Refinery of the Future with IoT

An enterprise computing and IT infrastructure company user event seems a weird place for a discussion of the Internet of Things and the Refinery of the Future. But there I was moderating a bloggers’ Coffee Talk with Doug Smith, CEO, and Linda Salinas, plant manager, of Texmark Chemicals, along with an executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and one from PTC (ThingWorx).

HPE invited me to Madrid, Spain, (and paid my expenses) as an Operations Technology blogger to participate in Influencer sessions, interview a number of technologists, and experience its Discover Madrid user conference. Several times during each of the three days November 28-30 we participated in coffee talks. These were Live Streamed by Geekazine. This is a link to the first day. My session was toward the beginning of the first day, and I appear at the end of day three.

Telling the IoT Story

Texas toll manufacturer Texmark Chemicals teamed with HPE and Aruba to build a Refinery of the Future featuring advanced IIoT capabilities. The results: better process analytics, increased up-time, uninterrupted productivity, satisfied customers, and safer workers.

Every IoT implementation I have seen so far relied on predictive maintenance as the justifying application. Here, the first priority was safety. Then came predictive maintenance, improved operations, and consistent quality.

Texmark produces dicyclopentadiene (DCPD), a polymer precursor for everything from ink to boats. DCPD manufacturing processes involve flammable materials requiring stringent safety measures — and as demand increases, so does the complexity of the supply chains that rely on it.

Its manufacture involves heat and highly reactive chemicals, making safety a top priority. And as demand for DCPD grows, the global supply chain becomes increasingly complex, requiring ever more stringent controls, granular visibility, uninterrupted productivity, and regulatory oversight. Texmark must ensure its workers adhere to Process Safety Management (PSM) procedures at all times, and that its facility is managed in ways that put worker and community safety first.

As a contract manufacturer, Texmark must be prepared to adapt to customer requirements, which can change with little advance warning.

And it must continually drive plant efficiency and productivity. Historically, Texmark has depended on physical inspections of process equipment to ensure all systems remain in working order. However, these plant walk-downs can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. Texmark has 130 pumps in its plant, and spends nearly 1,000 hours a year on walk-downs and vibration analysis.

Depending solely on physical inspections also carries risk, because it relies on employees who — based on years of experience — can tell if a pump is starting to malfunction by recognizing slight variations in its noise and vibrations. But what happens if an employee with that skill is out sick, or reaches retirement age? Texmark needs ways to institutionalize that type of intelligence and insight.

Texmark’s vision for next-generation worker safety, production and asset management hinges on the emerging promise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): sensored devices combined with advanced analytics software to generate insights, automate its environment, and reduce the risk of human error.

The IIoT architecture must eliminate the need to transmit device data over a WAN, but instead support analytics at the edge to deliver real-time visibility into equipment and processes.

Texmark launched a multi-phase project to implement an end-to-end IIoT solution. Phase 1 and 2 established the digital foundation by enabling edge-to-core connectivity. Aruba deployed a secure wireless mesh network with Class 1 Div 1 access points and ClearPass for secure network access control. Aruba beacons provide location-based services for plant safety and security purposes. The wireless solution cost about half of what it would have cost to deploy a hardwired network.

For its edge analytics, Texmark selected the HPE Edgeline Converged IoT platform, an industrialized solution that supports robust compute capabilities. HPE Pointnext implemented the system as an HPE Micro Datacenter, which integrates its compute and networking technology within a single cabinet. HPE also upgraded Texmark’s plant control room to enable seamless edge-to-core connectivity and high-speed data capture and analytics, and to meet Texmark’s safety and security standards. The Edgeline system runs Texmark’s Distributed Control System software, integrating its operations technology and IT into a single system.

Phase 3 builds on the foundation established by these technology solutions to support Texmark’s use cases: predictive analytics, advanced video analytics, safety and security, connected worker, and full lifecycle asset management.

Texmark’s new IIoT solution will help make its workers even safer. It can monitor fluid levels, for example, reducing the risk of spills. It can alert Texmark immediately if a system starts to malfunction, enabling the company to respond before workers or production are endangered. And in the event of an emergency, it can help protect workers by ensuring Texmark knows their precise location and movements within the facility.

Other benefits will improve the company’s bottom line. Texmark can use data from IIoT sensors to identify which systems require hands-on evaluations, for example, so it can conduct physical inspections in a more focused and efficient manner.

The new IIoT solution makes it easier for the company to plan inspections and maintenance. To work on distillation columns, Texmark must often take systems offline and erect costly scaffolding. Improved maintenance planning will reduce these associated costs by at least 50%.

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