Refinery 4.0: Asset Management and IoT to drive plant improvements, achieve operational excellence and improve quality.

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When we’re flooded with data, how do we use it to make smart business decisions and drive operational excellence?

When we’re flooded with data, how do we use it to make smart business decisions and drive operational excellence? An exclusive round table discussion at Asian Downstream Summit and ARTC virtual recently delved into these questions and explored the truths of Refinery 4.0: Asset Management and IoT to drive plant improvements, achieve operational excellence and improve quality.

Asking the market outright

Moderator Andy Goldin, Head of Advanced Analytics, South East Asia Consulting at PwC Singapore kicked off with insights through a poll that revealed an overwhelming 82% of voters were driving for cost efficiency and focusing on operational resilience as their prime focus for the next six months.

Keeping the conversation on the bottom line, Sanjeev Mullick,  Vice President, APJ at Aspen Technology, defined three main ways in which refiners could remain commercially competitive in the face of economic uncertainty. First, via integrated planning, scheduling and optimization to create an agile environment that can adjust rapidly to marketplace demand. Second, via predictive analytics to identify asset integrity issues weeks or months in advance. Third, with the use of digital twins combining first principles and AI-enabled models and running 24/7 to provide better visibility into plant performance.

Data: still the new oil?

With over half of participants in a second interactive poll admitting that COVID-19 has “strongly accelerated” their digitalization agenda, technology can be a key differentiator in a challenging climate. “Data is the new oil” may be old news, but for the panel its commercial value remains a current truth.

“The way we see predictive analytics is more about optimisation”, said Sanjay Bakshi, Programme Director, Corporate Innovation, Start-up Innovation and Incubation for Shell in India. “When we say data is the new oil… what is the quality of that oil? At Shell, we have huge integrations of automation. But we are still getting there on how to commercialise it”.

For Rizki Ekananda, Senior Specialist Process Development Research at PT. Pertamina, it’s not just about collecting the data, it’s about using it in the right way to drive business decisions.

“Refineries have been storing and collecting data for a long time, longer than they know what to do with it!”, he said. “(Now) in conjunction with AI and ML and cheap computing, we can maximise efficiency without compromising plant safety”.

Predictions on predictive analytics

It’s not just data, but also some trending technologies, that have been around longer than we think. Mullick shed light on the resurgence of digital twin technology. “Digital twins have existed in some shape or form for many years”, he explained. “(Their development) has accelerated recently because of two factors. One: the availability of Industry 4.0. Secondly, the pandemic, creating more remote work and minimising human exposure. Both these things have “enabled the need and desire for digital twins, and (it) has become a very important business tool”.

Dinna Rizqi Awalia, Planning and Optimisation Engineer at PT Chandra Asri Petrochemical Tbk agreed that “Digital twin can be a competitive advantage (and) predictive maintenance can also apply improvement.” But Mullick stressed that when implementing digital twin technology, it is important to understand the specific business pain points the technology will address. “No one size fits all”, he reminded the panel and audience.

For Zsolt Viczián, Head of Downstream IT at MOL, the increased focus on predictive and simulation technologies today will have an impact on the workforce of tomorrow.  “One of the areas I expect to see change is the need for different skill sets”, he stated. “New types of jobs, for example trainers for digital twin”.

Building a more sustainable business

The energy transition is putting sustainability into the spotlight, and the industry under scrutiny. And an audience member put the panellists on the spot with their question: what are the main directions your organisations are taking when it comes to renewables?

For Hasnor Hasruddin, Principal Engineer of PETRONAS’s Project Delivery and Technology Division, his company’s goals to be net zero carbon by 2050 are aided by big data and model-based predictions. “We are using digital transformation  to map methane emissions in facilities and monitor emissions in real time”, he explained. These sensors help minimise costs and address what Hasruddin believes is the biggest challenge his company faces when it comes to implementing sustainability into the business infrastructure: “how to quantify the amount of emissions we are releasing”.

Awalia agrees that “sustainability and digitalisation are driving each other” and can combine lower emissions with higher profit.

“In (my) daily job, we use data on the price and availability of feedstock and (use it to) reduce emissions and make more efficient operations”, she told the panel. “With this, the company can be focused and improved in sustainability”.

As some operators accelerate towards new business models and alternative fuel sources, for Ekananda and PT. Pertamina, it’s about being more sustainable with what you have.

“We have a lot of biofeedback availability, especially palm oil”, he revealed. “Our management priority is maximising existing assets to try and maximise unconventional feedstock and upgrade it… that’s the sort of thing we are trying to do first before moving into wind, or other renewable sources”

“As computing power becomes cheaper and more accessible, predictive capabilities will be enhanced”, Ekananda explained. “Detail is the key differentiator. In my company we are more and more driven to explore new opportunities using existing assets… product diversification, especially into chemical or petrochemical products”.

Know your business: know its pain points

For Sufyan Mohd Nor, Head of Process Safety Management at PETRONAS, optimising virtual refinery practices can help make real life difference on the ground.

“Strategic implementation of digitalisation is needed in safety initiatives”, he confirmed. “The days when I was in the plant (I) looked at loss of primary containment data. (We need) a quicker response or quicker intervention. It’s about the availability and integration of plant data. Then we will be able to detect early warning signals, or which anomalies will become a threat to the facility”.

Mullick added that when planning your strategies and your partnerships, “you have to really look at what your pain points are, what your business priorities are…then make your decision”.

The plant of the future

From cost-efficiency, to AI sensors, the topic of the plant of the future drove varied visions and debate. But for Mullick, the oncoming Smart enterprise is built on three simple pillars.

“It will be self-learning – using sensors and the big data that’s available”, he set out. “Being able to detect patterns and learn from that and combine it with first principles models to extract more value”. Secondly, it will self-adapting “to changes in the surrounding environment, whether it is some ambient condition or market change, or feedstock availability issue”.

Thirdly, it will be self-sustaining. “(We’ve talked about the) importance of having predictive models for maintenance”, Mullick noted. (In the future) there will be ML and AI based solutions that will provide alerts on an impending failure to which you can then adapt”.

Combining these three pillars, AspenTech’s pioneering industrial AI technology works with clients along the digitalisation journey to equip them for self-optimising, sustainable success.

It’s not just your data, it’s what you do with it

A final poll revealed that a common business pain point is a “lack of key stakeholder buy-in”, with almost 40% of voters citing it as the main challenge they face when implementing new technology solutions. For Viczián when it comes to the digital future, employees across the board need to keep the pace.

“Some people think that with COVID, the road has progressed as much each month as previously each year”, he explained. “This is a paradigm shift. We need to develop digital leadership programmes so that VPS (and) CEO’s use data in their real time decision making. Data is the basis of your decision in the moment”

With Refinery 4.0 upon us, operators have data at their fingertips. It is what they do with it that will determine business success.