Pervasive Sensing Gets Even More Pervasive

Oct. 9, 2014
Since rolling out its campaign for pervasive sensing at last year’s user group meetings, Emerson Process Management has been pushing for more sensors beyond just process control and safety.

A key component of Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT) is sensors. Sensors everywhere—collecting mountains of data from smart instruments and connecting that data back to where it can be gathered and analyzed (in theory, at least). Emerson Process Management calls it pervasive sensing, and it was a common theme for last year’s Emerson Exchange in Dallas.

There may be new themes at Emerson Exchange 2014 this week in Orlando, Fla.—ingenuity and reliability, namely—but meanwhile sensing has become only that much more pervasive.

“Last year, that was a whole new campaign, a whole new program that we had going on at Emerson,” said Peter Zornio, chief strategic officer at Emerson Process Management, of pervasive sensing. But now Emerson is looking at applications above and beyond just process control and process safety, he said. “We tend to focus on running the process and keeping the process safe. But if you really look at some of the issues, there are many other things that need to be taken care of.”

Emerson is extending what it does to bring more attention to such concerns as corrosion, energy consumption, health and safety, and the environment. Some key statistics facing industrial manufacturers:

  • Some 36 percent of a typical refinery maintenance budget is spent on corrosion remediation and repairs.
  • The industrial sector’s lifecycle energy use could improve by 50 percent.
  • The U.S. chemical industry invests $16 billion annually in safety, health and environment.
  • Environmental expenditures of $1.5 billion are spent each year for remediation and spills.

Advanced sensing has become easier to install and easier to maintain, with wireless, non-intrusive, self-powered, maintenance-free and calibration-free sensors more prevalent. Together with strategic interpretation, the data can be transformed into actionable information, Zornio said.

Process sensing has long been critical to core operations. But the argument hasn’t been as easy to make for other application areas like energy, reliability and HSEE, according to Zornio. “The value of a sensor vs. its installation cost is a decision that’s made all the time,” he said. “When it comes to these other application areas, that cost has been pretty high.”

But now several improvements are changing that equation: innovative sensors, wireless communications, non-intrusive installation, mobile and location technology, advanced analytic capabilities, embedded expertise, and power technology.

“This is a reality in our daily lives,” Zornio said, pointing to the pervasiveness of sensors in our homes, our cars, and in retail facilities. “All we’re saying is that same trend is going to happen in process facilities; it’s coming to plants.”

Zornio gave real-world examples of that fact in each of the key application areas that Emerson is targeting—process, reliability, energy and HSSE (health, safety, security and environment).

For process/mobility, Zornio pointed to Ergon Refining, which was faced with loop checking 300 loops and indicators, and verifying about 100 DVC valve actuators when it executed a turnaround and DeltaV migration. Emerson’s Mobile Worker technology reduced the time to install by half—from four to two weeks, Zornio said. The required manpower was cut in half as well, and there was virtually no loop troubleshooting during startup.

In terms of reliability, advanced sensing can be used for the monitoring of essential assets, such as heat exchangers, pumps, blowers, cooling towers and compressors. At Conoco Philips, the crude unit was subject to preheat train fouling. “They knew that in the preheater train they were getting fouling,” Zornio said. But they had no data showing where the heat was being lost, or how much.

With wireless temperature and flow measurements, Conoco Philips is now able to analyze the efficiency of its heat exchangers, and save energy costs as well. “Now they’re able to constantly see what the actual efficiency is,” Zornio said, adding that the efficiency gained was estimated at $55,000 a year, per heat exchanger. “They got payback in under 90 days.”

When pumps failed at the Flint Hills refinery in Pine Bend, Minn., there wasn’t necessarily a process disruption. But a subsequent vapor cloud release could produce an unfortunate side effect: fire. “They had guys running around checking for vibration on the pumps,” Zornio described. They were only able to monitor a few essential pumps, but they weren’t sure which pumps needed service. “Instead, we outfitted them with wireless vibration monitors. Since then, there’s not been a single pump fire.”

Flint Hills is now able to monitor 158 pumps for one-tenth the cost of the manual process for just a few pumps. “We’re keeping the equipment healthy, but this is also very clearly a safety application,” Zornio said.

With new regulations in Belgium, BP was faced with monitoring all of its tank farms. It wanted to detect and monitor hydrocarbon leaks around tanks, valves and pipe flanges to improve employee safety and to avoid environmental incident. “Gas detectors were one way, but that was a huge expense,” Zornio explained. Instead, Emerson provided a wireless sensor solution. “It was much easier to install and a much lower cost. Now, voila, they have a solution from a safety perspective, and are notified of any leak in the facility.”

A final example provided a solution for energy savings at Tanatex Chemicals in Germany. “One of the big consumers of energy in any facility is steam,” Zornio said, noting the amount of fuel that’s used to produce steam. “Many times steam traps fail. If they fail wide open, they’re blowing steam into the atmosphere.” That’s not an environmental problem, since the steam is very clean; but it certainly is an energy problem.

Emerson’s acoustic sensors were the solution. They use no wires, and no pipe penetration. “Just find a place to clamp it on, and you’re done,” Zornio said. “This is something that the customer would’ve never cost-justified going in with wired sensors. It would’ve been cost-prohibitive.”

With the wireless acoustic sensors, the return on investment (ROI) was less than two years for Tanatex’s 6 bar system. That ROI would be even shorter for a higher-pressure system. As a result, Tanatex plans to expand its wireless network in order to measure at more places in the plant.

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