Stop being a digital wallflower about plant lifecycles

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

This article is by Damien McDade, Head of Pacific AVEVA

Large scale industrial plants are becoming more complex and more tightly integrated. Both equipment implemented and workforce hired during the boom years of the 1950s and 1960s are coming up to retirement. In commodity markets or with differentiated solutions, companies have to innovate to stay competitive.

To reduce the cost of units produced in commodity markets, one solution is larger plants, with even more ambitious technology. And often engineering departments around multi-geographies must respond to changing conditions while incorporating a new generation of engineers. Legacy process simulators are ill-suited to these challenges.

Many companies are driving Digital Transformation projects. But often, they are focused on their operations, not at their asset lifecycle processes. Process simulation tools are irreplaceable tools for every process engineer. Since the 1970s, process simulators have found widespread adoption within operating companies in oil and gas, refining and chemical industries, as well as in the engineering companies and equipment manufacturers that service these industries. The tools available in the market today have incrementally improved over the years to provide more features and functionality.

However, they trace their origins to legacy architectures, operating systems and aftermarket user interfaces, which create inherent limitations:

  • They cannot support the full plant lifecycle as they are limited by their single-purpose architecture, such as steady state process simulation, dynamic simulation, optimisation, or flow network analysis for which they were originally designed.
  • Extending their functionality can be performed by a very small number of software developers with chemical engineering knowledge, software programming skills, and/or knowledge of that particular specialised program.
  • They are often based on decades old programming code that cannot leverage more recent technological developments within the software industry.

Staying innovative and aligned to changing demands

Global competition, pricing pressures and the need to innovate are all factors driving the need for a new approach. The next generation of workers also expect a modern, scalable and easy to use solution with technology they now take for granted – high speed internet access, mobile devices, touch screens and virtual reality.

New concepts like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0, and Artificial Intelligence have created greater opportunities with a new next generation platform that provides a Digital Twin of the plant through the process lifecycle that cannot be provided with today’s tools. Today’s simulators typically only support a single phase of the lifecycle and are often based on thermodynamics of different simulation vendors and different calculation methods.

This not only leads to lack of trust in the results, but causes substantial rework by having to build a new simulation model in each new tool. And the results are hard to compare. Unified Lifecycle Simulation means that one process model is extended throughout the entire lifecycle of the plant, from concept through to operations.

Valuable insights for smarter decision making

In many plants, each simulation activity requires an individual point solution. Although each piece of software is justified by itself, companies struggle to maintain these models adequately before they become outdated.

According to McKinsey Global Institute, 53% of the capital projects >1B$ are behind schedule and 37% have cost overruns1. Results of not being able to control variability and complexity.

The opportunities to be gained through accurate insights is significant. McKinsey see a 50% efficiency potential around seven dimensions, including: reshaping regulations; collaboration and contracting, rethinking design and engineering savings; improvement in procurement and supply chain; improvement on site execution; Infusion of technology and innovation, and helping to reskill workers2.

Digital solutions are here and available today. A simulation platform can be performed in the same master simulation – otherwise known as the Digital Twin of your process. For example, this might include scenarios such as a heat tube rupture, changes in production capability, process development, or even complex specifications associated with detailed steam balances.

Lifecycle process simulation has been a vision for process simulation providers and their customers for a long time. However, today’s simulators cannot leverage the rapid developments occurring in the software industry due to legacy architecture.

However, simulation platforms designed from the ground up to enable the next generation of engineers and deliver the process side of the Digital Twin are now a viable option for organisations looking to transform digitally and to reduce risks and failure in their systems.

People are at the center of digital transformation

Two-thirds of all companies do not have a clear digital vision and strategy to support digital transformation and culture. Only 27% of employees have the required qualifications to master the digital future3. The reality remains that people are at the center of digital transformation – and the barriers to technology adoption.

Digital transformation merges the latest innovative tools and processes with your in-house domain expertise. This enables not only the contextualisation of new and existing data but also delivers actionable insights and information.

Covestro is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Its business activities are focused on the manufacturing of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. Faced with the challenge of using several tools that did not integrate effectively across the process lifecycle, Covestro turned to AVEVA to implement a Simulation Platform. This implementation enabled Covestro to standardise process engineering on a single platform across the plant lifecycle and freed up its engineers to focus on innovation and solving complex problems. Early results included: successful implementation replacing previous tools; positive feedback from users; reduced cost, time, risk and delay; and engineers can focus on innovation.

While Digital Transformation is impacting all companies in some form, the process engineering discipline has by and large been excluded from this trend so far. Consequently, legacy simulators are not well suited to accurately simulate processes, nor ideal to serve the entire plant lifecycle.

This article is by Damien McDade, Head of Pacific AVEVA