ARC’s Peter Reynolds, Contributing Analyst, discussed the progress made in digital transformation across different regions with Lawrence Schwartz, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Aspen Technology, at the ARC Industry Forum in Orlando. This blog covers important points and quotes of their discussion and can be viewed here and/or on YouTube.
Moving from Pilots to Production
“Projects have moved from pilots to actual production, and there have been a lot of interesting developments,” said Lawrence. Progress has been made in spheres, such as operational safety, sustainability, and understanding what's keeping things running longer and faster, i.e., operational efficiency. Further, he explained each of these aspects.
Impact of Digital Transformation on Safety
Talking about the safety aspect, Lawrence said that AspenTech has enhanced the ability to use instrumentation on different equipment and spot failures. A customer in the pulp and paper industry used this technology on their equipment. This enables the customer to see and gauge kiln functions weeks in advance – for instance, if there’s a likely trouble spot which could actually lead to a fire. “So you can think about progress on the safety side in terms of looking at what is having an impact on emissions,” he said.
AspenTech works with large companies in the petrochemical space that have large equipment. Failures could run into millions of dollars. But the impact on emissions is another important aspect, and instrumentation can play a role there, explained Lawrence. Some of their global customers have different plants and supply chains with over two dozen different ports of entry (for systems and information coming in as well as supplies). “And once you put digital transformation in there, they can start having savings of over 25 percent on inventory as well as the lead times that they have. So, it's really impacting a lot of our customers in a lot of different ways,” said Lawrence.
How to Begin a Digitalization Project?
“Start with a project, and find something that's of high value,” was Lawrence’s advice. Giving the example of hyper compressors in the chemical industry, he said that these are big pieces of equipment and when it fails, it’s not readily available to replace, and production shuts down. So, the problem could be the starting point; and then you could consider ways of applying digital technology to overcome the issues of downtime, etc. But beyond the technology choice, “there's also a lot of work that has to be done on the collaboration side,” he emphasized.
Importance of Collaboration and Trust
There has to be interaction and collaboration between all levels and departments in the organization, said Lawrence. And to support and facilitate this interaction is important too. Another important angle to consider, when it comes to digital technologies, is trust. Some employees have been following certain practices for decades and know how the systems work, so, naturally, they are going to be wary and hesitant to deploy digital technologies. When a new technology is introduced, its value must be explained and justified, so that there is acceptance and a willingness to deploy.
Technologies for Sustainability and Process Optimization
“Sustainability and dealing with emissions has been a real focus for our customers and investors as well,” said Lawrence. Citing the example of the impact of gas flares worldwide, he said that it is a quarter billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions; equivalent to 90 plants running. There is a huge opportunity in using the right technologies and solutions to reduce the emissions.
Plant startups and shutdowns cause a lot of emissions too. For example, in 2017, a refinery in California had to shut down and restart, resulting in over 30,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide emissions. That was more than they'd normally emit over two years. So, if you could look at ways again to avoid those startups and shutdowns, it would benefit the environment.
Regulatory compliances, such as the IMO 2020, are driving some of the older refineries to think about how they can get more out of their process optimization and personnel. “And that requires new technology as well. So there are a lot of opportunities to have an impact on emission and sustainability and other areas,” said Lawrence.
AspenTech’s Recent Acquisition of GDOT Software
The conversation was on optimization applications and how the acquisition will improve operations. Lawrence explained that acquisitions are about growth and expansion. Some technologies, such as basic control technologies, have been around in plants for 50 years, so you have to evolve from that point. If you can really get a good foundation of controls around one particular part of the plant, then you can widen that envelope and look at a wider scope of optimization of a plant; next step would be to use technologies to expand optimization across the entire plant. Then you can think of how to optimize effectively on real time across the entire value chain as the pricing demands change. If the availability of stock changes, all the different demands in the marketplace fluctuate. “So, going and taking that evolutionary step from kind of control over one area to a wider and wider footprint, that becomes pretty exciting,” said Lawrence.