Improving Refinery Operations with Wireless Measurements

Emerson' Ed Schodowski


The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers annual meeting took place this past March in San Francisco.

Wireless-Refining-OpsIn a Hydrocarbon Processing magazine recap of day 3 from the conference, Emerson’s Ed Schodowski shared ways to improve refinery performance in an article, Wireless sensing improves refining operations.

Ed opened by noting the difference in performance as measured by operating costs:

…associated with equipment reliability and energy efficiency between a well-run refinery and an average one is about $12.3 MMpy (million per year) for a typical 250-Mbpd facility.

He noted that additional measurements could improve reliability and energy efficiency:

…Pervasive Sensing and predictive analytics strategy using wireless sensors enables additional process and asset health measurements to automatically collect data for further automated analysis. With predictive analytics, these additional data points are turned into alerts when abnormal operation or imminent failures occur, resulting in timely and corrective action to prevent failure.

The path forward:

…toward improvement is to define the new sensing point locations, determine how the new information will be used and associate the economic values with each Pervasive Sensing application.

For example, outages and slowdown may:

…occur from common problems, such as rotating equipment failure, heat exchanger fouling, piping corrosion and fired equipment constraints.

In addition, energy losses:

…occur from heat exchanger fouling, failed steam traps and process unit inefficiencies, all of which may go undiscovered from a lack of complete energy measurements.

Ed gave an example of LPG pumps that are traditionally checked monthly for vibration and more frequently as they begin to act up. Leaks from seal failures can cause production losses and unsafe conditions. With additional wireless measurements:

Online monitoring of pumps through the addition of wireless measurement of vibration, pressure and seal fluid levels allows early detection of excessive vibration, cavitation and seal failure problems, respectively. Maintenance can be notified of pending problems, leading to improved production through fewer unscheduled outages.

As refineries use discounted opportunity crudes fouling can occur, which affects the efficiency of energy consumed by the process. By:

…adding additional wireless temperature measurements to heat exchanger banks, increased data can be provided to process analytics software that can then alert operations to excessive fouling conditions and rates…

Adding wired measurements is often extremely difficult and expensive and may require downtime to install.

Pervasive Sensing technologies allow these measurements to be quickly and inexpensively compiled. Wireless sensors are connected through a plant-wide wireless mesh network to control and monitoring systems, at a fraction of the cost and time of their wired equivalents.

In addition to process availability, reliability and energy efficiency, these additional measurements can help refineries operate more safely and avoid releases that may result in fines and penalties.

Ed concluded:

The return on investment (ROI) for these Pervasive Sensing and predictive analytics solutions is typically only a matter of months, and implementation is relatively quick and simple compared to installing traditional wired sensor solutions.

One comment so far

  1. Actually, even the many system that don’t support HART in their 4-20 mA cards can support WirelessHART just as easily as systems with 4-20 mA/HART cards. The WirelessHART gateway is the same. That is, any system (DCS, PLC, RTU, direct to HMI or historian) can be modernized with WirelessHART.

    For some additional information on pervasive use of sensors in refineries and other process plants, see this article:
    http://www.ceasiamag.com/2015/04/instrumental-to-success/11137/

    More importantly, if the system has native support for WirelessHART then integration becomes even easier.

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