Advancing to an Industrial Digital Data Infrastructure

In God we trust; all others must bring data.

W. Edwards Deming

The Disaster

It was a late-May gray day in South Texas. During this season, severe thunderstorms can disrupt the running of large industrial complexes. In this case, lightning hit an electrical transformer at the Proclndustries oil refinery, causing it to overload and shut down one of their crude units.

That afternoon, Peter Argus was driving to his new job as a continuous- improvement manager at Proclndustries when he heard the news on the radio: There had been an explosion at the company's refinery.

The news report stated that an electrical transformer had exploded and caught fire, causing the refinery's Crude Unit A to shut down. Peter knew that the refinery had two crude units. As Peter listened, he wondered about the ramifications for the people who worked at the refinery, and he decided to drive his pickup truck to the refinery rather than to the main office so he could observe the situation.

Peter wondered how prepared Proclndustries was to handle this type of emergency. If it was just Crude Unit A affected as the radio news said, what would that mean? Was anyone hurt? What were the production losses? What was the environmental impact? Was the refinery workplace safe?

From his 15 years in the industry, including previous jobs in a power- generation facility and at a pulp and paper manufacturer, Peter knew that transformers are very stable. But like any piece of equipment, if a transformer is not maintained properly or is pushed to its limits, it will have problems and eventually break.

Peter parked far from the place where several crew members, firefighters, and a safety team were assessing the situation. He made sure his employee ID badge was showing as he approached. Peter saw many people were walking around to assess the damage. A man who Peter guessed was the plant manager instructed the crew to check for any process unit leaks, production losses, or environmental hazards caused by the lack of power (see the box "About the Process Unit"). The plant manager then talked to the authorities and reported that the fire was contained very quickly with no apparent injuries. While one production line was not operating, the plant manager said that preliminary checks at the refinery showed there did not appear to be any environmental damage.


In this book, process unit is a term used to describe the area in a plant hosting the equipment required to transform raw materials into valuable semi-finished and finished products.

Peter was impressed that the plant manager appeared to have gained control of the situation and was working with emergency responders to handle this incident and its immediate aftermath. He wondered how the plant manager was able to find out information about the status of systems at the refinery and report it to the authorities at the scene.

As Peter climbed back into his pickup, he knew the incident would have ramifications for his new job at Proclndustries. He was about to find out just how big those ramifications would be for his career and for the future of his new employer.

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