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Emerson - how automation can help improve operations

Thursday, March 5, 2020

No oil company is leading the world in really every area of operations, and so we can say that every company has potential to improve, says Patrick Deruytter from Emerson. And automation can play a pivotable part in helping them, he says.

All oil companies want to improve safety, production, energy consumption in production, and reliability of production processes, says Patrick Deruytter, vice president, Northern Region Europe, Emerson Automation Solutions.

No company 'outperforms' in every one of these categories, and so we can say that every company has scope to improve, he says.

Today's technology and evenly aligned processes can play a big part in achieving this improvement. In fact, over the past years we have seen many technology improvements that sounded big from a technology perspective, such as increasing the number of colours on displays from 16 to 4,000. But these improvements, while important, did not 'really change the dials' of how people work, or make it easier to run processes, he says.

The really big changes can come from rethinking the collaboration across the full life cycle of the project and the asset, automating workflows, building better systems to support decision making, upskilling the workforce, better supporting mobile devices, and better change management, he says.

Another big source of efficiency improvement could be finding ways to reduce duplication of work. 'How many times is work not redone by someone else all because we don't trust each other?' he asks.

The way that experts work with data is changing. In the past, it was about 'bringing specialists to data'. This would create important delays and costs.

Now it is more about 'bringing data to the specialist'. There is instant collaboration between the end user, the local service team and the best support hub on the planet. As such based on the primary diagnostics and analyses the right person can engage and collaborate in finding a solution, he says.

New ways of measuring are giving us new opportunities in supervising and managing our plants. As an example, by measuring sound, we are opening a new understanding of the current state of the process. This means these measurements can do an equivalent role to the old-school plant operator who said they could tell what was happening from listening the noises which all the equipment was making. These analytics are alike a 'big ear over the plant,' he says.

The new generation of digital twins are also easier to use, to engineer and to maintain. Therefore, these digital twins have an improved cost of ownership, he says. No doubt there are further benefits in our ability to feed these models with real time sensor data connected to cloud hosted software. Chevron does this, connecting sensors on 5,000 heat exchanges to Emerson software running on Microsoft Azure cloud, he says.

'The majority of our customers are thinking about digital transformation,' he said. 'Unfortunately, the overall adoption is still slow. Only 20 per cent have a clear road map. People talk about it but moving forward seems to be an issue.'

Intelligent insight

Systems are also improving in terms of the level of insight they can provide, says John Hartley, director of sales and marketing, Process Systems and Solutions at Emerson Automation Solutions.

The technology to gather data from different sensor devices has been around since 1984, with the development of HART ("highly addressable remote transducer) technology. But still today, not many people are using this data from their devices, he said.

Until recently, a problem was that there was a lack of infrastructure to transfer information onto and the true understanding of all the data. But this is getting solved. Now the main obstacle is the need to develop new work processes, he says.

As an example, consider the desalter, a piece of equipment in a refinery to remove salt from crude using electrolysis. With the data from the various sensors you can pinpoint where maintenance is required. You can use 'pervasive sensing', a term which basically means using lots of sensors continually.

The challenge is working out how to make decisions with all of this data. Through deploying 'human centred' systems and interfaces we create a step change in delivering and understanding data. It is one thing to know that there is high acidity which may cause corrosion, another to decide on a course of action.

It is also becoming possible to build much more sophisticated alarm systems designed to tell people exactly what they need and understand the information they are being provided, when something goes wrong.

Alarms used to be hardwired systems, which were costly, not particularly informative, and could lead to 'alarm floods' where a problem would trigger several alarms at once.

Now you can have an integrated control and safety system, with views at different levels, from overall picture to detailed vibration analytics, and data configured for people in different roles, he says.

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