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Increasing plant profitability

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Oilfield Technology,

Modern process plants are becoming more complex. With pressures to optimise product quality and maximise profits, refineries and chemical companies face ongoing operational problems. Protecting assets is vital in ensuring capital hardware investments are safeguarded, production runs smoothly and engineering time is used effectively.  

A revolution has taken place in the process industries that pushes throughput while saving energy costs, meeting operational constraints and maximising process profitability. Advanced process control (APC) technology maximises operational performance and process profitability, enabling companies to get more from their assets.

Historically, if you selected APC there was a reliance on highly-experienced specialists to perform time-consuming tasks to maintain the technology. Those same engineers spent time with less sophisticated tools trying to improve the control of plant behaviour, which suffered because of a lack of leading-edge software. With APC today, process manufacturers can independently maintain plant operations using intuitive and highly-advanced software.

No dollars left on the table

It is mission-critical to operate a plant safely, prevent disruptions to production, while also optimising operations to stay competitive and maximise profit. Change occurs continuously as feedstock composition and ambient conditions alter. The aim is to control and manage the variables to achieve the quality and the amount of product required. Only if you know the plant’s predictive behaviour can you counteract on time to keep the plant at the optimal target.

The plant operator will not be able to manually react to such changes and conduct corrective actions on a minute-by-minute basis. APC gives manufacturers the solution to these issues, providing operational, financial and time-management benefits. The software automatically improves operational efficiency, maximises process profitability and competitiveness. It reduces cost, maintenance time and disruption through real-time asset optimisation, delivering improved visibility and decision support.

Capitalising on the potential of control techniques is vital to maximising production. Any industry with complex processes can benefit, including refineries, ethylene and chemical plants and processes where there is change (i.e. feedstock, temperature change, operational target changes). APC can be applied to any process where outputs can be optimised online and in real-time and anywhere that has a Distributed Control System or Programmable Logical Circuit in place where you can model the dynamic predictive behaviour of the plant.

In addition, the software improves process safety and reduces environmental emissions. Benefits from implementing APC can range from 2% to 6% of operating costs and by reducing process variability, plants will be operated to their designed capacity.

Profitable gains from implementing APC include:

  • Reduce energy costs between 3 - 5%.
  • Increase throughput up to 5%.
  • Minimise erosion of benefits.
  • Return controllers to service faster after turnarounds.
  • Reduce controller maintenance costs by 25%.
  • Increase benefits by continually improving performance.
  • 10 - 20% increase in total APC benefits.

Smart technology differentiator

APC applications deliver benefits to the operation after commissioning, but plant performance degradation will ultimately occur. This is typically due to constantly changing conditions within the plant, as opposed to technology problems.

Recent innovations in APC deliver game-changing improvements to both controller sustainability and initial application development. Today there is an intelligent technology differentiator that delivers continuous APC sustainability. ‘Adaptive Process Control’, developed by AspenTech, is a revolutionary technology that eliminates the need to approach APC maintenance as a project and creates a continuous process of assessing model quality, collecting current data and generating new models as plant behaviour changes.

There is a crucial difference between the traditional approach to controller maintenance (sustained value) and Adaptive Process Control. With sustained value, revamping the controller is typically carried out as part of a lengthy and costly project. Under Adaptive Process Control, however, the clever controller is modified over time in more of a continuous process. The update of the model occurs without the need to take the controller offline and enables a company to benefit from control and optimisation while the model is under maintenance. Model quality analysis can detect when performance degradation occurs. It can pinpoint a specific part of a controller, helping engineers determine the cause of degradation.

Over time, companies can lose profits because plant conditions change. The additional benefit of Adaptive Process Control is the ability to squeeze every cent from the asset. Today, using this software, non-expert engineers can do everything required to update the models without needing to turn off the controller. Crucially, the software permits engineers to always make decisions when new models replace existing ones in on-line applications. The technology dramatically changes the way in which new APC applications are created, eliminating inconvenience related to a disruptive plant test in order to regain a good model. Case study Adaptive implementations have proven pay-back within six weeks.

Key advantages of Adaptive Process Control include:

  • The controller model is continually analysed for accuracy.
  • Poorly-performing areas of the model are identified.
  • Non-disruptive background testing collects new process data while units are optimised.
  • New data are monitored in real-time and bad data are automatically identified and removed.

Joining the revolution

Many refineries and chemical companies struggle to improve margins. Notwithstanding capital cost investments that may provide a medium to long-term return, executive decision-makers seek quicker return on investment and reduced costs. Many manufacturing facilities are still operated by unsophisticated control schemes. Fortunately, the process industries have witnessed significant technological changes in recent years, which have yielded tremendous benefits. Adaptive Process Control improves long-term profitability by reducing process variability and allows plants to be operated optimally. Refiners and chemical companies have seen great value returns in product yield improvement and minimised energy costs with rapid financial pay-back.

For business decision-makers, the software is becoming more accessible as the inclusion of knowledge, best practices and workflow automation enables smoother APC deployments in organisations where previously it was costly and a drain on resources.

Overall, APC software is intelligent technology that delivers sustainable, measurable benefits and allows companies to operate facilities with greater autonomy, cost-effectiveness, reliability and environmental compliance. Adaptive Process Control is enabling manufacturers to compete more effectively in a dynamic marketplace.

Written by Norbert Meierhoefer, Business Support Director, AspenTech

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