Digital Transformation Making the Chemical Processes Smart

Anil Bhatia
Vice President & Managing Director, Emerson Automation Solutions India,
Imagine no routine manual collection of maintenance, reliability, and data integrity with portable testers or time-consuming interpretation. Imagine no delays waiting for an expert to mobilize to site or trying to explain a problem in the field to a supervisor over a telephonic conversation. Instead, data is collected automatically, transmitted digitally, and analyzed by software to detect early signs of problems. Digital Transformation is about changing from manual paper-based tasks to data-driven tasks. This article, written by Anil Bhatia, Vice President & Managing Director, Emerson Automation Solutions India, acquaints us in depth with the various features of the automated Smart Plant Concept.

Most chemical companies have been using sensor technology for decades. However, Digital Transformation represents an entirely new model for how data from these sensors becomes part of the company's end-to-end process. Not only does DX offer optimization of the production process, but it can also improve efficiency, while reducing both energy consumption and operational costs.

With advancement in new technologies, such as non-intrusive and wide area sensing along with wireless communications, it is now easier and more cost -effective to add measurement points throughout a chemical plant. These technology-shifts have empowered the development of Per vasive Sensing solutions.

Pervasive Sensing solutions enable automatic data collection and analytics for applications that were previously either monitored manually or ignored. Enabled with predictive analytics, this technology makes predictive maintenance possible by providing actionable information, such as abnormal operation or imminent failure alerts. By examining networks real-time to spotting anomalies and taking timely corrective action in applications such as pumps, motors, steam traps, heat exchangers, valves and piping systems, operators can maximize production and improve overall plant reliability, safety, and efficiency.

Unscheduled outages and production slowdowns, classified as mechanical unavailability, occur due to common problems such as - Digital Transformation Making the Chemical Processes Smart rotating equipment failure, exchanger fouling, piping corrosion, and fired equipment constraints. Energy loss occurring from heat exchanger fouling, failed steam traps, and process unit inefficiencies—all of which may go undiscovered from a lack of complete energy measurements. Chemical Plants understand macro energy per formance through their Energy Intensity Index. However, determining exactly where energy is lost in a chemical plant tends to be a typical challenge when driving an energy improvement program.

Smart Process or Smart Plant
In plants, the basic process control and safety are already automated. Yet, around the plant there are still lots of manual tasks being carried out for supporting functions. Digital Transformation is about changing from manual paper-based tasks to data-driven tasks. This article narrates Smart Solutions for a typical chemical process plant driven by the leading technology providers like Emerson Automation Solutions.

Smart Inspection
Imagine no routine manual collection of maintenance, reliability, and data integrity with portable testers or time-consuming interpretation. Instead, data is collected automatically, transmitted digitally, and analyzed by software to detect early signs of problems. Overall Equipment health index is also tracked by software.

Smart Collaboration
Imagine no delays waiting for an expert to mobilize to site or trying to explain a problem in the field to a supervisor over a telephonic conversation. Instead, a two-way digital video and audio between field technician with a wearable camera at site enables an expert anywhere in the world to see the problem up close and live, to provide immediate solutions.

Smart Distress Calls
Imagine no walkie -talkie required for distress calls. Instead, automatic detection, digital transmission, and alarm on safety shower activation or man-down, not moving, in operator software and location tracking software help early detection of issues for smoother operations.


Figure 1: Pump Health Monitoring using Wireless Pressure, Temperature, and Vibration Transmitters

Digital Safety Checks
Imagine no ad-hoc visits to the plant to check if a manual valve was closed or dipping to see if tank is nearly full, and similar safety checks. Instead , automatic detection, digital transmission, and indication in control room software, as well as use in interlocks always ensure a seamless production process.

Digital Mustering and Locating
Imagine no paper lists and walkie -talkie to account for people during emergency evacuation mustering and no search par ties required to find missing personnel. Instead, the location of every person is digitally tracked in real-time and automatically tallied in software.

Digital Logbook
Imagine no paper notebooks for jotting down near miss incidents, hazards, and maintenance needs etc. Instead, management/operations team receives real -time notes and digital photos of incidents, hazards, leaks, and damaged equipment that are captured on software enabled tablets.

Application Note 1: Availability Loss - Pump Monitoring
For example, consider the light end areas of a chemical plant. Typically, there are 10-15 pumps in a plant that are usually checked manually once in a month for vibration, and bad fac tors are checked once in a week. With ever- changing process conditions, such manual and sporadic spot inspec tions are insufficient to detect pump problems and seal failures. In this application, even chemical leaks that take place due to seal failures leading to production loss, fires, and other safety incidents can be avoided. Online monitoring of pumps through the addition of wireless measurement of vibration, pressure, and seal fluid levels allows early detec tion of excessive vibration, cavitation and seal failure problems. By monitoring and creating predictive alerts, maintenance staff can be notified of impending problems before they occur. This can lead to improved production through fewer unscheduled outages.

Application Note 2: Energy Saving Example - Fouled Heat Exchanger
Most of the heat required by chemical process plants comes from heat exchangers. Unanticipated fouling can drive up energy costs and, if severe enough, result in an unscheduled shutdown to clean bundles or a process slowdown until the next shutdown. Online monitoring of heat exchangers through addition of wireless measurements of temperature and vibration allows you to improve operational efficiency by detecting accelerated fouling early, allowing you to clean your exchangers according to a more optimal schedule.

Conclusion:
Closing this article with a practical thought viz. Steam Powered Engines revolutionized transportation - Digital Transformation will have a profound effect on chemical process operations and will transform the way we do business. Organizations will start implementing this in a small way and by tasting success, will see the benefit of scaling it up ver y quickly. Organizations will have to relook their hiring process and upskill existing talent at a very fast pace to optimally handle this transformation.

There is no question about the fact that in today's highly competitive market, chemical plant operators who can quickly adopt innovations like Digital Technologies and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will reap most of the benefits. What leadership will have to ensure is a correct execution strategy with the right processes and organization culture.