Industry Outlook: Refining

Pressure is the word in the refinery industry. “It’s a squeeze. Crude costs are five times what they were five years ago,” says Fred Manley, vice president, global refining, Emerson Process Management. “Ironically, drivers grumble at gas prices that actually aren’t profitable for refiners.”

Other challenges include ever-tightening safety and emissions regulations, and uncertain availability—approximately 80 percent of the world’s oil sits under countries with unstable governments—as well as weather threats.

This profit squeeze brings intense pressure to reduce costs. Asset optimization has become paramount at the more than 660 refineries worldwide that refine more than 83 million barrels of oil per day.

Manley points out: “China and India pursue state-of-the-art efficiencies with their grassroots projects. North America and Western European facilities are aging, and efficiency retrofits are more challenging.”

Hanging over all of this is a growing need for adequately trained refinery operators. “The retiring operator base is taking knowledge out the door,” Manley says. “Limited labor pools are quickly being drained.”

One initiative in North America is the Center for Operator Performance, chartered to find ways to attract, train and retain operations personnel. Emerson fully supports the organization (and its newly elected President is an Emerson employee.)

Reliability, operational excellence

There are both top-down and bottom-up solutions for increased reliability and improved operational excellence. The comprehensive PlantWeb architecture enables refineries to gain insight into operational efficiencies, as it both increases the effective use of plant floor instrumentation intelligence and provides an overall view of process operations.

PlantWeb also utilizes Asset Optimization technology to manage assets in order to keep small failures from cascading to larger failures that result in unscheduled slowdowns or shutdowns. “When you monitor key plant floor assets, you can be proactive before situations affect process operations,” says Manley.

Plus, emerging technology such as wireless offers freedom and cost savings for new process measurements previously thought to be financially unjustifiable. Finally, the range of process measurements continues to broaden, providing the operator with more actionable knowledge about the process.

“The biggest gains will be through new ways to improve reliability, lower energy costs, and do it while up and running,” Manley says. Hot cutover methodologies that help execute upgrades without interrupting production are becoming typical.

He concludes, “Emerson’s focus is on safety, reliable operations and optimized efficiency. Everything else flows from these.”

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