Supporting operations to run more safely, more sustainably, more reliably

4:34 AM, 23rd November 2020
Sanjeev Mullick, Vice President, Sales, Asia Pacific & Japan, Aspen Technology speaks about the importance of the self-learning, self-adapting and self-healing plants that will help reduce unplanned shutdowns for refiners globally and in the country.

Sanjeev Mullick, Vice President, Sales, Asia Pacific & Japan, Aspen Technology speaks about the importance of the self-learning, self-adapting and self-healing plants that will help the Indian chemical industry compete at a global level.

By Shivani Mody

COVID-19 pandemic impact and importance of digitalization for the chemical industry.

The global industries have realized that regardless of which geographical region you're in, COVID-19 has impacted everybody, because the global supply chains were disrupted.

This pandemic has really impacted the whole world, it disrupted supply chains, it disrupted the whole supply & demand patterns and everything that was considered as normal within a range got drastically impacted. Our customers had to work remotely from home, while minimizing human exposure at the plants and maintaining distance. Yet they had to adjust to all kinds of new planning scenarios, new feedstock scenarios, new demand scenarios as everything got disrupted.

This dawned in a new realization that companies that had already started on the journey for digitalization have fared better because they were well prepared and had the necessary arrangements in place. They were able to function remotely and quite effectively. The lesson learnt here is to embrace more digitalization and be able to do the same things maybe even better without exposing humans to the overall risks.

And as far as Aspen Technology (AspenTech) is concerned, we helped our customers through our solutions that they were already using, and they were able to replan & reschedule their facilities quite effectively. Those using our software and advanced process control solutions, like Aspen DMC3 were able to turn down their plants safely in a reliable fashion and remotely because it has an adaptive controller.

We also helped customers who were stuck at home and actually supported them with various e-learning options and facilities. For a period of time it was made free and we had hundreds of customers sign up for the e-learning sessions, including many in India, used this opportunity to improve their skills, or build their competency level. A lot of positive outcomes are realized in these last eight - nine months that have been quite insightful and helpful to our customers.

In India, we had a major refiner, petrochemical producer who has publicly stated that during that period of April - May, they were able to use our software for feedstock crude evaluation and were able to smartly evaluate more than 200 different types of crude oils. They very smartly purchased the ones that helped them maximize their margin, adjust their product mix, because the jet fuel demand was low since planes were not flying, gasoline demand was low as people were not driving. But the LPG demand was high cause people were spending more time at home. In that sense, between the export market and the complete shift in the domestic market, the company was able to smartly make timely adjustments. This revealed the power of having the right kind of digital tools.

According to Dr Karuna Potdar, Vice President, Technology Centre of Excellence, Reliance Industries Limited, Aspen Hybrid Models are a major advance in the field of chemical engineering and are a game changer in process engineering and plant improvement.

For another of our customer BPCL, the company was able to reduce their sulphur Sox emissions by a very significant amount. More specifically, at BPCL Kochi Refinery, with the introduction of dynamic limits regulated, it is necessary to move emission limits close to the operating value of units. The environmental team created a refinery-wide emission model via the use of Aspen HYSYS; Aspen Online; Aspen InfoPlus.21 and aspenONE Process Explorer. A key outcome includes improving margins by reducing emissions. For example, in the refining industry based on typical energy consumption, a 1 percent improvement in thermal efficiency translates into energy savings of $600,000 per year.

Others companies globally, were able to use our adaptive, advanced process control to remotely and safely downturn the plants because the capacities required were less. Hence, the customers that were already equipped with the right solutions and had embarked on their own digitalization journeys, actually fared better which has been shown in numerous studies.

Government policies to support digital transformation for the chemical industry.

It is always a combination of things - there's the impact of regulations, the new standards being implemented, government regulations, global standards since the chemical industry is a global industry. There is also an idea of competition, good citizenship and environmental stewardship. The next generation of young leaders are very sensitive and are on a mission to create a cleaner world.

All of these are leading to more awareness, about how to run the chemical plants in a more sustainable way. This means additional safety and even working with fewer people. One way to run things more safely and sustainably is to make your assets more reliable. This includes reduction in unplanned shutdowns of plants. The unplanned shutdowns that happen, result in not only compromising safety, high probability of accidents, but also results in releasing of chemical discharge and flaring of materials, which is bad for the environment.

One area that AspenTech has been focusing on significantly over the last few years is how to help customers run operations more safely, sustainably and reliably. We provide solutions such as Aspen Mtell, which is about using machine learning to predict future failures of equipment by observing early signs. We have had customers in the chemical industry, refining, upstream & pharmaceuticals that have very successfully used these tools to drive absolutely new levels of reliability. They were able to keep an eye on the plants even without the human presence in large numbers.

