Industry 4.0, immersive tech and blockchain headline TEC Next conference

Art Powers, ExxonMobil. Photo credit: Sam Barnes

Working in today’s industrial space is a lot like playing a team sport, says Art Powers, ExxonMobil’s principal for Emergency Preparedness & Response in Irving, Texas. In both environments, there’s a common desire to accurately simulate “game time” conditions during practice.

And like never before, Powers adds, immersive technologies are enabling industrial owners to do just that.

Powers was the opening keynote speaker at last week’s TEC Next conference at the Manship Theater in Baton Rouge. Nearly 200 attended the two-day event, during which industry and technology experts gave brief, 15-minute talks about various technologies, in a format similar to a TED Talk. It was the second such event since 2019 (the last two conferences were cancelled due to the pandemic) and was hosted by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance. Sponsors included presenting sponsor ExxonMobil, MS Benbow & Associates, Shell, Dow, Nexus Louisiana, MMR and the Alliance Safety Council.

“Practice like we play is what we hear on our sports teams, but it boils down to simulating game-time conditions in order to perform at optimal levels,” Powers says. “That’s part of what we do every day in the industrial space. It just has a different terminology associated with it … walk throughs, dry runs, beta testing etc.”

As for its part, ExxonMobil created an Immersive Technologies Studio at its Houston campus in 2019 and manned it with experts in the fields of learning, collaboration and design. Along the way, they’ve identified existing technologies and synced them with the needs of the company. “We’re all technologists at heart, and we are taking on real challenges in our work,” he adds. “Our Immersive Technologies Studio tries to create that synergy.”

Other keynote speakers during TEC Next included Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo in Houston, and Rishi Vaish, chief technology officer for IBM AI Applications. Bruce discussed GumboNet, an interconnected industrial smart contract network powered and secured by blockchain. He created the company in 2016 after spotting an opportunity to eliminate a sizable cost inefficiency between an oil company and one of its suppliers.

IBM’s Vaish discussed blockchain solutions, AI-based applications, hybrid cloud technologies, cloud computing, software-as-a-service architecture and application middleware.

Other topics during the conference included Industry 4.0, the Industry Internet of Things (IIOT), cybersecurity, virtual reality simulations, safety, site-wide connectivity, augmented reality visual tools, site-wide wireless connectivity, 3D laser scanning, AI and robotics.