Our process plants have been the epitome of data collection. Over the years, sensors, instruments and control technologies have fully automated our processes, making refineries and chemical plants much more manageable and reliable, as well as a safe place to work. Technology evolves continuously; this column will focus on some of the state-of-the-art data and testing that can make our processes “smart” so we not only realize higher energy efficiency but also reap the benefits of greater reliability in our operations.
Some industries use what’s known as “fault detection and diagnostics,” or FD&D; I strongly believe we can apply FD&D very effectively in our plants; the key is collecting the right data. Most times, this is not an issue given our process controls background. However, I sometimes find it a major issue when working with utilities at plants. Process heaters, steam systems, compressed air systems, pumping stations, chiller and refrigeration units, etc., often lack the level of data collection and details compared to process units. Because most processes run continuously and it can be costly to shut down, plants rarely retrofit data collection points unless a critical safety or operational issue is involved. Hence, I believe many of those data collection items should be incorporated right at the design phase or when completing major projects or upgrades.