Interesting time for the next step towards autonomous plants

Interesting time for the next step towards autonomous plants

April 21, 2020

Nowadays, standardizing and automating operating procedures based on best practices from experienced operators should be high on the agenda of plant managers. After all, this ensures a safer operation and better profitability of your plant. But for other reasons, it is also smart to consider this right now. I interviewed Solution Consultant Sina Robbat and asked about his experience around the transformation to autonomous factories.

Autonomous plant fits in a 1.5 metre economy

For Modular Procedural Automation (MPA), Yokogawa has a solution called Exapilot. This solid solution is very interesting these days because operators have to deal with limitations such as the 1.5 meter economy and a maximum number of employees in a control room. With Exapilot you may only need 1 panel operator to manage plant operations such as start-up, shutdown or load changes.

Robbat: ‘This is because Exapilot controls the control system with pre-programmed operating procedures and thus takes work out of the hands of operators. The complete operating procedures can be programmed and executed by Exapilot. A simple example; an action within a procedure can be the automatic control of a valve when the temperature rises or falls x degrees. Exapilot then checks the value of the temperature and, if necessary, controls the valve. By implementing Exapilot there will be less panel operators needed to perform plant operations and the positive side effect is also that there is room for the operators to perform other activities or develop new skills.’

The most optimal start-up procedure for Evonik

Take Exapilot’s success story at Evonik Industries – one of the world’s major specialty chemical producers. Their plants operate 24/7 but are regularly shut down for cleaning and maintenance. Restarting can be time consuming, wasting feedstocks, and making the plant vulnerable to safety incidents. Although highly skilled operators can restart and stabilise the plant in less than three hours, their availability is not consistent. Since the introduction of MPA, the actions of best operators have been reproduced and stored in Exapilot. The automated approach shortened the average start-up time of a distillation column by 30 percent and the start-up time of a reactor by 70 percent. Because the start-up procedures are now digitalised by Exapilot, they are consistent and repeatable, resulting in safer operations that are not dependent on the presence of a few key operators.

Even more advantages of an autonomous plant

Robbat: ‘In every plant, there is always a comprehensive Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to operate the plant. The SOPs are usually thick books that are often not updated over the years with all the necessary details. A less experienced operator will literally follow these SOPs with all the consequences that entails. The experienced operator can read between the lines and also performs other actions that are not explicit in the SOP document. The trick is to also process and program these things in Exapilot.  For this purpose, Yokogawa offers services to help companies register the actions of their experienced operators in addition and translate them into an automatic procedure.

What impact does this have on operators?

Robbat:  ‘The special thing is that Exapilot does not pose a threat to operators. On the contrary. With an automated plant, the work becomes less stressful and more interesting. And when they build a plant nowadays, it usually has a much higher degree of automation than existing plants, so older plants must keep up with the times. In addition, we have a shortage of operators in Europe and the US; it is difficult there for a plant to find qualified people.

Demo request Exapilot

Based on these examples, are you convinced of the advantages of an MPA solution such as a safer operation and better profitability of your plant? And are you interested in standardizing and automating operating procedures based on best practices from experienced operators? Then look for more information on the Exapilot page or request a demo of our MPA tool Exapilot, by reaching out to your contact person, who will be happy to give you more information or bring you in contact with for example Sina Robbat who can show you the possibilities in a simulated context.


Picture credits: krunja-stock.adobe.com

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