The Plant Manager’s View

Next on Peter's agenda was a conversation with Tom Jordan, the plant manager, to discuss workplace safety documentation, a key element in the refinery's regulatory compliance requirements.

Tom told Peter that the refinery had implemented a partial process safety management system. By this, he meant that the refinery had electronic documentation about the procedures to follow in case of emergencies. However, the process diagrams were scanned and updated only when the process engineers had time to look at the changes.

This meant that Tom had incomplete data and no reliable way to update the data and instructions for emergency situations. Like other information systems at the refinery, staff did the work manually, when time allowed. Although one person may have the knowledge of what to do, it was not necessarily accessible to others when needed. What if refinery equipment, processes used, or raw material ingredients used in production had changed? How could Tom know what to do in an emergency without having a good process flow control diagram or a process flow schematic with the realtime data?

To start digitizing the refinery, Peter explained, they would need to agree on data definitions and a way for communicating about the data at the refinery. Peter insisted that the potential benefits went even further. The process engineers could collect and analyze data in a more granular form. Instead of having a gross average for the day as the only option, they could aggregate the data by operational events as exceptions to routine operations. This would simplify reporting and free engineers to do more analysis related to monitoring processes and equipment and identifying quality improvements.

At the end of these conversations, Peter thanked Tom and the process and quality groups for sharing information and their willingness to collaborate in the redesign of their data infrastructure.

The Planning and Economics Coordinator’s View

Back at the refinery the next day, Tom introduced Peter to Monica Armstrong, the planning and economics coordinator. Tom spoke highly of Monica, mentioning that she was a chemical engineer with five years of experience who was studying nights to get her MBA at a local university. Peter was on the hunt for allies, and he felt that Monica's position and her pursuit of more education could make her receptive to helping him when it came time to do the change-management work required to implement a digital data infrastructure project.

• In the meeting room, Monica quickly got down to business, explaining to Peter that the refinery's planning system was based on several factors:

  • • An economic analysis of raw material inventories
  • • A production forecast provided by marketing
  • • Usage reports on power, water, and other consumables (such as steam, water, electricity, fuel, chemical solvents, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen) based on historical averages

Monica was in charge of running their refinery's linear programing (LP) optimization application. The LP system is designed to maximize the refinery's production efficiency. Monica prepared the daily plant production schedule based on the previous day's inventories, process lineup (identifies which process units receive what input materials and where to store the products), product pricing, and the marketing forecast.

Every day, Monica prepared the daily schedule and handed it to Tim Olsen, the production manager. Tim then integrated this report into a set of daily activities to determine the refinery's schedule for the day by

  • • Reviewing the daily schedule Monica prepared during a morning meeting with the leaders of the operations crew at the refinery and Chen Wang, the laboratory manager in charge of quality;
  • • Examining the prior day's production activity with information provided by the operations team;
  • • Checking the refinery equipment maintenance schedules;
  • • Reviewing inventory reports from frontline workers connecting process units to tanks holding raw materials;
  • • Modifying Monica's preliminary schedule based on the current refinery situation; and
  • • Providing a final validated schedule in the form of a spreadsheet to refinery operations staff.
 
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