Digital twins are the key to operational excellence in refineries

Digital twins are becoming commonplace in a variety of industries, including the oil and gas industry. They offer tremendous benefits to refineries, particularly in terms of asset reliability for all critical equipment types

Digital twins offer tremendous benefits to refineries, particularly in terms of asset reliability for all critical equipment types.
Digital twins offer tremendous benefits to refineries, particularly in terms of asset reliability for all critical equipment types.

Oil and gas leaders have recognised that digital solutions, combined with engineering innovation, can create value and bring operational performance benefits. However, refineries still face challenges in a frequently volatile market, such as reducing costs, complying with regulations, optimising asset performance, and minimising environmental impact. With the influx of operational data from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), coupled with increasing silos of engineering data, a key strategy for operational excellence is adopting digital twins.

Digital twins consolidate data from operations, enterprise, and engineering technologies. A trusted system of systems, digital twins are federated sources of data that allow you to contextualise, validate, visualise, and analyse all of your plant data, no matter what format, or where it is stored, all from within a single view. This federated model provides a collaborative platform that allows engineering, maintenance, and operations to work together and solve refinery challenges.

Leveraging digital twins to enable a risk-based reliability approach to asset performance management will help you achieve refinery performance targets. Refineries can be positioned for success using reliability-centred design (RCD) for operational readiness and reliability-centred maintenance (RCM) for superior performance once in operation. Over the life of an asset, typical bottom-line results from incorporating digital twins include: (i) reducing maintenance costs by 10% – 20%; (ii) increasing equipment availability by 2%-10%; (iii) reducing spare parts inventory by 10%-30%; and (iv) reducing insurance costs by 10%.

Designing for reliability at the beginning of a project is key for a more dependable, resilient, and successful operation. Including a digital twin in your asset performance work is the key to sustained performance.

Digital twins are central to digital reliability
Digital twins are fast becoming a priority across many industries. Gartner reported 13% of companies that implement Internet of Things (IoT) projects are already using digital twins strategically, while 62% are planning to do so, or are in the process of doing so.

Digital twins are becoming commonplace in a variety of industries, including the oil and gas industry. They offer tremendous benefits to refineries, particularly in terms of asset reliability for all critical equipment types. Any failure within pumps, heat exchangers, piping and vessels, compressors, valves, or other key assets can have serious consequences.

Consider heat exchangers as an example. As they operate for long periods of time, unexpected failures can be costly as they affect uptime and processing. Therefore, it is beneficial to predict an upcoming failure well before it takes place. Using a digital twin of the exchanger can provide visibility into the asset’s current health. With the many data points collected via IoT devices, the digital twin can inform an operator when a component, or system condition begins to degrade without the need for an engineer to access the physical asset. When connected to the asset management system, digital twins grant access to the work order backlog, photos of inspections, and the complete maintenance and cost history, as well as provide reliability programme visibility and records of all the ways the asset can fail. Digital twins provide analytics visibility, including the predictive analytics that forecast end of life, the risk profile of the asset, health indices and all related engineering documents. Lastly, digital twins provide early warning of when an asset could fail, or show signs of under-performance, minimising the risk of unexpected downtime.

Moreover, with a digital twin, engineers can make risk mitigation decisions based on actual data instead of predefined time-based maintenance schedules, or guesswork. Assets can be kept running at their optimal level longer for maximum return on the asset and minimum total cost of asset ownership. This is one example of a digital twin in operation at an asset level. Imagine the benefits of conducting the whole refinery this way.

Digital twin example
Hatch had its shortest production ramp-up time using a digital twin to manage and share live models rather than using traditional mechanical, piping, and structural drawings. Production ramp-up time is typically 18 months to two years. Ramp-up time with digital delivery was estimated at six months, but in practice only required one week after hot commissioning. The digital twin allowed the team to compress project timelines with quality-controlled, component-based 3D modelling workflows, all managed in a connected data environment.

Digital twins are taking centre stage in refinery design
Digital twins are advancing building information modelling (BIM) in asset-centric organisations to help them converge their engineering technologies, operational technologies, and information technologies. Digital twins give stakeholders the knowledge that they have the information they need at their fingertips to make fast and accurate decisions. Digital twins provide an augmented, or immersive experience and apply artificial intelligence and machine learning. Digital twins provide visibility and insights into analytics to enhance the effectiveness of operations, maintenance, and engineering staff. Using digital twins in their work, project teams can anticipate issues before they arise and react quickly and confidently.

Accessing the right information at the right time
A digital transformation is happening within the oil and gas industry, and digital twins are at the heart of it. Digital twins provide the means for successful digital advancement by breaking down previously inaccessible data silos and granting access to shared information in a common view that improves decision-making. By using digital twins, owner-operators of plants and refineries can improve performance, safety, and mitigate risks, while maintaining insight into their globally distributed assets with digital twins.

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