Digitalisation in refining and petrochemicals

The introduction of IIoT technologies is helping two companies improve their decision making and performance.

Helium Consulting

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Article Summary

Refiners are increasingly exploring digital tools that take advantage of the emerging Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), as well as advanced software for data analysis that can optimise process operations and reduce downtime. A plant enabled by IIoT is equipped with a combination of sensors, automation systems and cloud based technologies that are integrated with its current systems and data analytics capabilities. Streaming data from sensors and instruments enables plants to quickly assess current conditions and identify warning signs for abnormal operations. To strengthen the chances of success, refinery and petrochemicals companies are using digital tools that enable plants to access the benefits of the IIoT and cloud computing.

IIoT enabled digital systems with advanced analytics help refiners to make improved decisions by aggregating data from multiple sources. Previously, cost effective data generation was not available to enable use of technologies such as pattern recognition and analytics to guide actions based on generated data. The benefits of such IIoT enabled tools include:
•    Decision making support and improved operation through continuous monitoring and by providing instant access to information
•    Improved monitoring of energy use to increase operating efficiency
•    Reducing unplanned downtime with increased rate of asset utilisation
•    Detection of small to large scale causes of efficiency losses
•    Maintaining the effectiveness of control loops, controllers and models over time, so that the benefits of advanced process control are sustained
•    Lowering overall process risk, thus improving safety
•    Reducing maintenance costs.

In this article, we discuss two case studies from the refining and petrochemicals industry. The case studies explain how the digitalisation journey started, the challenges faced, and the path to implementation of IIoT. A value focused approach is taken to leverage IIoT implementation and make refiners more profitable. These economics based decisions use continuous comparisons between designed and actual performance.

Case Study I: The journey to digitalisation
The following case study explains how digitalisation and implementation of IIoT helped one of India’s leading refineries to deliver value and optimise processes, as well as meeting environmental standards. The project faced several key challenges.

Core refinery challenge
Sulphur is present in crude oil and in natural gas in multiple forms including mercaptans. Much of this sulphur content is converted through hydrotreating into hydrogen sulphide in refining and other conversion facilities. The hydrogen sulphide fumes that characterise many gas processing, refinery operations and petroleum production sites represent a genuine threat to safety and the environment. The acid gas removal unit is used to separate and concentrate H2S and other acid gases produced in hydrotreatment. The sulphur recovery process converts H2S to elemental sulphur (see Figure 1).

In light of increased emissions regulations, changing the crude slates to process lighter, sweeter crude is a potential solution, but this depends on the availability of sweet crude. A refinery where the option of changing feed strategy is not available may need to invest in expensive upgrading projects.

Operating challenges
The key operating challenges facing the refinery included: running an energy efficient process; catering to environmental regulations; unit unavailability; operations less than optimal; and lack of availability of real time process optimisation.

Asset challenges
Refineries are generally equipped with process automation technologies including DCS, HMI, SCADA, data historian, and so on. These form the backbone of automated data collection systems, process simulation modelling and scheduling. However, there is still plenty of scope for improvement.

An approach to such a challenge is to combine a business process for the sulphur system and create a digital platform for decision making based on sulphur processes. The solution focuses on optimisation of sulphur removal using analytics based on data from the sulphur circuit. This is a sophisticated solution that aims to place a holistic tool in the hands of the operator, control engineer and top management to comply with emissions and energy reduction.

The refinery in question decided to implement Helium Consulting’s sulphur specific IIoT offering, Mboss, to help plan and execute optimisation, followed by monitoring and control through detailed analysis, expedited corrective actions and use of automated algorithms in real time. This platform implements and leverages (if not already implemented) multiple independent applications in the plant on one platform to provide an optimised solution.

Mboss is a proprietary software platform written especially for sulphur systems in the refining, petrochemicals and gas industries. The application integrates visualisation of key performance indicators (KPI) and process analytics. The solution combines ‘deep domain’ knowledge from operations technology and information technology for online analysis. It provides an environment for an integrated sulphur management system using a ‘sulphur rich’ dashboard with refinery and petrochemical specific KPIs, and a high speed integration platform aligned with high frequency data from DCS, APC and other automation technologies.

Phased implementation of the system was planned for the refinery. Advanced process control was carried out for the sulphur recovery, tail gas and sour water units. A process simulation model was also developed for the sulphur system.

Users access data from the local area network and make recommendations for appropriate operational actions through a system that integrates advanced process control, soft sensors, simulation, linear programming and dashboarding technology to deliver real time benefits. Mboss integration is shown in Figure 2.

The software integrates data with multiple applications and layers of data validation and intelligent data analysis, and KPIs are generated and visualised in the dashboard. This helps to convert a mountain of data into actionable information and translate that actionable information into decisions, leading to real, day to day plant improvements.

The solution enhances the refinery’s economic and environmental performance through a unified approach to the entire business process, encompassing monitoring to control of multiple process operations using multiple software applications on one platform. The primary objective of the solution is to optimise the sulphur recovery circuit and find the best operating parameters to enhance performance while minimising cost and bottlenecks.

The solution provides a seamless stream of actionable insights, which enables sulphur operations in the refinery to inspect their process analyses for optimisation and early diagnosis of issues to prevent costly hidden upsets. A single window gives real time, actionable insights to optimise the process.

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