CATEGORY: OneSource Insights // DATE: March 3, 2021

Thang Nguyen

By: Thang Nguyen, Chemical Engineer, PSM Specialist at OneSource EHS as Featured in BIC Magazine

“Industry 4.0” refers to the fourth industrial revolution, which describes the growing trend toward automation and data exchange in technology and processes within the manufacturing industry. This emerging revolution is primarily centered on automation, interconnectivity and instantaneous access to real-time data. Some examples include the Industrial Internet of People, the Industrial Internet of Things and cloud computing.

There are several risks related to process safety: environmental, regulatory, human safety, plant assets, public image and litigation. An incident may involve all or several of these categories. For example, a plant explosion may cause fatalities, major equipment destruction, major environmental impact, a negative corporate image, regulatory compliance issues, legal consequences or significant shutdown time.

Thus, several safeguards including modern advanced process control (APC), pressure-relief systems and automatic trips have been put in place to prevent these issues. So why do process safety incidents continue to happen? A process safety incident is several times more likely to occur during startup than any other time. During startup, most APC systems are turned off and plant processes are in manual-run mode. Alarms are likely turned off or ignored as these signals are designed to monitor process variations at a steady state. Sometimes units are required to run close to their trip’s set point to achieve production output. This can lead to more shutdowns and create more startups. Even though there is a lot of information and data collected about the process, much of the information is located in different data silos and minimally analyzed or integrated in a way that allows the facility to effectively monitor process safety risks.

Plants likely have accumulated years’ worth of data in their distributed control system regarding plant operations and in their maintenance systems regarding how and when things get repaired. This is where the power of Industry 4.0 comes into play. These data silos can now be combined and analyzed. This data integration can reveal which parts of the plant are vulnerable and prone to more problems or higher risk. Data may also indicate which parameter set is optimal to avoid issues and may help predict the next problem. Some plants are even beginning to build virtual environments. Prior to startup, operators can have a hands-on experience through simulation to identify the right settings for temperature, pressure, flow rate, valve position, etc. These VR methods help operators with decision guidance in different scenarios to reduce errors and confusion.

Examples of Industry 4.0, process safety integration

There are significant process parameters that can help plants improve threat identification such as pump temperature, fouling, valve position, pressure drops, compressor energy usage, relief-valve triggering or plant trips. If parameters are integrated into a single data silo, monitored and analyzed, early warnings will become more recognizable and manageable. Here are some examples of real-time monitoring projects that can help catch potential threats before they develop:

  • Startup optimization: Usually a plant’s APC is off during startups, but data from previous safe and efficient startups can be used to develop guidance for the facility to correctly ramp up to normal operations.
  • Pump maintenance: Analytic monitoring enables planning maintenance based on what is appropriate rather than an established schedule. For example, pump maintenance may be based on usage, temperatures, filters, etc. If feed materials are unusually dirty, maintenance may be required sooner than normally scheduled. The opposite can also be the case when pumps are taken out of service too often.

Process safety is a prime candidate for Industry 4.0 applications. By using data to identify early warning signs, plants will be able to keep processes closer to their optimal parameter windows. Process safety experts will now have the ability to implement far better decision guidance than ever before.

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