Industry4.0: Refinery Optimisation Part-1


(almost 1% of worldwide GDP growth could be seen from the sector and its adoption of the Digital Culture and Technologies)

To compete at the highest levels, ensuring the safety of your people and optimizing production is what each refinery/plant requires. Industry4.0 (i4.0) is a (r)Evolution already starting to happen, care of the Internet of Things (IoT) and analytics software that can directly impact the bottom-line.

Combine these with the fast developing and proving themselves disruptive technologies including Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing and Robotic/Cobotic Process Automation and the sector is set for one of the major digital transformations. 

It was back in 1998 when I climbed aboard the enterprise applications market amid the then, ever increasing price of a barrel of oil. The SAP R/3 ERP wave across the majors, state owned and minors was really starting to motor and I was stretching my business across the globe into the "black gold" exotic locations with some of the major consulting firms such as PwC, Andersen Consulting (Accenture), IBM etc. 

It was amazing fun seeing so many cultures and so much activity, but what I see now with Industry4.0 today is something much greater. To be at the start of the 4th Industrial Revolution is incredible and as always I am grateful to be in the right place at the right time.

it's all in the data

The revolution is not about managing existing assets, the optimised supply chains, improving customer relationships, but in the value of the information that can be drawn from these areas. 

Today, it is about sensing and communicating care of the Industrial Internet of Things, analyzing with new software and closing the loop by taking action to improve the business. 

The significant ROI of improving reliability, optimising operations and creating new value comes from the reduction in planned maintenance and production costs, an increase in profits, the prevention of equipment failure and keeping your plants running at peak efficiency. 

Furthermore, the downstream players are seeing the promising opportunities in revenue generation by deepening their knowledge of the hydrocarbon supply chain. 

tech savvy downstreamers

Arguably, the most tech savvy of the value chain is the downstream. Over several years the sector has enjoyed the introduction of various technologies that has in so doing created a more familiar workforce and mindset toward the acceptance of change. 

However, because much of the technology has been more operational in nature, they've been slow to adapt to the data culture and analytical approach that's available to leverage. Currently, C-Suite management has visibility over just 1% of data available!

IoT @ the Edge - the target

Introducing change to the downstream refinery/plant needs to bring fast measurable benefits and add value to the operator's day. An i4.0 implementation has a number of benefits:

  • better process analytics
  • increased up-time
  • constant productivity
  • satisfied customers
  • safe workers

Refineries continue to deal with more and more hazardous and complex materials that need constant monitoring. Most is done by a highly experienced workforce skilled in the nuances of machine acoustics. But, what happens when they're sick and or when they retire? There is a better and safer way.

why now?

The Refinery 4.0 Revolution and the shift to data-based value creation is enabled initially by the dramatic falling in the price of IoT (sensors & actuators), their increased functionality and the advancement in wireless networks. This combined with ever increasing computer power has started to flood the industry with data availability, "almost ready" to be analyzed.

getting started with i4.0

For those of you who have been following my recent i4.0 articles there has been consistency in choosing projects/pilots (Not proof of concepts!) that are scaleable. As a result, companies need to link their IoT deployments to specific enterprise business priorities that typically sit within any or some of the three:

  • improve costs of operations by increasing productivity & optimizing the supply chain
  • minimise risks to health, safety and environment through the improvement in reliability
  • explore new sources of revenue through servitization

the steps to i4.0 

At a high-level within the production "lines" there are consistent technology supported steps in extracting the ROI:

  1. A function takes place (machine or component) and is monitored by a sensor 
  2. The sensor creates information that passes through a network under pre-defined standards (technical, legal, regulatory or social)
  3. Into the repository / cloud / fog where it is analyzed initially then over time augmented intelligence applied 
  4. Leading to augmented behavior technology (predictive and video analytics, lifecycle asset management, EHS) that can either enable automated and autonomous action or shape human decisions for their betterment. 

motivated but.....

Refinery managers have always wanted to monitor the performance of their processes and equipment, but until now they have only had access to small amounts of data and often just once a month. Activity has mostly been restricted to line analysis or comparisons to simple standards in custom spreadsheets and generating even these basic analyses has taken too long to enable effective responses.

Most agree IoT will be a very important source for much needed efficiencies, however there remains a lack of clear perspective among many given the breadth of small and large applications coming to the market.

The first step remains, as a senior manager to keep control of the potential solution by bringing in an i4.0 expert with industry knowledge to up-skill the in-house team, in readiness for the scaling of the solution.

emerging technologies

What to some may appear as already fast emerging, in the refineries/plants they've hardly scratched the surface:

Robotics / Robotics Process Automation

For a sector that frequently places humans into above average risk environments, the chance to introduce robots/cobots is immediately attractive to all. 

3D Printing

3D printing has moved beyond the hype phase, and we are now seeing practical. For oil and gas, 3D printing means fast, cost-effective "construction" of assets that can be used for maintenance planning and execution. Not only that but it allows the reverse engineering of tools in virtually every shape and size.

and lastly, of course there's Artificial Intelligence that is being heavily invested in by most of the majors together with the most advanced intelligence schools around the planet. Let's see where that will take us.

finding the i4.0 expertise

As firstly an i4.0 passionate talent acquisition firm, secondly focused on the energy sector, I'm fascinated to continue the journey of positioning the "i4.0 peg" into the "i4.0 hole" in some of the very best refineries around the world to deliver unrivaled returns.

Let's explore together

My best wishes, Andrew

Tel: +44 (0)773-241-3732