Process Industry: Added value at the heart of data visualisation

According to the trade body, The Chemical Industries Association, the chemical sector adds £15 billion of value to the UK economy every year and supports around half a million jobs.

The industry’s impact is clear as its processes and products touch many parts of our daily lives that we take for granted.  From cleaning products, clothing, fragrances, paints and much more besides, an effective chemicals industry is important when it comes to supporting future prosperity and helping us all enjoy quality of life.

Satisfying ever growing demands from both consumers and industry means that chemical companies must continually seek to operate as efficiently as possible.   It is a critical factor for any chemical processing plant and the ability to support operational flexibility, drive plant availability and capture, visualise and intelligently utilise data are pivotal issues when it comes to optimised plant performance.

Advanced digital technologies are increasingly providing chemical companies with the means to tackle efficiency challenges, particularly within a globalised marketplace.

Industry 4.0, which is combining digital and physical advanced technologies through digitalisation, is set to transform chemical companies by helping them to promote strategic growth and streamline operations.

Digitalisation technologies, which include the Internet of Things (IoT), advanced materials, additive manufacturing, advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and robotics, are now reaching a level of cost and performance that is enabling widespread application across many industrial sectors, and the chemical industry is following suit.

A report for PWC found that chemical companies plan to invest 5% of annual revenue on digitalisation over the next five years with many seeing the potential benefits in varied business areas including operations.

Digitalisation, and the intelligent data that sits at its heart, touches many areas of chemical plant operation.  Whether it’s tackling high energy use, or optimising control and automation at all levels of the plant, down to process visualisation and scheduling.

Chemical manufacturers already generate data on a second-by-second basis.  This will come, for example, from asset connected temperature sensors, oil sensors and accelerometers.  While collecting data around condition and performance has been undertaken for some time, the real value of the data lies in how it is interpreted by operators and management and how it can inform strategic decision making going forward.

Visualising such data streams through available tools and techniques offers a pathway to new approaches and opportunities that can dramatically improve the ability to not only access the data, but add real business value.

Digital software tools providing the means to visualise data in flexible forms opens up endless possibilities for operational efficiency gains.  Purposeful information that allows the sharing of pertinent data across the organisation can make for better and faster planning that can ultimately provide a competitive edge.

Data visualisation in action – motor and pump performance

Motor and pump performance is a common application consideration within chemical plants.

As a predominantly brownfield sector, the benefit of new digital design and analysis tools that can be retrospectively applied to improve efficiency and operational availability are measureable.

Siemens, together with our strategic digital alliance partner Bentley Systems, have optimised the benefits of data visualisation for performance monitoring through the integration of advanced digital technologies.e.

The integration of the two companies’ technologies enables connected asset visibility so that equipment problems detected in operation can be solved through rapid feedback to product development teams and by leveraging fully digital workflows to improve asset performance.

The first step involves making a digital representation of the process plant through the aid of photography and Bentley’s Context Capture reality modelling software.

The resulting 3D mesh is in effect a “production digital twin” of the physical plant. This links to the IoT-enabled components in the operating plant via MindSphere, Siemens’ cloud-based, IoT operating system.

Bentley’s AssetWise Operational Analytics software is deployed in a MindSphere app. In the context of the 3D model, a user can navigate this “performance digital twin” to query the health of various assets in the plant.

With the aid of AssetWise, a problem such as an inefficiently operating pump can be quickly identified and the cause in this instance specified as a vibrating drive motor. The product design team is able to get involved and by utilising Siemens PLM software to access the “product digital twin” of the motor is able to redesign new motor mounts in order to solve the vibration problem.

To ensure the redesigned motor will operate correctly (without vibration) in production, Simcenter software is used to simulate its behaviour.  Finally, the new motor mounts are 3D printed by an external vendor after an online RFQ process. It’s a great illustration of data visualisation and digitalisation in action, offering efficiency and time-saving benefits.

In addition, a further advantage of this digital twin approach can be found in 3D and visualisation training programmes.

Chemical companies are increasingly using 3D visualisation and virtual reality for up skilling operators and maintenance staff. Siemens’ Immersive Training Simulator, for example, provides operators with virtual experience of various on-site situations.

The simulator allows trainees to “walk” across a simulated plant, “work” with the equipment and instruments, and “handle” safety situations. They can collaborate with their peers, and individual and collective performances can be monitored by instructors. Operators can also access the real plant data created through the use of digital twins.

The opportunities are bright for chemical manufacturers to improve productivity gains, especially when there are no longer limitations to brownfield sites or lack of skills and know-how in the digital era. 

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