Achieving Excellence in Plant Operations

By Ferenc Tóth, Business Solutions Consultant, ABB Enterprise Software

Being a Plant Operator is a very challenging job. If I Google Plant Operator job descriptions, there are exhaustive lists of responsibilities.  Without trying to provide a full account here, let’s look at the most important ones:

  • Operate processing equipment and log equipment checks to follow standard operating procedures and optimizing plant efficiencies.
  • Regulate valves, compressors, pumps and auxiliary equipment to direct product flow.
  • Support smooth crush plant running by coordinating with plant management.
  • Analyze specifications and control petroleum refining and processing units operations to produce lubricating oils and fuel through distillation, absorption, extraction, catalytic cracking, isomerization, coking and alkylation.
  • Test liquids and gases for chemical characteristics and colour.
  • Inspect and adjust damper controls, heaters and furnaces.
  • Visit unit to verify efficient operating conditions.
  • Read temperature in pressure gauges and flowmeters, record readings and compile in records.
  • Inspect equipment to determine nature and location of malfunction like faulty valves, breakages and leaks.
  • Clean processing units’ interior by circulating solvent and chemicals.
  • Determine malfunctioning units through meters and gauges or lights and horn sounds.
  • Set knobs, switches, levers, valves and index arms to control process variables like vacuum, time, catalyst, temperature and flows.
  • Read processing schedules, operate logs, test oil sample results and identify equipment controls changes to produce specified product quantity and quality.
  • Comply with best practices, standard operating procedures and develop and maintain continuous improvement efforts.
  • Control processing units’ activities.

This is a very wide variety of tasks to perform, and the results of them – let them be inspection data, field measurements, sampling data, emission values, to name but a few – are valuable input to someone in a similar or maybe very different role in the organisation.

Some of these tasks directly contribute to the most important challenges of the plant.  No wonder companies are putting a lot of effort into establishing and maintaining a safety culture.  Apart from meeting Worker Safety standards, efficiency is usually a key word in a plant environment.  Higher efficiency level can be reached in a number of ways, including the enhancement of Plant Reliability through extending asset life or preserving plant integrity and configuration. Utilising common best practices can help to do things once, and do them right for the first time, increasing Productivity for the plant. From another perspective, efficiency can be positively influenced by Cost reduction as well. Effective issue prioritisation, leveraging performance improvements to processes and equipment, lowering the IT costs and shortening outage duration can all help achieving that goal.  Last but not least, the plant needs to work according to the rules of Governance and Compliance.  Among others, the business needs to ensure public and stakeholder confidence, regulatory compliance and should aim for creating an environment of continuous improvement.

If I try to summarize it in one sentence I would say: Efficient as possible at the lowest cost possible, safely.

So, what can go wrong?   Without a digitalised solution that automates the most important Plant Operator tasks, a lot of tasks can fail. The most common potential problems include:

  • Limited or no access to critical operation data throughout the organisation
  • Poor communication between departments and groups such as maintenance and operations
  • Inconsistency in log entry, information recorded, increasing chance of errors and non-compliance
  • Information missed or incorrectly transferred between shifts during shift turnover/handover
  • Unexpected overruns on plant shutdowns/outages
  • Unpredictable equipment failure and/or equipment replacement
  • Lack of integration between systems
  • Aging workforce and high employees turnover

If I was only mentioning the problems without offering some kind of solution, you could be rightly saying that I am a pessimistic person (which I am not).    If you are interested in the solution ABB Enterprise Software provides, please join me for our upcoming webinar on 25th October 2017.

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