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Advanced Process Control Advanced Process Control – a Chance to Adapt to Economic Changes

| Author / Editor: Norbert Meierhöfer* / Anke Geipel-Kern

Advanced Process Control (APC) helps companies optimise the production process. We show, how APC offers refiners and petrochemicals companies a chance to maximise profitability. Improved automated software tools eliminate waste, reduce the overall energy cost in the manufacturing process and improve asset efficiency, product quality and yield.

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Intuitive handling: The online interface rationalises plant data (i.e. pressure flow, temperature, etc.) into clear visual content about the plant’s performance to better understand controller behaviour.
Intuitive handling: The online interface rationalises plant data (i.e. pressure flow, temperature, etc.) into clear visual content about the plant’s performance to better understand controller behaviour.
(Pictures: Aspentech)

When the price of crude plummeted to $50 per barrel in early 2015, it presented an opportunity for the downstream industry to optimise and improve margins. Irrespective of economic conditions, APC technology is crucial for companies to maximise profitability, whether in emerging regions developing new plants or in established ventures looking to revamp and prolong the life of an asset.

A modern software delivers significant operational benefits to refiners and petrochemicals companies helping to deliver accurate models in the quest for greater profits. However, where controllers are tuned either too aggressively or passively to address model errors, the results could over compensate or under value optimum threshold settings.

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In the APC lifecycle, changes occur in the plant over time and the controller can show signs of differences compared to the actual plant behaviour. Maintaining controller performance is sometimes more difficult than the initial setup, but it is essential to reducing costs, time and sustaining long-term operational benefits.

With improved automated software tools, time and effort is dramatically reduced to implement solutions and achieve quicker benefits. The tools maintain tight control, reduce quality variance (up to 50 %), improve yields (up to 3 %), increase capacity (average 4 %), reduce energy costs (up to 10 %) and increase asset effectiveness.

It is common for operators to have insufficient indication as to whether the on-line controllers being manipulated are performing correctly. If the controllers react in a manner that the operators do not understand, the controller could perform incorrectly and be turned off, as the controller model will not reflect the plant behaviour at a particular point in time.

This could seriously result in falling outside of economic objectives. Therefore, the current APC methodology requires a deep understanding of the process unit to be able to align them to the controller tuning parameters. This is a complicated and time consuming process.

This reliance on specialised knowledge to keep systems performing to requirements is a concern for companies as there is a dearth of skilled staff. Many veterans are due to retire over the next 5 to 10 years and insufficient engineers are entering the workforce with the same level of in depth industry experience.

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