Innovations in Advanced Process Control (APC) help companies optimise the production process, eliminate waste, reduce the overall energy cost in the manufacturing process and improve asset efficiency, product quality and yield. By Rob Howard, VP Asia Pacific Business Consulting & Sales Operations, AspenTech
With huge fluctuations in feedstock and energy prices, making economic changes quickly is vital to capitalise on the most profitable assets. Manufacturers who can keep pace with demand and meet increasingly tighter regulation and production requirements need greater agility and sustainable efficiency measures throughout the plant. Optimisation, therefore, is no longer a choice. It is a necessity. In rapidly changing economic environments, commercial excellence and operational performance must be maintained at all times.
Ground-breaking innovations in Advanced Process Control (APC) help companies optimise the production process, eliminate waste, reduce the overall energy cost in the manufacturing process and improve asset efficiency, product quality and yield. In addition, the latest technological advances mean that APC software is much easier to use, empowering less experienced engineers to evaluate options and deliver faster results.
Quickly Identifying Problems
When the price of crude plummeted to US$50 per barrel in early 2015, it presented an opportunity for the downstream industry to optimise and improve margins. Irrespective of economic conditions, APC technology is crucial for companies to maximise profitability, whether in emerging regions developing new plants or in established ventures looking to revamp and prolong the life of an asset.
APC delivers significant operational benefits to refiners and petrochemicals companies helping to deliver accurate models in the quest for greater profits. However, where controllers are tuned either too aggressively or passively to address model errors, the results could over compensate or undervalue optimum threshold settings. In the APC lifecycle, changes occur in the plant over time and the controller can show signs of differences compared to the actual plant behaviour. Maintaining controller performance is sometimes more difficult than the initial setup, but it is essential to reducing costs, time and sustaining long-term operational benefits.
With improved APC automated software tools, time and effort is dramatically reduced to implement solutions and achieve quicker benefits. APC maintains tight control, reduces quality variance (up to 50 percent), improves yields (up to three percent), increases capacity (average four percent), reduces energy costs (up to 10 percent) and increases asset effectiveness.
It is common for operators to have insufficient indication as to whether the on-line controllers being manipulated are performing correctly. If the controllers react in a manner that the operators do not understand, the controller could perform incorrectly and be turned off, as the controller model will not reflect the plant behaviour at a particular point in time. This could seriously result in falling outside of economic objectives. Therefore, the current APC methodology requires a deep understanding of the process unit to be able to align them to the controller tuning parameters. This is a complicated and time consuming process. This reliance on specialised knowledge to keep systems performing to requirements is a concern for companies as there is a dearth of skilled APC staff. Many veterans are due to retire over the next 5 – 10 years and insufficient engineers are entering the workforce with the same level of in depth industry experience.
Responding To Changes In Economic Objectives
Squeezing as much value as possible from the operation where costs and risks are high is essential to meet changing economic needs. Therefore, improving performance requires flexible, innovative and automated APC software with intuitive functionality to keep pace with a highly competitive global landscape.
Such APC software addresses these issues by providing the ability to ‘tune’ robustness to accommodate undesirable and common scenarios. The software incorporates business changing innovations, such as AspenTech’s Adaptive Process Control, which is patented, automatic tuning and step-testing technology with advanced model identification and analysis capabilities.
It converts APC maintenance from a project to a continuous background activity and enables less disruptive plant testing. Over time, it will keep controllers online and improve operational benefits. It also brings improvements that drive controller up time and increases APC benefits, including reducing engineering practitioner workload and complexity.
In addition, APC has become more tightly integrated to provide users with an intuitive interface that rationalises plant data (ie: pressure flow, temperature, and so) into clear visual content about the plant’s performance.
The company’s latest Smart Tune functionality within Aspen DMC3 allows the user to set up and specify more frequently the operational objectives directly in the controller (eg: the trade-off to maximise light diesel versus maximising gasoline, and so.) and easily eliminate the need for complicated and iterative optimiser tuning. Crucially, this innovation makes APC applications far more agile and effective by enabling engineers to quickly adapt the controller strategy to a company’s changing economic objectives. Now engineers can adjust controllers to meet new economic conditions with minimal effort as Smart Tune provides the benefit of reducing complicated tuning.
This solution also enables less experienced engineers to build and maintain controllers. As models degrade or are updated, the intelligent software preserves the optimisation strategy with no need to revisit controller tuning and gives the operator greater visibility of information through an intuitive on-line interface to better understand controller behaviour.
By having a more agile and robust APC controller technology, companies can rapidly adapt their plant operations to changing economic or operational needs. In addition, they can better align and integrate individual units APC controllers, schedulers and planners, widening APC applications ownership to APC operations stakeholders and process engineers. The overall result means that the APC technology plays a major role in optimising energy usage, emissions and operational costs. The ability for the software to manipulate the controller behaviour based on current business and plant conditions is essential to meet operational targets. With embedded automated maintenance, companies can eliminate complex controller revamp projects and also reduce new projects cost and increase benefits.
Keeping The Business In Tune
Innovations in plant control software are more intuitive to use and shorten the design through maintenance cycle. From the easier model-build phase, improving model quality and rationalising data into clear visual context, APC is significantly less disruptive to operations and less reliant on specialist expertise. Engineers now have the ability to easily configure controller behaviour to address specific issues.
With APC software, manufacturers can push the frontiers of operational excellence with greater agility and increase profitability to remain competitive in a highly turbulent market.