Business Transformation through Remote Collaboration, Optimization and Operations | Automation.com

Business Transformation through Remote Collaboration, Optimization and Operations

September 102013
Business Transformation through Remote Collaboration, Optimization and Operations

By: Christophe Romatier, Honeywell Process Solutions

The ability to connect the control room to the board room has been a common talking point over the last few years as operating companies have increasingly strived for ways to make operations more efficient, and decision-making processes faster and better informed.

Rising operating costs and unstable oil prices, for instance, are forcing oil and gas companies to continuously lower their operating expenses. The same is true for other extractives industries such as metals and mining. Those companies must improve product quality and production efficiency while lowering the consumption of energy and reducing emissions.

To complicate things further, many of these operating companies typically have multiple production facilities geographically spread out, meaning expertise and best practices can be difficult to share and institutionalize across locations. Optimal production and productivity is hard enough to achieve on a single asset level, but interdependencies between processes and facilities complicate things even further.

And that’s not even taking safety into account: Production sites in remote locations present a variety of safety concerns, either in the hazardous environment of the operating facility itself (e.g., underground with risk of earthquakes, high altitudes, offshore with risk of hurricanes) or associated with transportation to these facilities (e.g., helicopter trips or long car trips over bad roads). Offshore operators, for instance, seek to improve safety by limiting helicopter flights and boat trips to remote facilities, and by reducing the number of people onboard platforms (See Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Oil & gas production facilities are geographically spread out over vast distances

Staffing is also a challenge for these companies. With operations located in remote areas, it is difficult and costly to attract and retain a talented workforce. This leads to a high degree of staff turnover, which in turn drives up training costs. Moreover, in many disciplines, an aging workforce shrinks the available talent pool even further, and makes the need to leverage expertise more acute.

So, where do these industries go from here? Simply put – operating companies really have no choice but to leverage their human capital in a unified way across their assets in order to succeed in today’s market. Industrial organizations must adopt new thinking in order to operate effectively in an increasingly complex and distributed environment.

To enhance operations, it is necessary to connect the production and enterprise levels and ensure the availability of real-time information, not simply data across multiple sites. This, in turn, will enhance decision-making, enabling improved asset performance.

Transformative Business Strategy

The level of business transformation associated with the implementation of a remote collaboration, optimization and operations strategy cannot be achieved by technology investments alone. Rather, this is a large-scale change for companies that goes to the core of their operations. To ensure success, they need to take into account the following key elements (See Fig. 2):

  • Vision: The overall strategy for a remote initiative must be driven at the highest level of the organization in order to ensure alignment and accountability across business units and functions
  • People: As personnel and their roles evolve, care needs to be given to the human element and appropriate change management must be adopted. The change must be meaningful and actionable for all involved
  • Processes: Organizations must have a keen appreciation of roles at the task-level, and re-associate them to work processes, to ensure continuity in operations

Figure 2. Elements of a Remote Collaboration, Optimization and Operations strategy

Remote operations involves deploying communication systems and other enabling technology to provide monitoring and surveillance services for remote facilities, which reduces the number of site visits and onsite personnel required for these locations.

A centralized remote collaboration center makes the best use of resources by creating a hub where experts from a variety of disciplines can access information, troubleshoot and optimize production facilities—all from a single location. Remote maintenance and upgrades where physical devices are involved can be accomplished using both mobile, field-deployable cameras and onsite operators.

The ability to operate and manage operations in a location-agnostic manner opens the door to a wealth of opportunities. For instance, experts and operations staff can be relocated to population centers, and out of harms’ way. They can then be leveraged over multiple assets in real-time to ensure maximum utilization. Remote collaboration also allows for much faster creation and utilization of best practices across a network of operating assets, thereby contributing to better knowledge retention and management as well as greater efficiency, and establishing a true, shared corporate culture throughout the enterprise (See Fig. 3)

Figure 3. A centralized remote collaboration center unifies resources by creating an operations hub

Real-World Stories

Around the world, industrial organizations are transforming their business results through the use of remote operations technology and centralized collaboration centers.

Offshore operations

The Situation: A leading global producer of crude oil and natural gaslooked for a way to stay ahead of dynamic market demands and overcome challenges associated with offshore oil and gas production. As part of an innovative technology project and with the help of Honeywell, this company built a central control room (CCR) to help coordinate control of multiple offshore platforms in the North Sea, and improve operations and efficiency.

With the new CCR, this company has centralized operations at 18 of its 26 offshore platforms. All operating and production procedures are fully automated and synchronized, creating increased flexibility and competitive advantage. At the heart of CCR is Honeywell’s Experion Process Knowledge Management System (PKS), which enables operators to monitor and control production at various platforms.

Operational Benefits: With an effective remote operations capability in place, a number of significant operational benefits were achieved:

  • Faster, more-effective decision making by operations staff
  • Greater production flexibility
  • Increased efficiency through reduced helicopter flights, ship movements and supply of material to platforms
  • Increased uptime and higher levels of productivity and throughput
  • Improved safety through full redundancy and built-in failover support

But What Really Matters: The bigger picture to see here is that these benefits far exceed operations, and extend over into the business as well. The biggest of these was reduced operating costs, which greatly contributed to keeping assets viable as reservoir resources dwindled.

