Special Report: Fit for the future – tank truck loading at Gunvor Refinery

Implico completes a major conversion project in a total replacement of the field equipment for tank truck loading at Gunvor Refinery in Ingolstadt – a project that had commanded respect even in the run-up.

Gunvor Refinery loading bays. (Image courtesy: Actemium)
Gunvor Refinery loading bays. (Image courtesy: Actemium)

Gunvor Group is one of the largest independent commodity traders in the world, with operations in energy trading, trans-shipment and transportation of raw materials and petroleum products, as well as crude oil refining. Within the Group, Gunvor Refinery in Ingolstadt is one of the most energy efficient refineries in its class in Europe.

Gunvor Refinery is a 100% owned inland refinery. Crude oil supply arrives via the TAL pipeline system from the marine shipping terminal in Trieste, Italy. Products are shipped from the on-site truck-loading rack and railcar-loading facilities.

Every day, around 200 loaded railcars and several hundred tank trucks leave the refinery in Ingolstadt, en route to important trans-shipment points. These carry heavy heating oil, diesel and gasoline to major fuel depots in Germany and neighbouring countries.

While railcar loading systems had been modernised from time to time in the past, the loading technology for truck handling was out of date. “It actually dated from the 1980s,” reported Erich Kuttenreich, head, loading and inventory accounting, Gunvor Refinery. Parts were no longer available for the loading master that controlled the pumps and valves. For this reason, Gunvor Refinery drew up a plan for replacing the field equipment, which consisted of the loading master plus the equipment in the loading tracks. The key challenge here was that all modernisation work had to take place with no overall downtime.

One by one, the twelve loading bays for tank truck loading were to be taken offline, fitted with new equipment and then brought back online, to ensure loading was possible at a minimum of eleven platforms at all times.

After numerous internal and external reviews, Gunvor Refinery decided to take the bold step of replacing equipment without interrupting ongoing operations.

Software and consulting company Implico, which was one of the companies responsible for the project, ensured that the upgraded loading bays could be integrated into the OpenTAS terminal management system one after another.

As a result, Gunvor Refinery now benefits from the very latest systems without having had to accept large-scale restrictions to day-to-day business caused by migration work.

Software change was out of the question

Although most of the hardware would be replaced, there was never any question of replacing the shipping software. “OpenTAS was specified from the beginning,” said Kuttenreich. Gunvor Refinery uses one of the most feature-rich OpenTAS deployments worldwide.

The software, which integrates the technical field equipment with the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, handles tasks that include calculating net refinery production, loading control for tank trucks and railcars, and processing tax calculations both with and without EMCS (Excise Movement and Control System). The tank terminal in Passau is also connected to OpenTAS.

If all systems in a refinery are considered, then the terminal management system is typically a third-level system, positioned directly above the controller that controls the field equipment at the first level. “We used to have an additional level, however,” revealed Salman Afsar, project engineer and project manager, Gunvor Refinery. “Because the loading master was so old, we had to deploy another computer to ensure that it was even able to communicate with OpenTAS,” added Afsar. After the replacement work, this extra level was no longer necessary.

Green light for hardware upgrading

In January 2016, all preparations were complete and hardware replacement work could start. While Actemium was responsible for the control and automation systems as well as installation work, Implico was responsible for integrating the equipment with the software.

Gunvor Refinery had set up a dedicated building on the refinery grounds for the new systems to avoid any disruptions to ongoing operations with the old system. As a first step, Implico’s downstream experts installed a new OpenTAS system to work alongside the existing one.

One by one, Gunvor Refinery then decoupled the loading bays from the old system software and reconfigured them to work with the new system after replacement of the equipment at the platforms.

“We also took the opportunity to replace the old interfaces,” explained Volkmar Lindner-Billiau, senior consultant, oil and gas, Implico. “They were difficult to monitor. Gunvor Refinery now uses the latest XML format for data exchange with the lower technical level and will benefit from smooth and seamless data communications in the long run,” observed Lindner-Billiau.

Quality assured with multiple test systems

To avoid unpleasant surprises, Implico deployed three separate systems for the duration of the project: the production system that actually controlled loading; a development system on which Implico’s developers worked and could test all of the process flows before deploying them to production; and an acceptance system.

This last system was connected via an interface to Actemium’s development system in Frankfurt and ensured compatibility between hardware and software components.

Lindner-Billiau commented: “Both of these additional systems were very helpful because we were able to test the nuts and bolts of every function before it went into the production system. This ensured the high quality of the final system.”

The tests comprised dry tests as well as wet tests: while the software ran through theoretical cases in the dry tests, the wet tests actually involved real-world loading work. A forwarding agent provided a driver and vehicle for these tests. This allowed Gunvor Refinery to test tank truck loading under real conditions.

Implico’s team available 24/7

For the conversion of the first two loading bays, Implico’s consultants were on-site to support the new system integration. For subsequent platforms, only configuration work was required – most of which Implico completed remotely from Hamburg.

“Whenever we needed support, the team from Implico was always there for us,” noted Kuttenreich. “Support was available around the clock and always managed to clarify problems then and there. I never had any occasion to worry about things going wrong,” clarified Kuttenreich.

As part of upgrading, OpenTAS now also handles additional tasks: apart from load control, the software now also manages entrance and exit scales for Gunvor Refinery, as well as the exit terminal.

Tank truck loading fit for the future

The hardware upgrade went entirely to the Gunvor Refinery team’s satisfaction. “We have now put together a platform that means we are very well-prepared for the future,” remarked Kuttenreich. “The conversions went very well and had virtually no impact on the rest of our business. To wrap this up inside a year is really a job well done,” opined Kuttenreich.

His colleague Afsar pointed out: “Today we can get an on-screen visualisation of the current situation in loading. This means our colleagues in shipping can now respond more quickly if they need to.” Since refineries are virtually unable to use products or pricing as differentiators, customer satisfaction is particularly important for Gunvor Refinery, i.e., the satisfaction of the forwarding agents and drivers who pick up the goods in Ingolstadt.

“Here, OpenTAS is an immense help in ensuring that we can offer our business partners a quality service because rapid data communications mean that the right information is always in hand, for example,” concluded Kuttenreich.

Gunvor Refinery has set up a system where drivers can use a red, yellow or green smiley to rate their loading experience. The ever-increasing proportion of green smileys shows that Gunvor Refinery’s modernisation project was the right decision in every sense.

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