Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East – the only downstream industry focused magazine in the region – recently organised a roundtable on 'Digitalisation as a Key Enabler in Chemical Plants of the Future’ at Grosvenor House, Dubai, UAE.
The roundtable was attended by Ali Vezvaei, president and CEO, Bilfinger Middle East; Christian Cravedi, senior vice president, IMEA hub BU manager, oil, gas and chemicals, ABB; Fadi Matar, director, public affairs and government affairs, India, Middle East, Africa and Turkey, Dow Chemical; Fady Sleiman, global chief digital officer, Petrofac; Imre Csoti, vice president, onshore operations, MENA, McDermott; Ishaq Mohamed Al-Sarhni, general manager – engineering, Duqm Refinery; Martin Menachery, editor, Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East; and Naji Masri, head of strategy and controlling, Middle East, BASF.
The roundtable discussed the themes of the ‘Key Role that Digitalisation Plays in the Design, Engineering, Construction and Commissioning of a Chemical Plant', ‘How does digitalisation optimise operational efficiency in a chemical plant?’, and ‘Creating a Sustainable, HSE-compliant, Volatility-manageable and Profitable Chemical Plant, Using Digitalisation Solutions'. The roundtable was chaired by Cravedi, and co-chaired and moderated by Menachery.
Digitalisation of chemical industry puts the focus on customer centricity and can only be achieved by identifying the most critical customer touch points, and exploring the opportunity to improve them through digitalisation and by changing the organisational structure and attitude to support it. While digitalisation of a chemical plant embraces production, supply chain, manufacturing and distribution, efforts to focus only on a part would usually result in sub-optimal solutions.
Chemical industry in the Middle East has made strong investments and good progress in the last ten years by developing, implementing and executing game-changing projects, building capabilities around digitalisation, and also by implementing innovations. The industry has built in a strong infrastructure. There is a potential to build further on this infrastructure by applying the principles of IIoT, which will transform the approach, make use of the huge amount of data that the industry is holding on, and build a lean, efficient and globally competitive industry in the region.
The most significant question now is how chemical industry can transform the huge volume of data it has compiled into smart data? The industry needs technologies like digitalisation to achieve this result. It must not forget the complexity of a chemical plant. And, this complexity is increasing every day. Digital solutions offer many innovative ways to manage this complexity.
One of the key advantages of digitalisation is knowledge management. Knowledge management is something that everybody has struggled with in the past. How do you take what is in the brains of experienced people and get it in to the minds of younger employees? With the developments in digital technologies, chemical industry can actually do a good job on this front. Digitalisation is the best tool to make the transition of knowledge from highly experienced operators to the new millennials.
As everyone is aware, chemical industry will develop many more world-class facilities that will drive the human progress in the future. We need to be more competitive and agile in this drive. It is a huge shift from the past and digitalisation will be the key enabler in this paradigm shift. Digitalisation will dramatically change the way chemical industry operates in the near future. And finally, digitalisation will generate additional revenues, enhance profits and generate new jobs.
“As far as the chemicals manufacturing sector is concerned, there are real opportunities out of digitalisation for capital investment projects. In the project phase, the industry can use digitalisation to drive improvements, which is all about cost, schedule and risk,” said Cravedi.
Digitalisation, and the convergence of information technology and operational technology can unlock a lot of opportunities during the operations phase of a chemical plant. Digitalisation could also be used for further improving safety, productivity and energy efficiency, and to drive the overall equipment effectiveness of production in chemical plants to get enhanced uptime and reduced downtime.
“It means that chemical plants can handle far more processes and signals with actually fewer, better informed and equipped people. IIoT is enabled though cyber physical systems – it is not just the equipment alone, or the digitalisation alone – it is a combination of equipment, increasingly defined by digitalisation,” commented Cravedi.
“One of the stimulating outcomes of digitalisation for the chemical plants of the future is that it easily connects expertise across company boundaries during the project planning and execution phases. And, during the operations phase, beyond connecting subsystems and systems, digitalisation connects people for better productivity,” concluded Cravedi in his closing remarks at the roundtable.
The outcome of the roundtable will be published in the January 2019 issue of Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East.
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