Consolidation of refinery control rooms

Migration of a refinery’s DCS provided an opportunity to reconfigure and consolidate the control rooms and operational management system

Eric Jan Kwekkeboom
Yokogawa Europe & Africa

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Article Summary

The consolidation of control rooms was conducted in several refineries in the 1990s and early 2000s as a means of reducing the number of operators and improving efficiency for enhanced competitiveness. The characteristics of consolidated control rooms vary, reflecting the history of a refinery. However, the adverse business environment in recent times has meant that the oil industry has had to consider approaches other than consolidation. In many plants, migration of the distributed control system (DCS) gives an opportunity to investigate the control room configuration and operational management system for achieving safer, more stable and more efficient operation.

This article describes refinery modernisation activities that led towards an ideal refinery that enables safe, stable and efficient operation. In the example described, Yokogawa was asked to contribute to a major part of the modernisation relating to DCS migration and control room consolidation. Yokogawa offered the Refinery Operation Modernisation Service, one of its VigilantPlant Services, which features four solutions: consolidated refinery production control including consolidated control room design; operator training system (OTS); capture and amalgamation of best practices (SOPs); and safety instrumented system (SIS).

Major issues for modernisation
Over the years, the refiner had upgraded its units one by one, 
with the aim of creating a high-conversion refinery, and the operations department had also been expanded to as many as six operating sections responsible for each unit. In all, the refinery had four distributed control rooms and DCSs acting independently. The control systems were supplied by two vendors and were of several generations, because they had been introduced as process installations. This presented several challenges:
• The detailed design of the DCS varied among the different operations sections
• Each operations section had its own operational procedures
• There was a lack of communication between operations sections since they mainly relied on information carried through instrumentation signal cables or via the supervisory information system
• The CPU utilisation rate and the number of instruments to be handled by each DCS were approaching allowable limits due to the repeated expansion and modification of process units
•  he segmented organisation resulted in differing requirements for the education and training of operators, different spare parts for the DCSs, and different procedures for the maintenance engineers.

To solve these problems and to more actively achieve safer and more efficient operation of the refinery, and to transfer the knowledge of veteran operators, the refinery decided to combine the processes of consolidating the production organisation and control rooms with the migration of the production control system to the latest one.

Activities towards an ideal refinery   
The refinery authorised a phased plan towards an ideal refinery to meet the demographic challenges presented by knowledgeable veterans retiring and their places being taken by less experienced personnel, with a target date of 2013 (see Figure 1). In Phase 1, the consolidation of control rooms and the migration of the production control system were scheduled to be completed in June 2009. After the physical migration, organisational re-engineering was planned, as Phase 2, to establish the “consolidated operation centre” by 2011.

This project was triggered by a report by a business improvement working group to the refinery’s top management in 2004. Until the formal launch of the project in 2007, the control room consolidation working group in the refinery identified the issues involved for safe, stable and efficient operation, as well as the training of younger operators for knowledge transfer.

During this preparation phase, Yokogawa proposed a visual concept of an ideal refinery and the human-centred configuration of the consolidated control room, including its migration plan, in collaboration with the refiner’s working group. In Phase 1 of the project, named the control room consolidation project, Yokogawa undertook the migration work including control room design.

Control room consolidation project
The refinery was operated by six sections: the on-site plant sections 1-4, the power and utilities section, and the offsite section, distributed in four control rooms. The initial study concluded that the control rooms should be consolidated into one by constructing a new control room, and that the control systems should be migrated, taking the opportunity of a large turnaround scheduled for June 2009. The planned DCS migration was not a simple replacement of each existing DCS system, but introduced a supervisory DCS that could control and monitor the whole plant. It also included implementation of the consolidated safety instrumented system (SIS) to enhance the safety of the entire plant.

The main purposes of the control room consolidation and the system migration are as follows:
• Enhance agility and co-operativeness in the refinery, and enhance the integrity of information systems throughout the supply chain, from plant operation to shipping
• Improve safety and establish a more efficient operation by systematic operator training to retain operational expertise, capturing operational procedures and amalgamating the derived best practices as improved standard operational procedures
• Prepare the environment for the above two major aims by constructing a new consolidated control room and a new system, thus establishing operational integrity.
Yokogawa proposed the following basic design policies for the system to achieve these purposes defined by the refiner:
• The consolidated refinery production control system: this includes not only the consolidation of control rooms and the migration of the control system planned in Phase 1, but also further system enhancement for improving plant operation and for operator training scheduled in Phase 2, implemented in 2011

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