Chemical industry challenges while implementing a digital strategy.

For implementing a digital solution there has to be a key stakeholder buy-in from the top and the leadership at the chemical companies need to set a vision for the organisation. Modern chemical industries have to compete globally and if the global chemical industry is stepping up the game, then the Indian and Asian chemical industry cannot be left behind. They have to compete on a global scale.

There's an expectation that they will produce quality products in a sustainable way. Hence, the leadership has to actually be bold in their decision-making rather than getting into a trap of conducting pilots after pilots and then looking for the cheapest solution. Buying the cheapest solution at an organisation level may not give the desired outcomes.

Any product from two different suppliers could be different and if they don't get into this pilot trap, then they can actually decide and start learning. That's the other lesson we find from digitalization, the pace of change is so rapid that if the customers does not start this journey, they will be left behind.

A study published by McKinsey and the World Economic Forum stated that early adopters are gaining a huge advantage over people who are in an indecisive mode. The early adopters are getting a huge advantage in terms of improving their cash flow. So, the message to the industry is that you can't afford to just wait for what you consider the perfect time, you have to start doing things now.

Issues faced by digital solutions providers.

For digital tools, when it comes to simulation, advanced process control planning and scheduling solutions they have existed for many years. Now we are obviously innovating and improving them. There is an incremental change with new class of solutions that are based on artificial intelligence, machine learning, the concept of self optimizing plant (SOP) and the smart enterprise. The challenge here is that there is no ready talent & competency and people actually have to embrace new technologies and learn quickly.

Organizations have to invest in up-skilling people. They cannot only rely on an outside supplier to provide a turnkey solution and extract full benefit if the operators are not able to improve their application skills.

Getting into a trap of outsourcing everything to a third party is not appropriate because then the organisation does not learn to self-maintain the application. Dependency on an outside service provider does ensure product guarantee, but implementation is most efficient when owned by the organization. Hence, it is important that there is a key stakeholder buy-in from the top, that is part of the future vision. If this idea is not in place, you may buy something today without really having a commitment to sow the seeds to success.

Opportunity for the chemical industry in India.

Nowadays a very common term in the industry is oil-to-chemicals. Many producers around the world, including in India, both in the private sector as well as in the public sector, have announced plans for transforming themselves into more of a chemical company, or to chemical transformation.

The first pathway is through petrochemicals and then you can branch out to polymers, and further to specialty chemicals, and even further down to pharmaceuticals. When we talk to our customers worldwide, including in India, they are going to get into more of these new areas and because of this, there's a lot of activity that will be around greenfield projects - to set up the plants for tomorrow.

Through the asset lifecycle that might last anything from 30 to 70 years, you will have to embrace some of these modern technologies and equip the modern workforce with these solutions.

I would say that the answer to your question is all segments, the petrochemical segments, the polymer segment, the specialty chemical segment, as well as the pharmaceutical segment.

New software solution from the company for the chemical industry.

With the release of aspenONE V12 software our focus is on industrial artificial intelligence, as we have been offering solutions for the process industries for the last four decades.

We have tremendous experience and domain expertise in the industries we serve ie. refining, petrochemicals, chemicals, we are not discarding any of that. In fact, we are constantly innovating and pushing the envelope. We are quite unique in this and we are combining all that knowledge of first principles modelling and engineering fundamentals we have with Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 means three things. One is that today's modern plants are well instrumented so they're producing lots of data, including supply chains. AspenTech has now invested a lot, in terms of, producing solutions that are purpose built for the chemical industry. We are taking advantage of new IT platforms that have come up, which are all about cloud computing, cheap data storage and compute power available at your fingertips. This can magnify the number of options you can look at to come to a decision.

You can also look at larger size problems and in the end make better decisions, we are not talking about replacing the human being we are talking about enabling the human being to make smarter decisions in less time. That is the vision that AspenTech has with the SOP and ultimately with the smart enterprise.

For the SOP there are three characteristics which are all reflected in aspenONE V12 software. The SOP is a self-adapting, self-learning and self-sustaining set of software technologies that work together to anticipate future conditions and act, accordingly, adjusting operations within the context of the enterprise.

Self-learning, which means it uses the data to try to learn as much because with terabytes of data, it is humanly impossible to do anything by an individual or even a team of people.

Second, is going to be self-adapting, because there will be constant changes in the environment in which the plant operates. There'll be market changes, supply & demand changes, price changes, ambient changes, lock downs, so you have to adjust to these things and hence it has to be self-adapting.

Then the third one will be self-sustaining because you will be able to create self-healing supply chains which are able to look at the early signatures of a future critical equipment failure. We have customers in India who are already talking about these things. They want to build intelligent plants today and move towards the oil-to-chemical transformation strategy which is a golden opportunity for growth in the long run.

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