In this 18-minute podcast, Emerson’s Ana Gonzalez Hernandez and Chris Hamlin describe how research into manufacturing resource efficiency is translating into better solutions for optimizing material usage, reducing energy consumption, and operating more sustainably. The Operational Certainty consulting team can help your organization plan and execute a path to more efficient and sustainable manufacturing.
Jim: Hi. This is Jim with another edition of the “Emerson Automation Experts” podcast. And today, I’m joined by Ana Gonzalez Hernandez and Chris Hamlin and we’re going to talk a little bit about resource efficiency. But before we do, let’s find out a little bit more about them. Ana, let’s start. Give us a little bit of your background.
Ana: Hi. I studied my undergraduate degree at Imperial College in London. I did mechanical engineering and then I did a PhD in Cambridge. My PhD was funded by Emerson. I’ve been working for four years on resource efficiency. Trying to help companies reduce their energy and material consumption and looking at developing new methods to understand resource efficiency in a way that is more holistic and integrated. And from there, after a few years of the PhD, Emerson started seeing a lot of value in the work. And when I finished my PhD, they offered me a job to try and develop an engineering solution within Emerson. I’ve been working under the Operational Certainty consulting team since I finished my PhD in March. I started working in May—it’ll be now five months.
Jim: Well, it’s great to have you aboard with Emerson. Chris, give us a little bit of your background.
Chris: Okay. I’ve worked for Emerson for 10 years. Joined as a chemical industry business consultant, done a variety of roles since then, and now look after our new Operational Certainty consulting practice for Europe, Middle East, and Africa. And I’m lucky enough to actually have Ana on my team. I’m very excited about the whole kind of concept of resource efficiency and where we’re going with it.
Jim: Okay. Great. Can you tell us a little bit more about resource efficiency and what the potential is there for our customers?
Ana: Yes. I guess maybe going back a bit and talking about where the idea came from. In Cambridge where I did my PhD, we were looking into material efficiency which is basically looking at ways of reducing material use in big process industries, and we were also looking at energy efficiency. How do you reduce energy use? Then we realized that actually, there’s very little understanding of how the two come together. How do you make sure that you reduce your material and your energy use and not…you know, there’s trade-offs between the two.
The consumption of resources is linked and making sure that you’re actually reducing energy overall to make changes to your material use and vice versa but also realizing that when you reduce material use, you are reducing energy use as well, because materials take a lot of energy to actually convert. It all started by seeing that there was a lack of metrics, a lack of an analysis, a framework, to actually have a complete idea of how the plants are operating in terms of their resource management. Basically, the work that I was doing in Cambridge was exactly coming up with ways of measuring, having indicators that bring the concepts of energy and material efficiency together and also using Emerson’s expertise in process automation.
The fact that we can have access to a lot of data now, you have sensors, the whole digital transformation space, and making sure that we can use that data to actually inform our resource efficiency as well.
Jim: Chris, how does that tie in with the Operational Certainty consulting with having this framework and that part of it? How does that come together?
Chris: Okay. The whole basis for around what we do with Operational Certainty consulting is look to improve overall business performance for our customers and clients. We don’t really start with the technology. We start with the business drivers and the business strategy. And then what we do is we try to combine it. It’s the classic three pillars of people, process, and technology. Bring those together in a way that enable clients to be better at what they do. And we often talk about top quartile performance being the aspiration, albeit a lot of our clients are already at that top quartile level. But those that are recognize they need to work even harder to stay there.
Now resource efficiency is a really interesting metric when you come to look at it because most simply, it’s basically a measure of how much you get out of a process for how much you put into it. And it turns out that because of the ways that Ana and the team at Cambridge have put together the concept, it’s actually a very robust, rigorous metric. But the thing that’s really cool about it for me is it’s a measure that works at all sorts of different scales. You can apply it at the smallest piece of process equipment to a heat exchanger or a pump but it works just as well at the level of a company performance or even and, in fact, Ana’s done work in this space, even at the level of national economies.
