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Digitalization: What does it deliver today… and tomorrow?

By ABB Limited |

Colin Ward, ABB’s Head of Chemicals and Refining business, discusses digitalization in the petrochemicals industry

Digitalization, properly deployed, has been proven by ABB to cut capital and operational expenditures up to 30 percent by accelerating and optimizing decision-making.  By 2025, further savings and performance improvements are expected from people working collaboratively with artificial intelligence. Colin Ward, ABB’s Head of Chemicals and Refining business, reflects on achievements to date and what is in store for petrochemicals’ digital future.

Industrial Internet of Things

There’s a Fourth Industrial Revolution happening right in front of our eyes. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) makes use of digital technologies in a variety of forms to deliver quantifiable value in terms of lower costs, faster outcomes and improved performance while reducing risk at the same time.

Automating repetitive tasks is one part of it. Another key element is the automation of knowledge itself.  Not only is the IIoT providing more data than ever before, our ability to process this information to derive actionable insight is being super-charged by a greater collaboration between computer systems and human intellect.  Silos of operations are becoming more interconnected than ever before and complex plant processes can be run with fewer, better informed and equipped operators.

For example, ABB AbilityTM System 800xA seamlessly and securely connects our petrochemical customers with the services and expertise offered by the IIOT.  In fact, ABB received Frost & Sullivan’s 2017 Best Practices Award for distributed control system innovation recognizing that we set the standard in automation engineering to deliver the highly connected, productive and cost-effective performance required by today’s market challenges.

Finishing projects faster and more cost-effectively

Digitalization provides excellent opportunities for the refining and petrochemical manufacturing industry to cut cost, schedule and risk in the project phase. Our Intelligent Projectsapproach -most recently deployed with Sadara, the world’s largest petrochemical complex built in one phase- has been proven to cut schedules by 25 percent while cutting capital expenditure by 20 to 30 percent.

It achieves these results by using cloud engineering, digital marshalling, standardization and automated data management to drive efficiency. This model decouples project tasks, facilitates easy global collaboration and standardizes equipment to minimize the impact of late changes. It also eliminates the potential for human error by eliminating manual steps.

An important element is our redundant Ethernet-based single channel I/O system, called ‘Select I/O”. Select I/O terminations can be installed and wired in the field early during the project, removing the need for space-consuming marshalling cabinets. Signal types can be defined much later by adding individual signal conditioning modules, reducing delays and costs which would previously have resulted from late-stage adjustments.

To learn more about ABB's Intelligent Projects approach, please watch this animation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Q9sWJtOD5I&feature=youtu.be

Running existing operations more profitably

Information and operational technologies are converging to improve safety, increase productivity, promote energy efficiency and enhance overall equipment effectiveness to deliver more uptime.

In fact, ABB has also shown it is possible to improve petrochemical profitability by 9 percent through a range of digitally-powered, cost-saving and performance-enhancing initiatives.

Sensor developments we have made in instrumentation and analytical areas are making more process data available to operators in a real-time manner. Since operators have a more accurate view of what is going on, they are able to make better decisions.

We have also delivered up to 30 percent maintenance savings at a range of chemical companies. ABB AbilityTM Collaborative Operations Centers, for example, connect our experts around the globe with our customers’ headquarters and production facilities.  Through these centers, operational information and asset data is continuously collected and analyzed so that issues can be identified, prioritized and addressed to prevent failures and enhance profitability.

We have also integrated power management expertise with process automation capabilities to overcome power disturbances and manage process and power needs to reduce energy usage by up to 10 percent.

Looking ahead to 2025

With an innovation history spanning more than 130 years, ABB has been at the forefront of developing digital technologies for the last four decades, enabling us to deliver the performance improvements described there.  With an annual investment of nearly $1.5 billion on research and development, more is still to come.

We foresee a massive rise in automation and digitalization across downstream operations over the next decade. But, while we are on inexorable journey towards autonomous production, we do not envisage a future without human involvement in chemical plants. That said, the tasks being undertaken by people will be radically different from what we see today.  Most of the routine, repetitive work done by operators across petrochemical facilities and refineries will be done by automation systems.  By 2025, humans, bolstered by advancements in artificial intelligence, will collaborate with process and market interface systems to jointly determine the best possible outcome for operations.


ABB has a proven track record helping chemical companies do more with less throughout the value chain