Improvements in aluminum production

The Situation: As a major international producer of primary and fabricated aluminum sought to enhance production and raw material efficiencies across its refining business, it turned to Honeywell to provide a standardized process control infrastructure and control solutions across multiple refineries in six countries.

Operational Benefits: By improving plant efficiency, reducing raw material consumption and lowering environmental emissions, a sustainable, competitive advantage is achieved. Key features of the program include:

  • Improved process performance by leveraging automation technology and combining best practices from each refinery
  • Improved plant support through centralized monitoring of the system to help analyze and rectify the process control system performance of each refinery from a single center and leverage scarce expert resources
  • Reduced downtime with integrated support and maintenance practices through a co-sourced support center
  • Rapid deployment at each location by a dedicated implementation team that minimized costs, improved quality and minimized plant interruption

But What Really Matters: By sustaining these optimization benefits over a long time period, the producer was able to see tangible financial benefits because the operational improvements led to increased production. Additionally, by combining best practices from each refinery and centralizing support, the company was able to more-easily align production with global enterprise goals.

Remote connectivity in the copper industry

The Situation: One of the world’s largest copper producersthat operates four mines across Chile and controls around 20 percent of the world reserves of the metal saw the need to implement common processes across these facilities to improve productivity and increase production. New deposits were also being found in more extreme conditions. This affected the environment in which mining is developed, creating critical challenges that impacted business viability.

Honeywell worked with the company to implement a remote operations center at its facility in Santiago, Chile. This center connects operating sites to essential facilities, creating a collaborative environment that is the key enabler for production improvement.

Operational Benefits: Expertise is centralized in a single, easy-to-staff location and was connected across multiple sites. The automation infrastructure, as well as applications such as advanced process control, can be deployed, maintained and optimized across mine operations with optimal efficiency and without requiring additional head count. The specific benefits of this project include:

  • Improved overall operational performance
  • Effective deployment of best practices and solutions across multiple mining facilities
  • Increased production throughput and copper recovery
  • Increased profit margins without major capital expansions

But What Really Matters: Similar to the aforementioned aluminum producer, this copper mining company improved operations using advanced process control. The challenge with any company that implements APC, though, is that they usually don’t have in-house expertise to sustain APC benefits as operating conditions of production targets change. Centralizing APC is a much more efficient method and allowed the mining company to sustain its APC benefits for the long term.

Increased energy industry efficiency

The Situation: One of the world’s largest energy producerswith diverse operations across the globe employed remote well monitoring technology. This enabled project personnel to not only integrate and access information from the field to the desktop, but also integrate workflows across engineering, managerial and maintenance domains for consistent action.

Operational Benefits: Significant advantages included:

  • A single prioritized view of well operations
  • Real-time analysis capability for production data
  • Real-time feedback on well performance
  • Improved production and forecasting accuracy
  • Quick implementation as available out-of-the-box
  • Easily supportable and maintainable monitoring solution
  • Conformance and integration with corporate standards

But What Really Matters: This solution has facilitated better decision making, helping experts to take the right action at the right time to solve problems, take advantage of opportunities and improve well performance … but so what?

In this particular case, the bigger-picture business goal was time to first oil enabled by an out-of-the-box, customized solution. Even bigger than that, though, is that the refiner estimates a 4-to-6 percent production increase with real-time data monitoring and analysis.

Improvements in energy consumption

The Situation: A global industrial gas distribution companysought to manage production loads by taking advantage of variations in power prices between peak and non-peak times. It also wanted the capacity to respond quickly and according to customer product demands to reduce venting and top-up usage, as well as the ability to operate consistently at maximum and minimum load constraints. This company implemented two powerful Honeywell products powered by Matrikon, Operational Insight and Control Performance Monitor - the information infrastructure of which was tied together with OPC connectivity.

Operational Benefits: The technology provided a web-based solution for process data acquisition, control system performance analysis, and process monitoring and offered automated step testing and modeling functionality. The company realized several benefits including:

  • Improved throughput and control quality
  • Reduced energy consumption
  • Improved plant stability
  • Increased operational consistency

But What Really Matters: In the upstream oil and gas industry, changing market conditions require more flexibility and efficiency in the production of natural gas and oil. Increased operational costs, combined with instability in the price of crude oil in the international market, make it essential to lower operating expenses while improving production levels. Reducing energy consumption can play a huge role in achieving that goal.

A Long Journey – But One Worth Embarking On

Knowledge and understanding empower workers, enabling operating companies to respond better to dynamic environments and work processes to be more flexible—facilitating a higher level of engagement. Implementing remote collaboration, optimization and operations technologies can help industrial organizations manage critical assets, regardless of their physical location.

But this type of initiative is about more than just optimized operations; it’s truly about optimizing the business, which brings us back to the concept of not viewing this as a control room-board room issue – it’s an enterprise issue.

Yes, this approach can help operating companies securely access all their data, deliver information when and where it’s needed, create and monitor enterprise key performance indicators for decision support, and enforce consistent operational and business processes. But it also streamlines the overall business through benefits such as operational expense mitigation, consolidation and leverage of scarce expert resources, staff turnover mitigation and improved safety.

In the end, companies are able to act and react faster to market conditions, increase productivity and reliability, ensure regulatory compliance, and improve the safety of their employees with less downtime and more production availability.

It seems like a lofty goal – but it’s certainly more attainable today than it once was.

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