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Sasol Plans for Big Digital Saving During Turnarounds

 The advantages of digitalization and related software tools stop when process applications shut down for required maintenance turnarounds, right? Wrong. Super extra wrong.

When process applications halt routine operations, solutions like the Plantweb Digital Ecosystem reach a unique sweet spot, where they can turn downtime into the best time to deliver gains that would be hard for digitalized tools to match during even the most optimal, full-speed-ahead operations.

"Some of the biggest opportunities for digital transformation actually arise during shutdowns and turnarounds," said Peter Zornio, CTO at Emerson Automation Solutions.

Similar to most if not all process applications and facilities worldwide, Sasol's four-phase synthetic fuels plant in Secunda, Mpumalanga province, South Africa, strives to optimize its product unit costs and increase profitability, and do it safely and sustainably with its innovative personnel, according to Leon Claassen, senior manager for maintenance and shutdown planning, Sasol Secunda, a longtime Emerson end user. The plant is located about 100 miles east of Johannesburg, and is fueled by six nearby coalmines, as well as natural gas from Mozambique.

"We want to remain champions at converting coal and gas into valuable products by taking a quantum leap in the way we operate and grow, using leading digital technologies," said Claassen. "This means we have to optimally manage and leverage out assets to maximize reliability, effectiveness and efficiency; achieve zero harm to people and the environment, while maintaining legal compliance; and always deliver the optimal product mix by balancing available opportunities and constraints."

Claassen presented "Digital Transformation—the Turnaround Opportunity" on the opening day of the Emerson Global Users Exchange 2018 this week in San Antonio, Texas.

"We kicked off our digital transformation project about a year ago, and we're still in the early stages of establishing digital offices, including a central head office and others at our regional operations hubs (ROH)," explained Claassen. "Secunda operations will focus on several, possible, high-impact use cases for digitalization, including asset health prediction, starting with boiler health; workforce enablement, using mobility and connecting the workforce in their field; and digitalizing our turnarounds and shutdowns. We're already running a couple of proof of concepts."

Claaseen reported that Sasol Secunda perform two main types of shutdowns and turnarounds each year, and added there are numerous opportunities where digitalization could help it achieve efficiencies, savings and other improvements. The first is its annual September shutdown, which includes 15,000 pieces of equipment, 195,000 process activities, 2.5 million man-hours, and 40,000 people onsite during its peak. The second type consists of 95-105 smaller turnaround during the year, which typically involve 1,500 to 16,000 process activities.

"Our current turnaround performance includes being 48 hours late on a typical 22.5-day shutdown, 28% schedule compliance, and adhering to cost though our costs are still high," added Claassen. "Our primary shutdown and turnaround priorities are safety, equipment integrity, schedule and costs, while our priorities for digitalization during these periods include workforce enablement, asset health/condition monitoring, mobility and tracking, scope generation, process automation, intelligent and adaptive scheduling, and control of emergent and discovery work."

Claassen reported that Sasol Secunda's contemplated, digitalized shutdowns, turnarounds and general overhauls (GO) will need to be fully integrated, dynamic and intelligent. On the front-end, they'll also require:

  • Advanced analytics on previous shutdown performance and automated visualization of post-event performance;
  • Feedback from other business processes, such as asset health monitoring and management of change (MOC) project processes;
  • Automatic scope generation, with final validation by a human;
  • Automated planning, resource scheduling and cost determination of the activities;
  • Optimized resource planning, including people, equipment and spares;
  • Generation of digital work packages;
  • Automated, consolidated ordering of services and spares; and
  • Tracking and managing preparation activities, such as prefabrication and scaffolding.

On the execution management side of shutdowns and turnarounds, Claassen added that Sasol Secunda's digitalization will need to provide:

  • An intelligent and adaptive program to integrate new work into the existing schedule to help decisions get made;
  • Digitalize workflows—and go paperless—to govern work management, and allow digital progress tracking, sign-off and statutory reporting;
  • Digital tracking and management of activities, personnel and resources to help ensure right behaviors; and
  • Optimization of an in-commissioning program based on real-time activity status throughout the plant's synfuels applications.

"We have 69 different processes from air separation to production," added Claassen. "The impact of digitalization will come in safety, cost, volume and assets. For us, safety means having the right person in the right place at the right time. Cost means optimized utilization of resources, people and spares. Volume means quicker startups and shutdowns, as well as optimized feed outs and feed in. And, assets means better management of equipment integrity.

"We're also hoping that digitalization will give us a golden line flowing between our mining, production and selling/marketing companies, so we can make more of the right products with help from a digitalized, vertical workflow solution, and we're already seeing some progress."