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Overburdened by Layers of Automation

Refiner's leveraging automation-2

Process automation systems (PAS) providers sometimes provide too much capability, according to some refiners. If a system is to be tailored to a refining facility’s needs, it must be able to handle a variety of automation functions. So, is the PAS community giving refiners what they really need? According to past AFPM survey results, plant utilization of PAS features and capabilities varied with system age. For the average system, only 17% of respondents reported using more than 75% of their systems’ features and capabilities.

The survey also provides insight into the reasons for underutilization of PAS capabilities. When reporting why they were using less than 75% of current PAS capabilities, 37% of respondents cited insufficient on-site staff. Some reasons for under-use relate to the PAS supplier. In fact, this same AFPM survey seems to have expressed similar complaints going all the way back to the 1990s, at least according to feedback from the delegates at NPRA meetings (AFPM’s predecessor), including complaints that an automation and control systems’ features and capabilities were inappropriate for the process, too difficult to implement, or too difficult to maintain once implemented. More importantly, these implementation challenges need to take into account all the linked instrumentation and analytical components (sensors, actuators, etc.), of which they are becoming more prevalent.

One question that was not answered but has been generally acknowledged in the process industry is that higher throughputs and higher utilization rates in the refinery have made operators dependent on pervasive automation systems more than ever before. Fortunately, newer systems do not carry costs often associated with older systems. Functionality of current systems meets process unit requirements with less cost than in years past. Once the supplier knows what the refiner wants in a fully functional automation

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Posted by: Rene Gonzalez

Rene G Gonzalez is the Director for and contributing editor for As a chemical engineer (Texas A&M University: 1982), Gonzalez has worked in various engineering capacities throughout the energy industry value chain, primarily in refinery processing and operations.

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