The wild growth of raw data and its disconnection with action
The downstream industry has traditionally been relatively slow when it comes to new technology adoption. Given the complexity in its processes, and the large financial consequences of every minute of downtime, this is not surprising… However, the pace of innovation in the world has accelerated rapidly, and maintaining the status quo in any industry means more and more money is left on the table by not deploying new approaches. And there is plenty of opportunity for innovating downstream in a way that actually lowers risk! One big enabler has been the dramatic acceleration of ‘sensorization’ and automation over the past years, having been pushed even harder as a result of covid. This has led to a wild growth of raw data.
However, there is still a large gap between the amount of information generation and actionable business intelligence that helps downstream operators make well-informed decisions. Particularly in structural integrity, one could argue ‘time has stood still’. We are still using methods that have underlying mathematics which has been virtually unchanged since the 1970’s (Finite Element Analysis: for those not familiar – this is the industry standard solution to assess asset integrity based on the laws of physics), and paper-based reporting remains common. As a result, value potential is left untapped because process plants are not able to respond quickly to changes.
Let’s look at fitness for service (FFS) assessments as an example. FFS is defined as:
“Quantitative engineering evaluations that are performed to demonstrate the structural integrity of an in-service component containing a flaw or damage.”
These assessments are used to evaluate things like cracks, creep fatigue, corrosion/erosion, etc. all common causes of plant downtime.
A major challenge here is that a FFS is often done on a reactive basis, and can take weeks to complete… When your refinery throughput depends on it, that is a situation everyone will want to avoid. To address this gap and all other structural issues, we will need innovative solutions that provide asset owners with near real-time intelligence about the state of their asset. This, in turn, will require a ‘best of breed’ approach, where sensors, automation, control systems and engineering know-how are combined with powerful software to support operators in making decisions swiftly and in a way that:
- Enables quick decision-making and;
- Maximizes lifetime value of the facility or individual piece of equipment.
From weeks to hours, accelerating Fitness For Service assessments
At Akselos we have created the software for this: Let’s go back to the FFS example to explain what that means. The 3D structural models/twins that we build are powered by a structural analysis engine that is 1000x faster than the legacy Finite Element Analysis. One thousand times. To put this in perspective: imagine your Paris to Houston flight normally taking over 11 hours is now completed in less than a minute…It is a huge improvement.
Workflow diagram on how Akselos can help refineries understand the integrity of their pressure vessels better and faster, all the while providing industry standard fitness for service reports on demand.
Related to FFS, it means that you can keep your equipment models, such as for reactors, heat exchangers, and cokers, constantly up to date instead of having to build new models each time there is a problem and you need a FFS. The speed allows you to take in data from sensors, like pressure and temperature, and calculate how those operational conditions are affecting the state of your asset in near real-time. It means that when you exceed the normal operating envelope and, for example, encounter temperature (and/or pressure) extremes (or an inspection reveals corrosion problems), you can immediately run a full 3D analysis that tells you in minutes whether your critical asset such as reactors, cokers, columns, exchangers are at risk through an on the spot FFS, in full compliance with the applicable standard (typically API 579). That is unprecedented.
So what this shows is that innovation doesn’t always have to include taking on more risk in a big dollar industry like downstream. Especially in the data-rich environment that it is becoming, there are ready-to-implement technologies that allow operators to capture value quickly AND make the plant environment SAFER. In an energy-transition world where we want to do more with less, it is key that we both create value, and reduce risk in the process!