Relying on digitalisation: How digital reliability is the backbone of a healthy downstream 4.0


In an increasingly competitive and unpredictable refining industry, reliability will be downstream leaders’ lighthouse in an economic storm. Volatile demand and new operational, economic, and safety challenges mean downstream operators need to be both razor-sharp and reliable to stay commercially competitive.

It is estimated that across heavy industries, digital maintenance and reliability transformations can increase asset availability by up to 15% and reduce maintenance costs by up to 25%. Predictive maintenance, digital twin and drone technologies are just some of the tools that operators can rely on to uphold their reliability.

Asian Downstream Insights explores bringing downstream reliability into the digital age, and how a clear view of your assets can help you get ahead.

360° Reliability

Reliability cannot be approached in isolation. Instead, it needs to be considered as one leg of the stool: an integral component of wider holistic business infrastructure. This requires optimised design, and a clear view of your assets and operations. Data collected and analysed over time can identify the equipment and process units that operate with the best performance and reliability.

The more data available, the more detailed the picture it can build. For Achmad Dahlan, Head of Operations Safety Service at Pertamina Hulu Mahakam, as the industry moves towards a fully digital era, digital technologies are evolving to manage the growing networks of information, and to meet new business demands. One example is drone technology – an industry predicted to grow to $1.5 billion by 2022 with the oil and gas industry accounting for 43% of this growth. Drones can provide a 360° overview of actionable visual data, enabling increased efficiency of asset management, inspections and inventory assessment, while reducing downtime and work stoppages. This birds-eye view can lead to a holistic lower-higher reliability infrastructure.

“Before drones existed, high angle visual inspections such as flare-tips [and] distillation columns were done manually”, Dahlan explains. “These activities require operations shutdown and installation of massive scaffolding to provide access. With drones it is becoming easier, less-risk and with no economical loss caused by production shortfall”.

Reliability and risk management

Reliability and risk go hand in hand, and when safety is one of the key risks at the forefront of downstream business leaders’ minds, using digital tools to streamline safety operations is key to improving overall reliability.

“Some drones are now equipped with Forward-looking Infrared (FLIR) cameras, technology that can detect hydrocarbon leaks in installation”, continues Dahlan. “The benefit of having this stuff is that in the case of gas leaks on site…drones [can] observe from a distance to confirm if the leak is real”. Not only does this streamline operation times, but also, as Dahlan confirms, in the case of an emergency drones can “perform searching of injured personnel, deliver rescue aid [and] extinguish fire”.

Refineries and petrochemicals facilities are under strict obligations to ensure the safety of their employees. COTC complexes rely on complex machinery, and face challenges such as managing infrastructure in brownfield plants, or navigating data stored in different locations. Digital simulation technology, a solution rapidly gaining traction in the sector, can provide  real-time visibility across the operational supply chain, enabling a data-driven approach to reliability.

An example of a downstream pioneer who has been leading the way on the road to reliability is ADNOC, whose Panorama Digital Command Centre monitors the entire hydrocarbon value chain. By breaking down information siloes, and providing real-time operational insights, the project is already said to have “generated over US$1 billion (AED 3.67 billion) in business value” since its 2018 completion,  making it a firm cornerstone of not only digital, but also financial reliability.

Reliability: a multi-faceted approach

Better digital reliability starts with better design. Data collated and collected over time can identify which process units and designs operate with the best level of performance. Once fed back into the overall plan of the refinery and plant, it’s possible to evaluate and re-use the most successful models, leading to a better level of overall reliability.

Modelling and monitoring are magic words in the era of downstream digital transformation. Data-based digital models can help understand the weak points in your refinery infrastructure and provide a platform to examine alternative solutions and strategies that can achieve higher reliability. When coupled with advanced analytics, and predictive – or prescriptive – technologies, probabilistic modelling can also identify the ‘pressure points’ in a refinery or plant’s interconnected system, where the reliability and ROI will yield the best future returns.

Digitalisation is not just a crucial part of reliability; It is key to resilience, and critical for recovery.