Editor’s Comment: Digital transformation in refining business

The need of the hour is to create the path to this transformation through the integration of operational technologies with the information technology solutions.

Martin Menachery is editor of Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East.
Martin Menachery is editor of Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East.

Digitalisation done in the right way will further improve the uptime, productivity, energy efficiency and safety in the refining industry. The direction of this technology development is not just connecting systems but running them in a collaborative way with an increasing degree of autonomy. There is already a massive impact of digitalisation in the refineries, and this trend is going to be more powerful in the future.

Many refining companies in the Middle East are on hype when it comes to the adoption of digital transformation. Some of the companies in the region are really advanced in digital transformation, and those companies have innovation departments. The reason why the refining industry is going for digitalisation is that the industry is facing a huge competition. The companies want to improve their profit margins. This is the only reason why the refining industry is suddenly embarking on the digital transformation journey.

For the refining industry, it is advantageous to go for big data and use it for bringing in value. It is a transformation process. Most of the refining companies are looking at optimisation of plant productivity. By collecting data, and using better data algorithms, it is possible to find potential problems in a refinery. It is an innovation process.

The refining industry is globally one of the most advanced in terms of digital applications compared to other industries. Much before the industry started talking about digital transformation, many of the processes in the refining industry were highly automated. Now, with the new focus globally on IoT, a new era of innovations is coming in for the industry.

The latest digital solutions can actually serve in many areas in the operations of refineries, starting from logistics to tracking of the assets. Predictive analysis is a big topic now in the refining industry. It is the method of predicting the failure of an equipment before it happens. For this, historical data not just from one site but from multiple sites are analysed. For this, governments have to bring in regulations by which data can be shared between different refineries. This is easier in the GCC because most of the refineries are in government control.

In 1990, engineers were using around 5,000-10,000 man-hours for completing a refinery project design of 500 metric tonnes capacity. Now, they can design the same prototype within 1,500-2,000 man-hours using advanced digital technologies. And, they are multitasking; they are simultaneously working on many projects because of digitalisation. The FEED time has come down significantly to approximately half of what it was without digitalisation solutions.

The biggest enabler for the digital drive in the refining industry would be the customer demand. Everyone sees the huge need to go through this route for operational excellence. There is no survival in the future without using the novel concept of digital transformation. Technology is no longer the constraint. The need is to bring in clarity into the digital structure.

How to interpret data? How to bring value of data into real life? Digital transformation is not about collecting lot of data and creating big data. It is about bringing out something meaningful out of the collected data into the business. Whatever digital is doing is all about customer satisfaction. It is about health, safety and environment – keeping people and assets secure. And, of course, finally it is about money.

The refining industry in the Middle East is at the beginning stage of the digital transformation. The digitalisation drive depends a lot on external elements like governance and cost element rather than the availability of technology because the industry in the region has the state-of the-art technologies in place. What is evolving is the strategy to find out the best way of doing things through digitalisation in the refining industry.

The industry knows where to go through digital transformation. The customers want digitalisation to give clear directions for operational excellence. The need of the hour is to create the path to this transformation through the integration of operational technologies with the information technology solutions.

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