Wireless, Paperless Tracking Keeps Employees Safer

Chevron Oronite uses analytics and sensing technology to improve safety, energy efficiency, reliability and productivity at its chemical plant.

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Chevron Oronite’s additives plant in Singapore had always kept track of its 2,000 employees through a paper sign-in sheet located in the control room. Not only was this disruptive to the operators in the control room, it was often difficult to account for everybody if they weren’t where they were expected to be.

Manual accounting for people during mustering was slow. It was difficult to manage contractors during startup and shut-down activities, and they were required to sign in multiple times when changing locations. Locating missing people was taking too long.

The plant needed a smarter way to account for plant employees in case of a safety drill or event. The executive team looked at physical fencing, but there were concerns about that hindering evacuation. And people might stray outside assigned areas.

“We wanted to move from ‘I think’ to ‘I know,’” said Tom Madilao, regional manager, special projects, Chevron Oronite, in a press briefing last week at the Emerson Global Users Exchange in Minneapolis.

Ultimately, they deployed a wireless real-time locating system (RTLS) using Emerson technology. Leveraging a shared wireless infrastructure based on Wi-Fi and WirelessHART, the system uses RFID “exciters” to track employees wearing ID tags. Traffic lights display plant-access levels from free (green) to “don't enter” (red). Mustering is done electronically, significantly cutting down the time needed to track employees and contractors. If there is a “man down” or missing person alert, a smaller search party is now dispatched than was used previously.

The solution provides effective “geofencing” and control of plant access, Madilao said. It has also increased contractors’ productivity because they don’t have to keep signing in and out wherever they go.

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With the success of the RTLS deployment, Madilao’s team took the technology to other applications, deploying sensors for steam-trap monitoring along with energy analytics software from Emerson.

Inefficient heat transfer, requiring more steam, can lead to process disruption. Water hammers cause damage to piping and flanges. Steam is used at 30 locations in the Oronite plant. It is important to monitor the condition of the steam traps to prevent steam losses, but yearly steam trap surveys happened too infrequently.

Now analytics are combined with wireless sensors to determine which steam traps are not working. The energy monitoring dashboard shows steam-trap status in real time, increasing efficiency and lowering costs, Madilao said.

Chevron Oronite also deployed wireless equipment monitoring to keep tabs on vibration (which can cause production downtime) and corrosion (which can lead to safety incidents as well as production downtime). Vibration sensors replaced manual processes for greater safety, reliability and efficiency.

The team is targeting worker productivity with a planned rollout of tablets to mobile workers. Tablets aim to eliminate the incomplete and sometimes inaccurate data capture that comes with paper-based operations surveillance, and will also reduce the time needed for data collection.

Workers will gain on-the-fly access to procedures, piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs) and maintenance requests that were previously only available in the control room. “We asked the operators what they needed, what they would do with data if they could receive it,” Madilao said. “They can write work orders on the tablet and embed video clips if there is a problem with a piece of equipment. These things will increase productivity.”

Chevron Oronite has achieved an array of results from its recent digital innovation efforts, including:

  • Safety: Faster mustering tally; more effective and efficient plant access control; and enhanced emergency-response capability.
  • Energy: Immediate detection of steam trap failures; and avoided steam loss, hammering and process disruption.
  • Reliability: Ability to predict pump failures accurately; and avoided LOC/safety incidents.
  • Productivity: Increased effectiveness of field surveillance; and faster response to abnormal conditions.
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