Refiners’ Guide to Digital Transformation

Refineries make the fuels that make our way of life possible. Turning crude oil into usable fuels is a highly energy-intensive business. And it’s an industry that provides excellent opportunities for digital transformation. Emerson’s Jonas Berge spoke at the Asian Downstream Summit 2023. His presentation, The refiner’s guide to digital transformation, shared how plant transformations in driving improved safety, sustainability, reliability, and quality performance can help refiners overcome operational challenges.

Automation is an essential enabler for these transformations. Here are some highlights from Jonas’ presentation. Jonas opens by asking the attendees to imagine a digitally transformed refinery—a data-driven refinery, an intelligent refinery with:

  • No surprise equipment failures and no manual data collection – in the name of reliability and maintenance
  • No hidden equipment fouling
  • No undetected loss or flaring – in the name of sustainability
  • No surprise loss of containment
  • No undetected leaks or spills – in the name of safety, health, and the environment
  • No manual valves in the wrong position
  • No non-uniform temperature profiles – for production

Today, many challenges that refineries face are rooted in manual work processes. That includes manual data collection and the interpretation of that data. This data is related to health, safety & environment (HSE), sustainability, energy efficiency & emissions, reliability, maintenance & integrity, and production & quality. Sampling may be done daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly. This data frequency can lead to slow responses, excessive energy consumption and emissions, equipment failure, and off-spec production.

An essential strategy to address these challenges is automation: threat monitoring, performance monitoring, condition monitoring, and process monitoring & valve remote control. Some use cases with wireless sensor monitoring in occupational health and safety include emergency safety shower and eyewash stations, manual valves, flammable gas, toxic gas, and tank overfill.

In sustainability and energy, some everyday use cases include steam traps, pressure relief valves, air-cooled heat exchangers, cooling towers, and heat exchangers. These are but a few of the many areas where wireless monitoring can help drive sustainability-related performance improvements.

In reliability and maintenance, common use cases include pumps, air-cooled heat exchangers, cooling towers, pipe corrosion and erosion, manual inspection rounds, control valves, heat trace systems, and breather relief valves (PVRV).

In production, everyday use cases include field operator rounds, offsite tank farm storage tanks, wellhead and control panels, temperature profiles, local control panels, offsite standby pumps, and consumables inventory.

Jonas provided recommendations to the refiners in attendance. First, look for ready-made apps that can be applied rapidly with the required capabilities at a low cost. For example, Plantweb Insight applications are modular and available for many plant assets. These assets include steam traps, pumps, heat exchangers & air-cooled heat exchangers, cooling towers, corrosion and erosion monitoring, safety showers, inspections, and lighting.

Embedded industrial analytics in these applications enable maintenance and reliability engineers to put them to use immediately. No data science or support tasks are required, such as importing historical data, cleansing the data, selecting the correct algorithm, and training & testing the algorithm.

Applying the technologies transforms operations and drives results.

Visit the Refining and Industrial Internet of Things sections on for more on the technologies and solutions to drive improved operational and business performance.

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