Smart Refineries – The Need of the Hour
“In the past, refineries would detect a problem and then react to it,” says Doug White, director of global refining solutions at Emerson Process Management in Houston. “Now they try to predict early and respond before it happens.”
This is the time for companies in the oil and gas industry to look at their systems, processes, technology, and equipment that need to be upgraded and integrated, to boost efficiency in the field and at the refinery.
The evolution of smart instrumentation transformed the concept of automation in the process industries decades ago. With continuously increasing competition, refineries are finding it imperative to make automation smarter and take it to the next level. Smart refineries are no longer a vision of the future, but the need of the hour.
Challenges Up Front
Regardless of location, most oil and gas companies face issues that make it difficult for them to achieve sustained production efficiency and profitability. They pertain to:
– Safety risk
– Challenging operating environment
– Changing workforce
– System Incompatibility
– Digital Security
How Smart Automation Helps?
- More complex operations
The increasing volume and complexity in hostile and remote locations (such as arctic, deepwater, and offshore) require reliable remote automated or semi-automated operations, and logistics optimised for efficiency. Mature assets with declining production need effective maintenance schedules to keep production profitable.
- Health, Safety and Environmental Incidents
Ensuring zero tolerance for health and safety incidents is a non-negotiable imperative. In the current highly regulated environment, such incidents not only threaten profitability but also the very existence of an operator. Automated production control, monitoring equipment condition, and predictive shut-down systems are now the basic essentials to preventing and mitigating catastrophic incidents.
- The Talent and Experience Gap
The industry is in its most dramatic demographic shift, commonly referred to as “the big crew change”. Thousands of petrotechnical professionals will be retiring, resulting in a knowledge and an experience crisis. With retention and recruitment unlikely to bridge this gap fully, it is only important to codify many routine analyses and decision-support processes, and where possible, automate them. This reduces employee dependency and errors.
Today, the need for automation systems is not limited to control, monitoring and safety of the plant. Smart automation systems are an amalgamation of smart engineering, smart operations and smart maintenance that make refineries more efficient and safe.
Some of the smart applications in automation systems for refineries include:
- Alarm Management Systems
In alarm flooding, more alarms than a human operator can effectively respond to, go off. In such situations, alarm rationalisation and alarm priorities become crucial. Alarm management, an application of human factor engineering in automation systems, enables operators to handle abnormalities efficiently and reduce plant shutdowns and equipment damage.
- Advance Process Control (APC)
Advance process control applications enable multiple features like multi-variable predictive control, optimised tuning of proportional integral derivative (PID) controllers and dynamic feed forward control. These improve efficiency and thus, the levels of production and operational excellence.
- Open Platform Communication (OPC)
Open platform communication entails real-time communication of plant data between different systems. It helps in integrating discrete automation systems with a centralised system, including alarms and events from systems of different machines.
Implementing a state-of-the-art smart instrumentation and automation system is critical in making the refining industry safe, reliable, profitable, predictable and environmentally friendly. It adds features like increased diagnostic data, better predictive maintenance capabilities, reduced commissioning time and more. The operational advantages are:
- Maximised Refinery Production
Maximising throughput is the ultimate goal of all refineries. And smart automation helps in bringing down wastes in the processes, predicting production profiles, and stabilising production. The systems aid operators in making advanced calculations easily, enabling the fine tuning and early stabilisation of processes.
- Reduced Downtime
The failure of rotating equipment like pumps, motors, and compressors can severely affect production in any plant. This calls for resorting to predictive maintenance instead of reactive maintenance. Advanced smart sensors and health monitoring systems for heavy duty machines are key to carrying out predictive maintenance, and thereby, reducing the probability of an unexpected shutdown.
- Effective Energy Management
Energy efficiency is directly proportional to high profitability. One of the highest expenses in a refinery, energy constitutes up to 40 percent of the running costs. Smart process designs compounded with smart automation systems aid in conserving energy, reusing energy or utilising waste to generate energy.
The Petropiar refinery (Chevron/PDVSA joint venture) in Mejorador Jose, Barcelona, Venezuela, installed predictive management software in conjunction with 4,500 HART field instruments. This resulted in a documented financial benefit at the refinery of USD 70 million, during a 2-year period. It reduced Petropiar’s pre-commissioning and commissioning time by 40%, lost profit opportunities caused by instrument faults by 60%, and eliminated 95% of problem-causing components.
Smart Refineries and Engineers
Engineering firms have a vital role to play with concept finalisation, selection, and implementation of smart automation systems in refineries.
In the first phase, they outline the project definition, design basis and smart features of the automation system. This is in alignment with the client’s requirements and expectations, taking into account recent industry trends to reap benefits of technology developments.
In the engineering phase, companies manage the procurement lifecycle of a smart automation system, including requisitioning, technical bid evaluations and vendor drawing review. Conducting studies for alarm rationalisation and defining alarm priorities for implementing in the automation system also falls under the scope of engineering firms.
At Bajaj Finserv, we offer collateral free Engineer Loans that is meant to help engineers cash in on the prevailing wave of smart automation, and provide solutions and consultancy on the same. Corporates can also avail the loan for implementation of smart automation systems in their refineries. Get in touch with us to know more.