mass production.

Digital technology was responsible for the third generation of revolutionary progress by enhancing mass production with computers and automation. For the past decade, digital technology has pushed us into the fourth stage, Industry 4.0. This period is marked by technology taking advantage of big-data and artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of machine learning. Now computers are interconnected and are talking to each other to make decisions without any humans involved. In effect, Industry 4.0 is the merging of the real and virtual worlds. It’s a process defined by real-time big-data processed by big-data analytics.

Blurring the Boundaries

Industry 4.0 is possible because of high performance computing, powerful communications systems, cloud-based services, and artificial intelligence (AI). Some may think Industry 4.0 is a buzzword, but it’s the beginning of the autonomous chapter of business and manufacturing.

It has launched the world into physical/virtual reality with the introduction of cyber-physical systems. If you are not familiar with that term, cyber-physical systems are the interlinking technique that connects the digital and physical worlds. It’s being compared to the Internet of Things with some experts saying it’s really the Internet of Systems.

These intelligent systems are being formed, combining smart modules for monitoring performance, controlling processes, predicting failures, scheduling maintenance, and many other functions. They analyze big-data, utilize AI, and take action. The technology can also be used to predict how the system will behave under adverse conditions without placing the system in compromising conditions. Effectively these digitally conscious systems are both self-aware and self-managing and operate in this mixed reality of the cyber-physical environment. 

Self-managing technologies are being used by industries such as healthcare, travel industry, financial services, power generation, and even NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), but it’s the electric utility industry we are specifically interested in when it comes to technology. Interestingly, power delivery isn’t usually thought of as an industry that quickly adopts new technologies, but like all assumptions, that one may not be correct.

Since the power delivery industry is our main focus, let’s look at one statement that keeps popping up in the discussion of Industry 4.0. The experts and authorities say Industry 4.0 is all about its use of cyber-physical systems. They are quick to point out that by integrating these cyber-physical systems we are producing a blurring of the boundaries between the physical world, virtual realm, and biological areas of our environment. Well, that same phraseology is used in the descriptions of digital twin technology. There is also consensus among digital influencers that digital twin systems are not being utilized by utilities and transmission line owners to the extent they are by other industries, but is that really true?

Do Perceptions Count

Our industry is similar to the proverbial swimming duck; on the surface there doesn’t appear to much taking place, but look under the surface and it’s a different story. There is a lot of activity, but it may not be obvious to the casual observer. The smart grid isn’t the home of technophobes. In reality, the electric power delivery industry has been in the vanguard of the adoption of digital twin technology. That may catch a lot of folks by surprise, but there is a solid basis for this statement.

A recent conversation with Otto Lynch, president, and CEO of Power Line Systems, brought up some interesting digital twin perspectives. It seems our industry has been taking advantage of digital twin technology without most of us aware we were. Lynch said, “PLS-CADD was a 'Digital Twin' of the electric grid before the term Digital Twin was ever dreamed of by Dr. John Vickers of NASA in a 2010.”

Lynch went on to explain, “Seriously, we were not just mapping the grid, but actually building a duplicate civil/structural engineering model of the grid since 1992. I always show people our 3D (three-dimensional) model and point out that it isn’t just lines, color, and textures. The 3D PLS-CADD model contains the actual physical details of a line. These details include elements such as the 65ksi (kilo-pounds per square inch) steel, the 5/8-in. A394 TYPE 0 N bolts, and the 1.10-in. diameter of the 795 kcmil (thousands of circular mils) ACSR (aluminum-conductor steel-reinforced) with its 7 stranded steel core and 26 aluminum strands.

"The twin also shows the Ultimate Tension of 31,500 lbs. of the installed conductor and it includes the insulators, foundations, ground terrain, aerial photographs etc. Most importantly, if the as-built rendering was made using LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology, the 3D model is a true Digital Twin with an amazing level of accuracy.”

Editor’s Note: LiDAR, if you remember, is a remote sensing technology. Keeping it simple, LiDAR uses a laser combined with GPS (global positioning system) and some form of inertial navigation systems. Sophisticated software takes the 3D high-density data point cloud and produces the digital elevation/terrain models needed from ground reflections of everything in the path of the laser beam (vegetation, conductor, poles, structures, terrain, etc.).

Getting back to our digital twin discussion, Lynch pointed out, “LiDAR can be used to find vegetation encroachments so that they can be mitigated.  But what many people don’t realize though is that the conductors have a movement envelope. The envelope is affected by many factors such as wind, ice, structure deflections, changing ambient temperatures, latitude of the line, day of the year, time of the day, line direction, solar heating, wind speed, electrical loading, etc. In other words, the wires move a lot and that movement envelope has to be accurately determined, which is an ideal task for digital twin modeling.”

To clarify, Lynch said, “A digital twin allows the user to calculate the wire position for each combination of the various conditions. The PLS-CADD digital twin system allows for up to 200 combinations of those variables, to determine the clearance violations to ground, roads, obstacles, other wires (crossings), vegetation, basically anything that was surveyed, and report on those violations (if any) and mitigate them. This type of complex 3D modeling would be impossible without digital twin technology.”

Digital Strategies

Let’s dig a little deeper into the digital technologies being utilized by the grid’s stakeholders. The industry has invested a lot of time, effort, and resources into digital platforms designed to monitor transmission lines. Dynamic line rating systems have been created to increase the transmission line’s capacity by double digit amounts. Wide area protection techniques detect outages and autonomously reconfigure the transmission system to restore power. Volt/VAR schemes reduce energy losses by automatically adjusting voltage and reactive power to meet demands. Other systems can monitor the line’s health, predict component failures, and schedule maintenance before malfunctions occur.

These sophisticated programs can be supplied as individual digital platforms, or they can be included as transmission modules in advanced digital asset management systems that are gaining acceptance in the power delivery system. Utilities have found that having a common interface point improves the user friendliness of an extremely complicated technology. As a result, there is a growing list of suppliers offering these platforms such as ABB, Accenture, Cisco, ETAP, GE, IBM, Lindsey, Oracle, Schneider Electric, Power Line Systems, and Siemens to name a few.

These digital technologies are improving all aspects of transmission and distribution assets. They’re doing it with standalone applications and sophisticated platforms. Interestingly, these standalone features are also being integrated into advanced asset management systems. These asset management platforms are taking advantage of high performance computing and cloud-based services infused with AI capabilities. It has been said these utilities are converging informational and operational technologies. The result is a grid with streamlined operations, enhanced health of transmission lines and distribution networks, reduced maintenance costs, improved resilience, and reduced outages. It’s a tremendous economic advantage for utilities using them.

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