ISA Virtual Conference Explores Evolution of Process Analyzers and More

ISA Virtual Conference Explores Evolution of Process Analyzers and More
ISA Virtual Conference Explores Evolution of Process Analyzers and More

Speaking via computer to a virtual room full of process engineers and instrumentation professionals, Dr. JD Tate kicked off the ISA Analysis Division Virtual Conference with a presentation containing classic truisms (“The old adage from Lord Kelvin, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it’ is still true today.”), current challenges of resources and relevance, and the continuing evolution of process analyzers that he dubbed an “unfinished revolution.” The virtual event, part of ISA’s Process Control & Instrumentation Series, was a pandemic-era extension of what had been a successful live conference and tradeshow in years past.

Tate’s long career as senior technical leader for Dow Chemical’s Process Analytical team—one of the largest of its kind in industry—made him perfectly suited to present the keynote speech for this virtual event that on March 23, 2021, brought speakers from Dow, Insight Analytical Solutions, Informetrix, COSA Xentaur Corporation and others to discuss the state of the art of online analyzers and the people who run them.

Process analyzers are used not only in chemical and petrochemical plants but also for applications in food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, surface finishing, power plants, mineral extraction, wastewater treatment and environmental monitoring. Tate’s experience and insights applied to all these areas. Successfully applying process analyzers is crucial for preventing unwanted shutdowns and destruction of assets.

“We are all here to make money and to do it safely and responsibly,” said Tate. “You must manage all these competing constraints. The trend is to install more measurements, not less.” What’s driving change in industry is something many will recognize,” he added. “At Dow we started off with about 15,000 analyzers in 2003, and [we have] more than 22,000 in 2020. Our assets have gone up. The resources used to support these assets have been cut by 75%. Expertise and resources have gone down, and there’s a limitation on how efficient you can be supporting those assets. Something has to change.”

Many of the crackers used in the industry are relatively old, so users face the challenge of retrofitting them—upgrading their capabilities, in the current paradigm. Though the current practice involves sending someone into the field to check the health of the equipment, the future will involve digital systems that allow a person to check on the health of the system from anywhere in the world, Tate said.

It used to take an “act of congress” to add something with wireless capabilities to a plant, “but today, most facilities have whole teams to manage wireless capabilities,” Tate said.

However, the move to wireless assets comes with its own set of problems. For example, production, shipping, installation, operational security, data security, and reliability—as well as finding the expertise to troubleshoot issues relating to new devices. These devices are complicated, and they are all different, Tate said. They aren’t like cars that all operate similarly. Unfortunately, many process instruments have lots of moving parts, are expensive to install, are highly customizable, and require skilled experts to maintain.

Tate predicts that automated self-diagnostics, preventative maintenance, and remote support will help inform the new model for online process instruments. Hopefully, as we work to standardize online process instruments, there will be a focus on building on modern open protocols, creating platform agnostic tools that are not dependent on environment, maintaining a security mindset, and prioritizing ease of use, he said.

Other presentations and papers in the virtual conference covered spectroscopy, chromatography, electrochemistry, and sample handling, focusing on how to succeed in today’s challenging environment.

Register to view the entire program on demand. See the ISA Virtual Events Series web page to find out about virtual conferences and webinars in the Process Control and Instrumentation Series.

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