In the process of moving hydrocarbon through the supply chain from producer to consumer, terminals play an important role. They receive liquids and gases from many sources including ship, rail and pipeline. These gas and liquid hydrocarbons are stored in tanks or vessels until required to move via other methods of transportation including barge, truck and pipeline.
I had the chance to view an upcoming article featuring Emerson’s Cor Vermeijs. He’s based in the Netherlands. The article explored ways for terminal operators to use automation to optimize the inventory management and operational efficiency of their terminals. The goal is to improve the quality, productivity and availability of the terminal and help the owner of the terminal lower the costs of operations and maintenance, improve environmental and safety compliance, and reduce energy usage.
He notes that many terminals today are manually operated from planning all the way to manually operated valves and pumps. This limits the availability of real-time information to make the most efficient schedules. These delays affect the throughput of the terminal, which directly affects its profitability.
In the article, Cor stresses the starting point should be to study the current operational processes. The key is to look for areas of inefficiency that can be automated. The study typically includes a cross-section of the organization from operations, sales and management. The output of this study is:
…a plan to optimize these processes, to automate them, and to implement them wherever necessary. The results of this site audit are issued in a report that gives the solution for the concept, a cost-benefit analysis, the payback period and a performance guarantee. It’s all based on the best possible use of the storage tanks, the pumps, the pipelines and the jetties. The objective is as many product movements as possible without running the risk of product contamination or tank overfills.
Architecturally, when manual processes are automated, the information is collected in a single system. This information becomes the basis for a route planner. The system takes the recommended route with the corresponding pipeline segments, valves and pumps and links it to the data from the work order. This information can include the time when the route/transfer can be started, how long it will take, which ship or train will deliver the volume, and who is the owner. Cor sums this up:
…all information is available not only to the operator in the control room, but also to the man on the jetty, the planner and perhaps even to the captain of the unloading or receiving vessel. And it all takes place in real time, with immediate feedback of events such as a delay along the line, so that you can adjust your planning while the work goes on without interruption, thus increasing your terminal’s efficiency.
Terminal management includes a number of processes including custody transfer accounting, inventory tracking, security management, loader or driver verification, load requests and initiation, permissives management, ticket generation, custom reports, remote dock monitoring, event logging, and system integrity management.