Delivering Closed Loop Business Operations for the Refinery Enterprise
The industrial Internet of things (IIoT)—the growing network of devices that connect, communicate, and transfer data between one another—is poised to play a growing role in how refineries operate. Due to the falling cost of connectivity and data storage, processes across the entire Oil & Gas value chain are now able to gather more data from more devices, assets, operations and processes than ever before. But refining (downstream) in particular, stands to gain value quickly because the existing IT infrastructure is more mature compared to extraction (upstream) and distribution (midstream) processes.
A significant part of the IoT infrastructure in Refining is mature
Many of the products and services that enable the IIoT architecture have years of solid, proven history; they are currently deployed in hundreds of the world’s leading oil and gas manufacturers. Technologies like process automation (DCS, HMI, SCADA, Historian, etc.) that form the backbone of the automated data collection systems, and process simulation (modeling, scheduling, etc.) that help optimize the operations will continue to remain key components in the evolution to an IoT-centric architecture.
The challenge isn’t getting data. Rather, it is about gaining insight – in real time.
Here again, downstream processes are far more instrumented and connected relative to their counterparts in upstream and midstream. Therefore, refining’s typical dilemma is one of “drowning in data but starving for insight.” This means the business case can (quickly) be built on leveraging data that is already being captured to provide actionable intelligence in a timely manner.
The transition to an IoT-centric architecture still has gaps
Realigning both existing investments and new technological advances within the framework of an IoT architecture is still being worked on. Major areas that have been identified as gaps include:
- Security: From a risk perspective, this naturally continues to be the biggest hurdle to IoT adoption.
- Lifecycle management & governance: A Refinery information management system involves integrating (at least) 15 application areas (often from multiple vendors.) Thus, the IoT strategy also needs to address reducing life cycle costs in adapting and maintaining this large IT footprint.
Given the strategic role of IoT in reshaping the computing landscape, there have been a number of design frameworks and reference architectures introduced over the last few years. The vast majority of these are technical in nature (and quite valuable, to be sure) but to build a business case, a framework based on an operational perspective was necessary.
The foundation of this operational perspective starts with the basic principle of the closed loop process. The four stages of Schneider Electric’s framework can be applied narrowly (to a specific IoT use case), or broadly (to define a platform strategy) that guides the architecture of an integrated refinery information management system that enables:
- Connectivity among mass quantities of disparate hardware assets,
- Collecting and reconciling massive volumes of diverse unstructured data,
- Contextualizing and analyzing that data into actionable information, and
- Closing the loop on the information provided with actions that deliver operational benefits.