IIoT is helping to build the ‘Refinery of the Future’

A small, family-run petrochemicals manufacturer has managed to increase its up-time, productivity, customer service and safety standards by leveraging IIoT capabilities.

Dyed polymer in test glasses - image courtesy of Depositphotos
Global demand for DCPD is being driven by the producers of resins and plastics, and the needs of the marine and construction industries – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

You may not have heard of dicyclopentadiene (DCPD), but chances are you interact with it every day.

The polymer – or a derivative of it – is used in everything from ink and boats to fragrances and bathtubs.

Manufacturers like DCPD because it makes products tough and able to resist heat and corrosion. As such, worldwide demand is increasing, driven by the producers of resins and plastics, and the needs of the marine and construction industries.

However, manufacturing and supplying DCPD and related products is far from simple. Its production process involves extreme heat and highly reactive chemicals – which makes safety of paramount importance.

With the global DCPD market expected to reach almost $840m within the next five years, global supply chains are becoming increasingly complex – requiring ever more stringent controls, granular visibility, uninterrupted production and regulatory oversight.

A benchmark for petrochemical quality and safety

Texmark Chemicals is a Texas petrochemical processing and manufacturing company that has been providing custom contract manufacturing of speciality and high-volume chemicals to many of the world’s leading chemical companies for almost 50 years.

Many of the materials Texmark works with are hazardous, flammable or both, and are heavily regulated. The company must ensure its workers adhere to strict process safety management procedures at all times, and that its facility is managed in such a way that put worker and community safety first.

At the same time, Texmark – as a contract manufacturer – must be prepared to adapt to customer requirements, which can change with little advance warning.

Staying safe and driving efficiency

Pipe line conection in oil refinery - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Refineries work with materials that are hazardous, flammable or both, and are heavily regulated – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Historically, Texmark has depended on physical inspections of process equipment to ensure all systems remain in working order.

However, these plant walk-downs can be time-consuming and labour-intensive. Texmark has 130 pumps in its plant and spends nearly 1,000 hours a year on walk-downs and vibration analysis.

Depending solely on physical inspections also carries risk, because it relies on employees who – based on years of experience – can tell if a pump is starting to malfunction by recognising slight variations in its noise and vibrations. If a critical pump goes down, it may shut down the entire operation.

But what happens if an employee with that skill is out sick, or reaches retirement age? Texmark needed ways to institutionalise that type of intelligence and insight.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Texmark’s vision for next-generation worker safety, production and asset management hinged on the emerging promise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): sensored devices combined with advanced analytics software to generate insights, automate its environment, and reduce the risk of human error.

IIoT requires robust connectivity, architected to support gathering data from a range of IIoT devices. That connectivity must be cost-effective, however – and hard-wiring a manufacturing plant can be prohibitively expensive.

In addition, any technology installed in Texmark’s plant had to be ruggedised and meet the company’s operational standards for safety. Equipment operating at Texmark’s edge also had to be designed to ensure it couldn’t be a source of ignition.

Another key IIoT challenge Texmark had to address was data latency. Transmitting data takes time, and in IIoT seconds often count. Texmark required an IIoT architecture that eliminated the need to transmit device data over a WAN, but instead supportes analytics at the edge to deliver real-time visibility into equipment and processes.

 The IIoT journey

Oil refinery factory - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Thanks to the Industrial Internet of Things, refineries can become living, breathing organic plants that know how they should operate – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Texmark is currently undertaking a three-phase IIoT journey, combining HPE and Aruba solutions to create an industry-leading ‘Refinery of the Future’.

Phase 1 and 2 established the digital foundation by enabling edge-to-core connectivity.

Aruba deployed a secure wireless mesh network and secure network access control, and provided location-based services for plant safety and security purposes.

Texmark selected the HPE Edgeline Converged IoT platform for its edge analytics, an industrialised solution that supports robust compute capabilities. HPE also upgraded Texmark’s plant control room to enable seamless edge-to-core connectivity and high-speed data capture and analytics, and to meet Texmark’s safety and security standards.

The Edgeline system runs Texmark’s Distributed Control System software, integrating its operations technology and IT into a single system.

Phase 3 will build on the foundation established by these technology solutions to support Texmark’s use cases, including predictive analytics, advanced video analytics, safety and security, connected worker, and full lifecycle asset management.

A showcase refinery of the future 

Texmark’s new IIoT solution is already helping make its workers even safer. It can monitor fluid levels, for example, reducing the risk of spills. It can alert Texmark immediately if a system starts to malfunction, enabling the company to respond before workers or production are endangered.

And in the event of an emergency, it can help protect workers by ensuring Texmark knows their precise location and movements within the facility.

In effect, the interconnected refinery has become a living, breathing organic plant that knows how it should operate and if any part falls out of line, it flags for intervention.

Other benefits include improving the company’s bottom line. Texmark can use data from IIoT sensors to identify which systems require hands-on evaluations, for example, so it can conduct physical inspections in a more focused and efficient manner.

The new IIoT solution also makes it easier for the company to plan inspections and maintenance. To work on distillation columns, Texmark must often take systems off-line and erect costly scaffolding. Improved maintenance planning is expected to reduce these associated costs by at least 50%.

Texmark can also leverage IIoT data gathered during research pilots to quickly determine project feasibility, helping to streamline its business development timelines.

Transform to digital manufacturing

Automation Cloud Digital Digitalisation Industrial Internet IIoT - image courtesy of Depositphotos.Digital technologies, intense competition, globalisation, and regulatory pressures are disrupting business models and reshaping buyer characteristics, desires, and behaviors.

Manufacturing operations and IT are converging. Manufacturers must transform to compete. HPE can help.

HPE has the technology expertise and the solutions to enable the journey to digital manufacturing. HPE can demonstrate relevance to the business, optimise production, increase the effectiveness of your supply chain, and enable innovation.

Click here to learn more.