The refining industry has traditionally recognized the benefit of training simulators more than almost any other process industry. The industry as a whole has little tolerance for unscheduled downtime. Operator mistakes can be costly or even deadly. Most refineries have invested in dynamic simulators for operator training on at least one project; seven figure capital investments on simulators are common. However, very few refineries have received the business benefit on the investment they have made in simulators.
The Wrong Approach
The reason that many simulation projects in the refining industry are failures can be attributed to the following reasons:
- Users have tried to apply steady-state simulators for plant design to operator training and system testing. As Dr. Tom Fiske from ARC Advisors states, “engineering simulators are not well suited for process automation testing, training, and automation lifecycle management.”
- Users have been led into the trap of believing that all unit operations must be modeled with high-fidelity models driving up the cost and complexity of the solution.
- Simulation providers have not delivered working simulators within the project schedule constraints of automation system FAT and pre-startup operator training.
- Simulation providers have sacrificed the integrity of the automation platform by re-hosting the control system logic and graphics in the simulator or have modified the automation platform to conform to the simulation system requirements.
- Users have been left with systems that they are incapable of maintaining the system due to inflexibility or complexity of the simulation system.
A Better Way
The good news for the refinery industry is there is a proven better approach to simulation systems for operator training and automation system testing. Applying the Digital Twin to Hydrocracking Units presents this approach.
The paper examines the results of a very successful project for a green-field Hydrocracker, where the customer applied an operator training system using Mimic Simulation Software and DeltaV Simulate. This project exceeded the customer’s expectations and has provided significant return on investment. Specifically, the solution delivered the following:
- A dynamic simulator designed specifically for operator training and automation system testing.
- The selective application of simulation fidelity or complexity (high to medium) to meet the needs of the unit operation and user requirements.
- Delivery of a working, complete simulator one month after automation system FAT, in time for operator training, and well before unit startup.
- The use of non-intrusive simulation interface so that the integrity of the off-line automation system (in this case DeltaV Simulate) was intact.
- A solution that is easily maintained by plant process engineers with no previous simulation experience.
This proven approach has allowed the user to start up quicker with less downtime and with a trained and capable operations staff.
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