Creating a Refinery of the Future with the Internet of Things
This opinion piece presents the opinions of the author.
It does not necessarily reflect the views of Rigzone.
From energy to manufacturing to healthcare to smarter cities, the Internet of Things (IoT) is dramatically changing the way many industries do business. But when it comes to chemical manufacturing, many of today's plants are still working with yesterday's technologies, using outdated communication technologies and protocols.
Why? It's not necessarily because these companies are unable to keep up with advances in technology. It has more to do with the harsh environment, which requires specially adapted equipment for technologies such as Wi-Fi. But a solution is at hand.
Gaining New Analytic Insights
Hewlett Packard Enterprise has teamed up with Texmark Chemicals, Inc. a family-owned chemical processing plant in Galena Park, Texas, to design and build a "refinery of the future," modernizing Texmark's facilities with IoT technologies to make the refinery safer and more efficient. These improvements also enable the company to provide greater business value to its customers.
By creating a more connected and automated refinery, Texmark is gaining new analytic insights into areas such as asset tracking and lifecycle management, predictive maintenance, worker safety, video analytics, and more.
Upgrading Network Infrastructure for Hazardous Environments
A refinery—or any type of industrial plant—can be a hazardous environment. A Division 1 facility is a plant that requires specialized equipment that prevents harmful gases from interacting with electrical equipment that could spark. This potentially lethal combination makes installing basic technology nearly impossible.
In Texmark's case, the plant had been running the same low-level communications protocols for more than 40 years because the alternatives required an unacceptably high level of power and risk. HPE surmounted this problem by installing an Aruba instant wireless access point (iWAP) in a heavy-duty box specially designed for deployment in possibly hazardous Division 1 conditions. If the equipment generates a spark, the enclosure is designed to protect it from spreading to the environment.
With this solution, Texmark now has the ability to deploy Aruba Wi-Fi technology in the plant. Once the Aruba Wi-Fi has been installed, additional hardware can be utilized, such as Aruba BLE Beacons and location-based software like Meridian—a first in the industry for HPE. This, in turn, enables services such as indoor /outdoor wayfinding, as well as location-based services and content within the refinery. Texmark can use data from those services to automate processes and help ensure workers are operating in a safe environment.
Increasing Compute Power at the Edge
I've written previously about edge computing, which is disrupting long-established limitations in data processing. By analyzing IoT sensor data in real time, closer to where "things" are, companies can respond more rapidly to anomalies.
Before the advent of edge computing, analyzing video sensor data from industrial sites wasn't economically feasible, since it required sending extremely large video files to remote data centers for processing. By installing HPE Edgeline EL4000 converged edge systems on site, Texmark is now able to perform near-real-time advanced video analytics on the video as it is streaming.
Transforming Business with IoT solutions
Implementing better infrastructure and greater on-site compute power is transforming the way Texmark does business:
- Predictive maintenance. IoT analytics enable Texmark to predict issues that might affect not only discrete pieces of equipment, but also entire refining processes. For example, the system takes into account how a problem with a pump might impact the boiler system further downstream in the process.
- Connected workers. Employees who have immediate access to "intelligent edge" information can more easily pull maintenance records, review chemical batches for inconsistencies or problems, and solve issues faster.
- Greater efficiency. Part of Texmark's business consists of "tolling," which involves creating custom chemical compositions for a customer. By using advanced process analytics, Texmark can refine the batch manufacturing process to get the right product to customers faster.
See IoT solutions in action first hand
With HPE IoT, Texmark is leading the way in the chemical processing field, increasing its competitive advantage with enhanced security, reliability, safety, and efficiency.
But don't just take my word for it—see for yourself what HPE IoT solutions can do. Starting this summer, Texmark and HPE are partnering to offer Texmark refinery tours so you can see these IoT solutions in action in a production environment. If you'd like to schedule a tour, contact me at email@example.com.
JR Fuller is the worldwide business development manager for IoT Edgeline with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE). This column originally appeared as a blog post on HPE's website.
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