The Production Manager’s View

Peter had a follow-up conversation with Tim to learn more about how the refinery teams collected and used the operational data for energy and resource consumption. Peter asked Tim if plant managers had a way to access process information and evaluate production variances. Tim explained that the plant managers use a spreadsheet provided by the process engineers for the four areas of the refinery. However, these reports did not contain detailed total consumption of electrical power used by the four refinery processing units. But they did have good measurements on total refinery consumption of fuel, including gas and diesel.

Peter thought Tim's spreadsheet reports were adequate in terms of yield and quality. However, they lacked valuable information to define the operating costs or minor losses that occurred during fluctuations in production, such as when process units were running during the day, when the units were idle, or when producing slop oil that was not suitable for sale. Peter knew that capturing the data about these minor losses would provide useful information for improvements at the refinery, including better production planning, equipment maintenance and availability, and improved process controls.

During their discussion, Tom, the plant manager, walked in. Tom had been working with the repair crew that was examining the refinery's transformer and assessing the economic consequences of the recent power failure. The crew was able to install a new, bigger transformer and restore electrical power to the sections of the refinery that had been down for the last two days.

Peter and Tim provided a summary of their discussion so far. Process engineers reported that they spent about 50% of their time creating reports that contain average daily production information to assess the yield and daily performance variances. However, between running the reports and handling the process improvement projects, the process engineers did not have time to explore opportunities that could improve the operating costs of the refinery.

"What do you suggest we do to improve the situation?" Tom asked. "You have some experience in this."

Peter told him the refinery had to integrate its energy and laboratory systems into a digital data infrastructure to provide the data to operations, maintenance, and planning and economics. The supply of digital information in real time would enable the refinery's staff to monitor production processes and unusual events. The staff would be able to create reports on specific issues at the desired level of detail using information dashboards.

"But this future state," Peter went on, "requires equipping engineers, managers, and others at the refinery with tools and training for continuous learning. Right now, everyone is using spreadsheets that speak to yesterday or last week. They need to begin using business intelligence tools to visualize the data that reflects current conditions. I believe the team needs to have the tools to become more real-time data driven for quicker operational improvements."

Peter worked to develop a business case to reengineer the refinery's current system (see the box "Building Blocks for Success").


Bill Roberts, the vice president of operations at Proclndustries, hired Peter to create a data-driven decision environment at the company's South Texas plant. Starting work on such a project takes careful planning—no matter the industry. Here are some essential requirements for a successful digital data infrastructure project:

  • • Executive sponsorship
  • • A single project manager who reports to the corporate champion
  • • Clear communication with everyone who will be impacted by the project
  • • Explanations of the project's business benefits (and career benefits, where applicable) to those whose work is likely to change
  • • Training on how to use new tools to improve the likelihood of success
  • • Examples of best practices with reusable templates for business processes, where possible
  • • The creation of a virtual or on-location central support team who can assist locally and act as a center of excellence

Peter told Tom the company would have to invest in the time and resources required to map the technology to the production operations at the refinery. Plant engineers and other staff members would need to learn how to build shared, reusable templates for each of the process units in the refinery.

"No more isolated spreadsheets," Peter said. "Information about events at the refinery will be standardized and analyzed by our knowledge workers at the right operational time intervals. This will improve everyone's awareness of operations at the refinery—including power surges like the one that caused the explosion."

He continued, "With the capabilities of the new system, you will be able to see changes in specific electricity consumption and identify the need for pumps, compressors, and other equipment upgrades before they fail."

Peter then explained it was still early and he had more information to gather about the refinery's operations and maintenance. Tom said the next person to hear from was Paul Morgan, the plant's maintenance manager.

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