The oil and gas industry is segregated into various discrete activities. Here we look at the refining aspect of the supply chain and how technology can be leveraged to improve the value and margins of the refining business. This becomes essential since the industry is confronted with certain crucial challenges which it has to address in the current volatile environment. Some of these relate to overcapacity, old assets, aging workforce, technology needs, data management, geographical spread, etc.
To overcome these challenges, oil majors have started looking at Intelligent Manufacturing (IM) as an investment into the future to meet the various challenges of the industry. Due to the fluctuating crude prices, the refining industry has been hit hard and the fundamentals have now been altered greatly. This has resulted in renewed focus of refineries on operational aspects and the need to improve the bottom line by improved operational efficiencies.
How can this be done? Intelligent Manufacturing aims at leveraging the existing infrastructure and improving the planning, operation and maintenance of refineries. It leverages technology to drive and support a more predictive, collaborative, and consistent way of working. It enables a predictive and responsive mode of operation across multiple manufacturing areas that, taken together, can drive Operational Excellence.
The current situation pertains to the existence of multiple applications, which help operations, but are often not integrated, even within work processes. Further, the applications come from multiple vendors and have different and often proprietary data structures. Data is available, but it typically is an overwhelming amount and, worse, is raw, unfiltered, and in different formats. Turning this data into useful, contextual information is difficult and this contextual information is therefore often not available.
Intelligent Manufacturing seeks to overcome these obstacles and create information on demand, prediction on demand, using models that can run from cleansed data in real- or near-real time. IM will also lead to truly integrated and consistent work processes, and effective collaboration that brings jobs to the experts instead of having to fly scarce experts to the jobs.
Various large oil and gas firms have invested in this concept of Intelligent Manufacturing to improve their performance and many of these initiatives are in various stages of adoption and implementation. Firms with brown field assets, have to compete with newer companies with green field assets which are state-of-the-art. In order to keep up in such a competitive space, firms increasingly want to invest in any technology which can increase the margins. The potential role of 'Intelligent Manufacturing' is to reduce operational cost in terms of reduced consumables, input material consumption and/or reduce down-time.