Successful Refinery Digital Transformation Journey

by , | Oct 27, 2020 | Digital Transformation, Downstream Hydrocarbons

Hydrocarbon Processing- Ergon Refining: A digital transformation storyA Hydrocarbon Processing article, Ergon Refining: A digital transformation story, provides a great illustration of a step-wise, scalable digital transformation journey that continues to drive business improvements. The authors, Ergon Refining’s Steve Elwart and Emerson’s Marcelo Carugo, share this journey and the results achieved.

They open describing the importance of Ergon Refining’s culture in this initiative.

By embracing a judicious, culture-driven approach to applying new automaton solutions, the company has achieved transformative results in a market that has seen significant volatility and increasing competition throughout the industry.

The manufacturing process requirements were also an important in this effort.

Their process is unique: the plant produces specialty petroleum products using a distributed control system (DCS). During product loading, it is imperative to maintain the highest standards of product consistency, repeatability, quality and stability—all critical to Ergon’s business model.

Company culture and leadership were critical in managing change.

What makes Ergon different from most other refiners is not only the specialty aspect of its business, but also its tightly woven, family-oriented corporate culture. The company’s leadership has implemented a digitalization plan and a philosophy that has guided the organization through periods of change and modernization.

Two key questions drive projects:

Why change, and why risk investing in new, unproven technology?

Steve shares how projects were justified based on best practices or showing:

“…where a lack of technology has affected us and then use that to paint a clearer picture of how we could improve performance, which helps upper management see the value in investing in automation.”

Key to their strategy in being an early adopter of new technologies was starting small, proving it out, and scaling up successes. Choosing where best to invest centered on three criteria:

…scalability, workforce empowerment, and IT/OT integration. Management identified a handful of operational challenges—some obvious and others that were added to the list over time—and set about searching for solutions that met the criteria.

Steve and Marcelo highlight specific projects that drove improvements in product consistency, repeatability, quality, and stability. Steve described the initial project:

“We began installing a proprietary wireless sensor on one pressure relief valve to detect potential issues with its rupture disc, as an extra safety layer…Once we felt comfortable, we installed sensors on 33 more discs, saving us thousands of dollars on wiring costs.”

Other projects highlighted included:

  • Safety & security continuous monitoring of a remote chemical storage building
  • Wireless smoke detectors
  • Blower & fan asset predictive maintenance monitoring
  • Analytics for alarm management
  • Blend system optimization
  • DCS workstation virtualization
  • Automation and integration of order-entry system with business management software

Read the article for more on each of these projects and how they improved operational performance along Ergon Refining’s digitalization journey.

Visit the Refining section on for more on the technologies and solutions that drive business performance improvements. You can also request a copy of the Refiner’s Guide to Digital Transformation and Top Quartile Performance to help you in your initiatives.

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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.

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