Now, I can’t think of any other measure or metric of performance that scales in that way and that gives you that same clarity of insight at whatever level you’re operating. We’re really excited about this effectively new performance KPI that can be used in a really, really transparent way. By virtue of focusing on it and making improvements to it simultaneously will improve profitability and ensure that you’re improving your environmental stewardship. Now those are two things that often are at conflict with one another and this harmonizes the two together and operates at scale in a way that no other metric has before. For us, we anticipate it being the bedrock actually of a large part of how we’re going to take the operational certainty concept forward.
Jim: That’s really powerful that it can scale in that way and really be a guidepost. So, how would companies if they thought that there was room for improvement, maybe significant improvement, how would they go about starting on a journey to improve their performance?
Ana: Well, I guess data is always at the core of it. You have to collect data on your material and your energy flows and try and understand as much as possible where things are going, where things are being consumed and disposed. I guess having a complete understanding of the data flows is probably at the beginning of that.
Once you have an understanding of where the resources are going, then we can do what we call a resource efficiency analysis where we basically look at the quality of the materials and of the energy flow. Not just tracking the mass or the energy but also tracking the temperature, the pressure, the composition of the flows, so the things that actually give value to the streams making sure that we capture all of that in the same framework.
And once we do that, we can start tracking the resource efficiency. You know, as Chris was saying, this is scalable. You can track units, you can track plants as a whole, even sites. And once you start tracking and monitoring the efficiency, you can then identify hotspots, see where your biggest losses are and then start looking at ways of providing engineering solutions to reduce those losses.
Jim: Yeah. I guess that traditionally, a plant would have the instrumentation or sensors to perform the basic process control and safety shut down or whatever was required but not necessarily to track in this way. And I guess technology has come a long way to really open up the ability to be able to measure a lot more. Is that something that the consultants get involved with and helping companies find the missing areas of measurements that they need to be able to see how they’re doing?
Chris: Yeah… absolutely. As Ana said, the very beginnings, the very start of this process is really about closing your mass and energy balances. Now, that’s something that we’ve been talking about in industry for years if not decades. And people understand the power and the value of doing that, reduce uncertainty from the process and really understand what’s happening. That same concept is fundamental to the way we approach a resource efficiency project. And you can only really effectively look at resource efficiency in an environment where your mass and energy balances are closed.
If you’re only doing that at the site boundary, we can only really look at the site at a site level. If we can do it at a unit boundary, then we can look at a unit level. And a big part of setting up an intervention using this kind of technique and methodology is to understand what’s being measured and how well it’s being measured and how well we really understand what’s happening on the process. Now again, one of the exciting things about resource efficiency as a concept though is it gives an almost direct and immediate feedback in terms of benefit for improving measurement and overall measurement quality.
When we’ve talked about energy and mass balance closure historically, it’s been about reducing uncertainty. But we never really got a proper handle except in some specific sort of fiscal and custody transfer applications. There’s not really a real handle on what’s that worth. We know we’re not more confident but do we really care? With resource efficiency, we can actually start putting numbers around that. We can actually start talking about how well the process is understood and how well or how confident we are in knowing and understanding where the sorts of interventions Ana talked about, the engineering interventions for improvement, should be applied.
Jim: Okay. Have we worked with anyone or applied these measures in any way to help their performance?
Ana: Yes. During my PhD, I did work with two companies. I worked with Tata Steel and then I worked with World Steel, the global steel association. And I did some work on ammonia production using simulations. They’re very different cases and it kind of proves the flexibility of the tool. With World Steel, we used the data that World Steel collected. So, they survey, they basically are like the Solomon of the steel sector and they collect all the energy and the material data for the steel sector around the globe. And that contains the annual averages of consumption for steel sites.
We analyzed the resource efficiency across 40 plants and what we found was we were able to create distributions of resource efficiency. We were able to position different companies on a resource efficiency scale and then identify the opportunities for the entire sector. Looking at things like improving the steel yield rates, reducing the energy input into blast furnaces, recovering waste gases. They’re also recycling steel using the slag and sludge so all the material byproducts. And that allowed us really to have a much wider portfolio of improvement options.
