Listening to customers and learning from Covid-19
Covid-19 and the recent soft crude oil price prompted a slowdown in some markets for ABB Measurement & Analytics. Division President, Sabine Busse and her team listened to their customers and reacted quickly to the challenges - building on their geographic reach, diverse portfolio of products and services and a focus on digitalisation.
Sabine, as President of ABB Measurement & Analytics Division, what drives your team forward in the refining sector?
We have a strong presence in the upstream Oil & Gas sector. Our instrumentation and gas analysers are also used extensively in the downstream refining and storage sectors.
The journey to our sustainable success is all about listening to our customers in these sectors and putting their requirements at the centre of our innovation activities.
Thinking about Covid-19, what have been the lessons for your team?
Above all, we have learned to treasure and leverage our diversity. One of the strengths of our business is sectoral and regional breadth. If there is a downturn in one segment in one part of the world, we still have great opportunities to serve other geographies and other industry sectors.
By listening to our customers, we have recognised where they are continuing to invest, despite some weaknesses in energy commodity prices. For example, many downstream operators continue to make progress with environmental management issues such as reducing emissions to air. We have plenty of products and services of relevance here.
The power and potential of digitalisation have also become overwhelmingly clear to us. These are things that we have believed for years, but Covid-19 has really taught us how much they matter.
Has ABB Measurement & Analytics made any changes to your service operations to the downstream sector in response to Covid-19?
The way we communicate has changed more than anything else. Travel restrictions have catalysed a trend that was already developing at ABB for digital communication. For example, customer sales discussions using video conference.
In some cases, we have leveraged digital communications further. In India we recently supported the commissioning of some instrumentation by arranging carefully controlled remote access between the customer and our experts.
What could that kind of remote assistance mean to a refiner?
For a refiner or terminal operator instruments and gas analysers are eyes and ears into the process and our support services ensure that the devices we supply operate with maximum availability.
At times like this, it becomes clear that we are fortunate to have a range of digital solutions, including augmented reality and remote monitoring. These enable our experts to see exactly what the end-user has in front of them so that they can work together to get instrumentation online as quickly as possible.
Will remote working and service delivery be sustainable?
Yes, in cultures where there is a high level of acceptance, we will continue to use this digital customer interaction as a part of our communications approach because it means we can multiply our impact. We can be there for more of our customers, more of the time.
Also, I have made a personal commitment to fly less in the future, and together with my management team we will cascade this philosophy through our division. We can save time and money at the same time. In hindsight, it seems strange that we needed Covid-19 to shine the spotlight on this lesson, but as they say, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.
You mentioned earlier that customers continue to focus on monitoring emissions to air. What role does ABB Measurement and Analytics Division play there?
We have a wide range of instrumentation including gas analysers, pressure and temperature instrumentation and flow measurement probes that we supply for Continuous Emissions Monitoring Systems (CEMS).
Are your products mission-critical for air emissions control in the downstream sector?
Yes. The wellbeing of our natural environment, and the respiratory health of the public, rely on clean air. I’m thrilled that our CEMS gas analysers, services and digital solutions give operating companies the information they need to monitor and minimise their stack emissions.
As an example, our Advance Optima gas analyser range includes the Uras26 IR and Limas 21 UV instrumentation which can be used to measure the most common refinery emissions such as NOx, SO2, CO2 and CO.
Going one step further, our ACF5000 FTIR can monitor up to 15 pollutant gases simultaneously including acidic pollutant gases such as HCl or HF – these are also relevant on some larger high-complexity refineries.
Are CEMS gas analysers exclusively for use on major refineries?
In the downstream sector, I believe that emissions must be controlled across the board, if we are to make a difference to the environment. That applies, whether we are talking about an integrated refining and petrochemicals complex in Houston or a refined products storage terminal in Hong Kong.
And why is the CEMS sector holding up at present?
Regulatory developments drive these markets forward. Despite the falling demand for refined production during the first half of 2020, the demands of the regulatory authorities have remained as high as ever.
As two specific examples, the ‘Blue Sky’ initiative in China and the emerging CEMS requirements in India are driving continued investment which will result in tremendous improvements in air quality and public health.
Is the growth in CEMS driven by Asia, or are other parts of the world also making changes?
It is a worldwide trend. Consider that the EU Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) and its associated Best Available Technologies (BAT) Reference Document for the Refining of Mineral Oil and Gas are also driving change in refinery emissions monitoring across Europe.
We are also ready to support operators with the implications of the Medium Combustion Plants Directive (MCPD). Some gas fired heating units on larger refined products storage terminals where heavier hydrocarbons are handled are likely to come within scope of that legislation.
What kind of services does ABB offer to refinery operators alongside your CEMS gas analysers?
Long gone are the days when selling great gas analysers was enough. For years, our customers have expected us to offer a holistic range of services around our hardware. Support and service to maximise the uptime of their instrumentation is essential to our customers in the modern world.
We are fortunate to have a team of more than 600 expert certified service technicians around the world who can support customers when the need arises. Then, we come into the digital solutions. Some of these can predict when instrumentation will need intervention. We can apply condition monitoring combined with secure digital communication to address problems before they result in a reporting compliance concern.
Where do your digital innovations come from?
Innovation starts in the market. Our sales teams and channel partners around the world provide feedback and insights about refinery and downstream oil and gas customer needs.
At the same time, our global R&D specialists work with our global product managers to develop solutions to share worldwide. It is a continuous process. We also work with partners and we appreciate the innovation many of them bring to the benefit of our customers.
Can you share some lessons with others in the downstream sector, as they work through the challenges of Covid-19?
We must be bold enough to listen, learn and adapt. That applies to communication, digitalisation, automation, services, products and the markets we choose to serve. I am convinced that success lies ahead for those who are brave enough to listen and respond with transformational innovation.
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