Digital Transformation and the Refinery of the Future

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The world needs to drastically reduce its dependency on fossil fuels. But as long as petroleum and its refined products continue to play a major role in global energy and production systems, refineries will be needed to keep economic wheels turning. Demand for petroleum and the accompanying investment in refining capacity will continue to be at or hear historic peaks through the rest of this decade. With the right approach refineries can continue to serve us while becoming safer, more efficient, more sustainable and more profitable.

Challenges Facing Refineries of the Future

Refineries of the future must face up to multiple challenges, including:

  1. Nations and owner/operators increasingly look to integrated refining + petrochemical facilities to extract and preserve more value for themselves and,
  2. The drive to make plants more sustainable through decarbonization, processing of bio feedstocks and process electrification,
  3. The brownfield share of refining capacity will increase as investment in new capacity is taken out due to global decarbonization.

Digital Transformation is the Key

Digitalization is the essential tool; unleashing the power of data to meet the challenges—and to be more profitable while doing so. But the range of innovations that now fall under the theme of Digitalization can be bewildering. I’d like to focus on a few in this blog:

Integration of IT and OT

An underlying enabler of industrial digitalization, the integration of IT and OT has been playing out slowly for decades. But it is now gathering massive momentum and delivering a vast array of new possibilities.

  • Delivering real time or historized operational data (via systems such as AVEVA Pi, the global leader in this space) into the business domain to support more effective decision making
  • Enabling the above in situations where multiple OT vendors might be involved, for example when a new petrochemical plant is integrated with an existing refinery

Integration of Power and Process

The techno-commercial and environmental performance of any plant is most impacted by how its key processes perform and how this makes demands of the associated power systems. Until recently efforts to optimize either one of these things was done in isolation. Digitalization is removing these siloes, allowing meaningful optimization in context:

  • In the asset design phase, AVEVA Process Simulation can be used in conjunction with Schneider Electric’s ETAP to ensure that power systems design – including its C02 footprint – is optimized
  • During operations, ETAP and AVEVA Process Simulation bring together the electrical and process elements of a true behavioral Digital Twin – fed with data from Pi and other sources – to enable near real-time optimization across a range of interconnected KPIs.

The Evolution of the Digital Twin

The two innovations mentioned above (integrations of IT & OT and Power & Process) also feed directly into the evolution of the Digital Twin into an essential industrial tool. Once a static, predominantly 3D and engineering-focused set of digital asset information, the Digital Twin is now becoming a true behavioral representation of industrial plants and sits at the center of most digital use cases and capabilities, for example:

  • The refining workforce of the future needs a digital environment in which to build up the new, higher-value competencies required to operate the refinery of the future safely and profitably; this is the Digital Twin
  • The big crew change makes it increasingly difficult to deploy experience and expertise to the plant floor; the Digital Twin is the medium through which connected workers – often thousands of miles apart – can collaborate to tap into a world of knowledge
  • The Digital Twin is a necessary pillar of any attempt to optimize the overall business performance of any industrial asset. It provides the true technical or performance insight to underpin commercial decisions such as value chain optimization, for example the crude purchasing and downstream product mix decisions a refinery operator must continually make.

Schneider Electric is Leading the Digital Transformation of Industry

Schneider Electric continues to drive for more efficiency and sustainability in refining, as well as the many other sectors in which our global customers operate. Through our uniquely comprehensive family of digital solutions – which today includes AVEVA, Pi, ETAP, automation systems, safety systems and many others – we can help you meet today’s challenges and prepare for tomorrow’s.

If you’d like to learn more about how Schneider Electric’s digital solutions can help companies in Energies & Chemicals, please get in touch with me – visit our website here, or come see us at one of the following events:

Automa Oil & Gas Digitalization Congress 2022 – Milan, Italy – October 16th-17th, 2022

ADIPEC 2022 – Abu Dhabi, UAE – October 31st – November 3rd, 2022

AVEVA World 2022 – San Francisco, USA – November 14th-18th, 2022

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