Rather than just looking at specific energy efficiency measures which is usually what they’re focused on, reducing or improving the recovery of heat for example, we basically opened up to wider options like the improvement of the yields or recycling or reducing the material byproduct waste and so on. And actually in the steel sector, the material efficiency options provide actually more savings than the energy efficiency ones because the steel sector has been reducing energy use for decades and they’re very good at it. They’re kind of almost reaching the limits of how much can be done within fuels and heat.
We also then worked with Tata Steel and actually applied the same method to a specific facility. We worked with them in the U.K. looking at the basic oxygen steel making and looked at what options were available within the process, again improving the use of byproducts, reducing heat, waste, and improving yields. I mean a bit of the same but actually looking at real time data at a batch level. Using control data that we extracted from their control systems and mapping the resource flows for every batch, every minute, every hour, every day and looking at where the variability was coming from.
Very different applications I guess but they were both very insightful. It gives you a very deep understanding of the process even if you don’t actually know that much about the process itself. I wasn’t an expert on steel making before I started. But using the resource efficiency approach, you can find those opportunities without needing to have worked in the industry for decades. And then we have the ammonia simulation case as well where we used data from a model and we looked at the resource efficiency of the entire site, from the steam methane reforming or the way to the storage of ammonia. And that was really interesting because you get very different pictures when you look at the mass flows of an ammonia site and when you look at the integrated resource flows using the thermodynamic method that we use.
Chris: Yeah. So meanwhile, Ana proved that in her PhD and we’re now extending into Emerson’s world is that this metric really does work at different scales, whether you’re working on diagnosing specific problems and opportunities on an actual facility or understanding how to optimize the production across a site or indeed getting into performance benchmarking across an entire industry on a global level. Exactly the same thermodynamic concept we use to using exactly the same metric, generating meaningful results to those different customers and clients. It kind of proves out the whole concept.
And what we’re now doing is we’re trying to extend that into all of those industries where…you know, it’s particularly powerful where energy and material are kind of interchangeable. Thinking about things like refineries where the raw materials going into a refinery, as they enter the refinery boundary, you’ve got no idea whether that’s going to be burnt as a fuel to create energy or it’s going to be actually a raw material into the crude unit to become a product. Think about LNG trains, where the gas coming in the front, whatever proportion it is, 8%, 10% of that gas going in the front is actually fuel to drive the fridge turbines to liquefy the gas.
If we look across the process industries, most of our industries look like that. Most of our industries have an energy component and a material component which really are massively interdependent. And if you consider them as two separate systems, the energy system as one and the material system as another, you miss all of the opportunity to draw on the synergies of improving both at the same time. Ana’s case studies have really demonstrated how much we’re leaving on the table by considering mass and energy as separate things.
Jim: It sounds like it pretty much applies across the process industries that it could be performed. If I’m a company and I’m interested in starting and looking at what I have and what the opportunity is, how would I go forward with that?
Chris: Well, the first thing to do would be to approach the Operational Certainty Consulting Group in Emerson. We have strong presence both in EMEA and in the U.S. Come and talk to us. I think we would suggest as we always do with operational certainty consulting in general, where we want to start is understanding what you’re trying to achieve as a customer. What’s the issue? And what’s your span of control? Are we talking about improving performance of a plant or radically changing the performance of a company?
What it is you’re trying to achieve determines what approach we would take. But I think in all cases, what it will come down to is doing an assessment of the quality of measurement that you currently have, finding out whether you’re measuring the things you need to be measuring and if not, getting the measurement processes in place. Then, as Ana says, do, at whatever level, the resource efficiency analysis which will drive the identification of the improvement opportunities we have to move you towards whatever that business goal is that we identified at the outset.
Jim: Well, that sounds like a pretty clear path. First, start with the Operational Certainty consultants and then start the path. Audit if you have the right measurements. If you do, then you can go into the next phase. I want to thank you both for joining us and I hope anyone that has listened in on that, if you want to find out more, go to the Emerson site to the Operational Certainty consulting area. Thanks for joining us today.