Digital Transformation for Refiners and Petrochemical Producers

by | Apr 16, 2018 | Downstream Hydrocarbons, Industrial IoT, Industry

Jim Cahill

Chief Blogger, Editor

At the recent 116th American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) Annual Meeting, they discussed the many changes brought about by U.S. tax and regulatory policy changes, as well as the application of the advancing technology landscape.

Emerson's Marcio Donnangelo


In the conference daily publication, published by Hydrocarbon Processing magazine, Emerson’s Marcio Donnangelo highlighted one area of technology advancement in an article, Industrial apps simplify data analytics (p10).

He opened describing the business drivers for incorporating new technologies:

Refinery operators must focus on process optimization and blending crudes to achieve the most profitable operations. Asset and equipment failure can lead to downtime, spoiling these and other strategies, so operators are constantly searching for ways to improve uptime.

While real-time control has been a longstanding part of refining and petrochemical processes, wireless instrumentation has enabled additional monitoring applications that were not economically or technically feasible. For example:

New non-intrusive instruments technologies—such as inside-of-pipe temperature, corrosion, acoustic and others—eliminate leak points and further reduce the overall cost and time of installation by removing the need for pipe cutting, drilling or welding.

Once a wireless infrastructure is set up to monitor one or more pieces of equipment, additional wireless instruments can be added and joined to the existing network for very little marginal cost.

From a software application standpoint:

Emerson’s Plantweb™ Insight apps [hyperlink added] utilize pre-built analytics with embedded domain expertise to diagnose the health of plant assets. The resulting information and insights can be accessed and visualized on a web-user interface running on PCs, laptops, tablets or smartphones…

Instead of a more monolithic analytics application:

Each app addresses specific assets—such as pumps, heat exchangers, pressure relief valves and steam traps, among others—with simple and inexpensive plug-in solutions. These apps run independently of a plant’s control system.

The combination of additional sensors for monitoring and purpose-built mobile apps:

…simplify the installation, configuration and maintenance of equipment monitoring systems. This allows refineries to protect assets and equipment, improve uptime, comply with regulations and increase profits.

Emerson's Tim Olsen


In a second article in the conference daily, IIoT and the digital transformation (p16), Emerson’s Tim Olsen described the importance of forming a digitalization strategy:

…providing information—analyzed data and actionable information that can improve the safety, availability and performance of the operation—to the right person at the right time to enable a proper response.

Undergoing a digital transformation is not just about adopting new technologies, but also:

…the investment in training staff to improve and behave differently with the new timely information. It should be noted that some jobs will be replaced (e.g., manual data collection), new roles will emerge (e.g., analysts and planners), and other jobs will evolve to be more efficient.

Wireless instrumentation can play a role in rotating equipment vibration, leak detection via ultrasonic sensing, corrosion/erosion monitoring and traditional process measurements. Deploying these additional measurements:

…has resulted in lower maintenance costs and energy usage, while reducing downtime and mitigating the probability of a safety or environmental incident.

With real-time monitoring, instead of post-mortem analysis, the:

…new approach is to utilize the abundance of process and asset health data and predictive analytics software to automatically analyze data and turn it into information. This new approach looks forward and alerts before abnormal operation or imminent failure, thereby providing the ability to take appropriate timely action to avoid asset failure.

Tim concluded:

Combining IIoT strategies that are integrated with pervasive sensors from both process and asset health that generate timely information, with trained staff to take appropriate actions is an extremely effective way to improve plant safety, operational effectiveness, enhanced competitiveness and, ultimately, profitability.

You can connect and interact with other refining, petrochemical and digital transformation experts in the Refining, Chemical and Wireless groups in the Emerson Exchange 365 community.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.