Getting the Most From Bulk Chemical Plants

  • April 01, 2016
  • AspenTech
  • Feature

By Terumi Okano, Aspen Tech

The industrial world is predicted to grow over the next decade and competition will intensify, as global energy consumption increases to meet consumer demand across emerging regions. The bulk chemicals industry is expected to take a large portion of both consumption and growth, as well as capitalize on the increased supply of natural gas, hydrocarbon gas liquids and petrochemical feedstock. While opportunities exist for companies in the market, many chemical manufacturers are focused on maximizing yields, reducing energy costs and ensuring plants reliably perform to safety standards.

While some energy is used in the bulk chemical manufacturing process for heat and power, most energy in this industry is used as feedstocks or raw materials for the manufacture of chemicals. With high volume output and low margin return, operations are capital intensive and continuous processes. Companies continually strive to achieve high asset utilization while staying on target for production goals or KPIs. The use of cutting-edge software technology can dramatically improve equipment performance, validate plant bottlenecks, push production constraints and ensure safe, reliable operations.

Answering the Big Questions

Identifying operational strategies to bypass bottlenecks and improve operating targets for key plant equipment is a crucial goal for chemical businesses today. Optimizing trade-offs between production, yield and energy performance requires greater visibility of plant behavior in order for stakeholders to make the necessary corrective actions to keep production on track and reach operational targets. Validating relief system design for new operating conditions and conducting operability analysis to address stability problems quickly will also mean that businesses can keep to schedule and deliver products on time.

Many leaders in the chemicals industry are constantly reviewing their strategies to keep their business lean and competitive. As part of the processes, key questions arise including:

  • How can we best utilize the capital we’ve invested and minimize operating costs

  • Which pieces of equipment are preventing the smooth running of the plant and causing downtime?

  • Is there a better way to speed up the production process whilst remaining safe?

It is not easy to balance the trade-off between making the most products without using an enormous amount of energy. Processes are energy intensive and a small difference in operations can make a huge impact to the bottom line. The combination of embedded automation devices, high-capacity networks and advanced software is now capable of capturing, collating and contextualizing data into purposeful real-time information that improves day-to-day communications, supporting better operational decisions. Smart manufacturing is getting smarter and with the use of cloud computing, visual analytics and mobile platforms, technology can now intelligently aid an organization’s key stakeholders to better understand operational data from the plant. Today, with the right tools operational issues can be responded to quickly, no matter the time or location.

Addressing Technology Challenges

Companies seeking innovative ways to reduce capital and operating costs are turning to technology to help improve engineering efficiency, maximize plant performance and increase profitability. Successful manufacturers have implemented process simulation, optimization and energy management systems to reduce energy usage. Cutting-edge tools help operators to continually monitor the dynamic behavior of the operation and marketplace to determine the best operating policies that will allow them to control the facility, and continually run their plants to the maximum capability while remaining within safety guidelines.

Operational excellence revolves around driving the optimum performance from all areas of the business, on a second-by-second basis, every day throughout the year. Organizational excellence leverages proven integrated technology that empowers staff and supports younger generations to make better decisions in order to collaborate more effectively and accelerate business performance.

Manufacturers must implement optimization initiatives through the entire lifecycle of industry assets and address business challenges in a more comprehensive and holistic manner to unlock the value often tied up in departmental functions caused by silo practices. The combination of process simulation tools, manufacturing executions systems (MES) and effective planning and scheduling solutions is vital to optimizing the asset. Many companies have standardized on an integrated, single, unified platform of engineering solutions containing integrated process modelling analysis and design tools accessible through process simulators. Engineers can optimize process designs for energy use, capital and operating costs and product yield, through the use of activated energy, economics and equipment design during modelling.

These advanced software solutions can solve critical engineering and operational problems that arise throughout the lifecycle of a chemical process plant. The software tool predicts process behavior using engineering relationships, such as mass and energy balances, phase and chemical equilibrium and reaction kinetics. With reliable physical properties, thermodynamic data, realistic operating conditions and rigorous equipment models, engineers are able to simulate actual plant behavior.

Leading MES software aggregates process, production and business information into a cohesive context with fast data discovery tools, automated workflow and order tracking, as well as extensive analytical, notification and visualization capabilities. Covering all aspects of the ISA-S95 activity model, manufacturers are able to exchange real-time information between the shop floor and the rest of the enterprise to create actionable intelligence and optimize manufacturing excellence. The end result is lower operating costs, reduced process variability and improved asset utilization that optimize profitability.

Manufacturers are under intense pressure to maintain high profit margins and be operationally agile while still demonstrating full compliance to health, environmental and safety regulations. Advanced MES solutions deliver these capabilities by providing automated workflow and order tracking to facilitate improved operational consistency, better production tracking and reduced errors. This leads to consistent, repeatable work processes, which maximize the efficiency of the production asset, assuring faster time-to-market. Collecting, storing, organizing and communicating data is fundamental to effective analysis of plant performance. The use of a robust data historian captures real-time production information and visualizes data in context to measure and discern production planning and tracking.

Complimentary to the MES functionality, advanced process control (APC) is used to reduce process variability, enabling operators to push the production closer to safe operational limits. APC maintains tight control of operations, reducing quality variance (up to 50 percent), improving process yields (up to 3 percent), increasing capacity (average 4 percent), reducing energy costs (up to 10 percent) and increasing asset effectiveness. On the other hand, advanced adaptive process control solutions automate the process of building and maintaining APC controllers, dramatically reducing time and effort to implement advanced control solutions and achieve quicker benefits. By transforming process manufacturing with innovative technology, industry leaders are more competitively positioned to meet today’s demands and also better prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.

Improving Manufacturing Performance

For bulk chemical companies today, it is a competitive necessity to achieve excellence in execution with consistent and predictable performance. Manufacturing requires the integration of all process and production information sources to allow engineers and operators to analyze vital data that can be tracked and used to quickly identify root causes of operational problems for immediate corrective actions. Successful chemical manufacturers are now implementing advanced integrated software solutions to help them maintain production margins, improve product quality and continue to meet regulatory compliance. The market today is more globally dynamic and competitive. Therefore, getting the most out of chemical plants requires innovative technology to optimize assets, which ultimately delivers greater profitability.


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