Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence: A Room with a View

Every morning, senior managers at Valero Energy Corp. gather in the company’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for a daily operations call to each of the company’s 15 refineries in the United States, Canada and Aruba.

In the room—outfitted with 23 46-inch monitors surrounding a central, 8-foot by 14-foot media wall—Valero executives are able to call up and manipulate a variety of colorful dashboards detailing vital, real-time operating statistics on each of the 15 sites. In rapid succession, spending less than 60 seconds per plant, managers can get a visual snapshot of the operational status of each refinery.

It’s a capability that greatly facilitates management’s charge to continuously optimize the performance of the refineries, and of the San Antonio-based company as a whole. And it’s a far cry from the procedure required less than a year ago, when the review of each plant’s operations involved a combination of hard-copy reports, on-screen Excel spreadsheets and other manual methods, says Glenn Stokes, Information Systems manager, refining systems, at Valero. “The day we finished our implementation and turned on all 15 of these dashboards in the EOC at the end of June 2008, it forever changed the way that these morning operations calls to the plants are conducted,” Stokes observes.

Visible data

Stokes’ reference is to the Valero implementation of an enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI) system known as Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence (MII), provided by SAP AG, of Walldorf, Germany. The software product is designed to improve visibility in manufacturing operations by supporting links between disparate plant floor systems and devices, and enterprise applications and databases.

Valero’s MII set-up involves a multi-server configuration at corporate headquarters that links via wide area network to MII servers in each of the company’s 15 plants. Each of the plant servers employs pre-built MII connectors to acquire data on a system-agnostic basis from the dozens of different back-end systems used in the refineries, including four kinds of data historians, multiple lab management systems, an enterprise safety management system, various data warehouses and other equipment systems.

The data housed in these systems could be accessed by management in the past, but the multiplicity of differing data styles and formats, user interfaces, log-in procedures and navigation issues made the process both cumbersome and time-consuming. “This data is available in other spots. But what Glenn and his team have done is facilitate the delivery of the information into the right hands, in a timely manner. They’ve removed the barrier to accessing that knowledge,” says Rick Griffin, Valero vice president, refining systems.

Traffic lights

For the presentation of the aggregated data to management, Stokes’s team used MII tools to design a refinery operations dashboard covering five key components: health, safety, environment (HSE); process safety management (PSE); operations throughput; tank inventories; and an energy scorecard that measures refinery use of steam, electricity and fuel gas. The dashboards rely on a “traffic light approach,” enabling managers to see at a glance how the various operational measures are trending at each of the plants via green, yellow or red light indicators. “The goal is to provide them quick access to information that helps them make decisions on a daily basis,” Stokes says.

The new capability has been a hit with Valero management, and has already led to several additional initiatives that make use of the MII data. The MII system is now being used to gather, aggregate and display data for daily shift reports, for example, and for a corporate oil loss management program. And as part of Valero’s energy stewardship project, a separate energy dashboard was developed for use by operators at each of the 15 plants. These dashboards are already in use at six sites, with roll-out to the other nine planned by yearend.

The “eight level-deep” energy dashboard “really gets down to the nitty gritty at the plants,” says Stokes, by measuring real-time usage of steam, electricity and fuel gas against model predictions and dynamic targets. The dashboards provide persistent, real-time visibility to operators as to how they are running their plants from an energy consumption perspective. “We’ve got alarms and alerts, so when they’re wasting energy, they get prompted, with a screen right in front of them,” says Stokes. That awareness can enable corrective actions to be taken, such as adjusting the oxygen feed level to a furnace, for example.

The resulting improvement in energy management across the company’s 15-site fleet of refineries is expected to produce big savings for Valero—to the tune of $60 to $180 million annually, says Griffin. And additional MII projects are now in the works at Valero.

With EMI, “we’ve sort of taken a top-down approach by first providing senior management visibility into the pulse of the plants, and now, with the energy stewardship and other projects, we’re pushing that down into the organization,” says Griffin. “And that’s something we’re clearly going to continue.”

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