Integrated Engineering, Operations and Asset Management are Vital for Chemical Industries
Valentijn de Leeuw
Vice President
ARC Advisory Group, Europe

This article discusses improving return on chemicals assets using integrated engineering, operations, maintenance and compliance management .

Chemical industries are diverse in terms of products and processes, and the nature and state of the assets. In the developed world, assets are on average older, intrinsically less reliable and efficient, but in these regions companies have the highest skilled personnel and most advanced methods in place to compensate for it. The regular economic cycles in petrochemicals and polymers have been replaced by irregular, more regional economic ups and downs, with high amplitude. The high growth in developing Asia is slowing down significantly. The oil and gas boom in North America has created growth in the chemical industry in the region in the recent years. The recent drop in oil price has created economic relief for chemical producers globally but demand may suffer because of the economic slowdown. The best strategy for the future is likely one of high flexibility and adaptability to react to global and regional market fluctuations, product innovations, feedstock costs and regulations.

Necessary Steps
A first step is to reduce the cost of assets throughout their lifecycle. This includes effective engineering, leading to more flexibility and lower cost designs that can be operational more quickly. Engineering and design costs can be reduced by make information transparent across disciplines, regions, offices and sites and easier to reuse. Sharing and transparency must be extended across the enterprise borders to engineering, procurement and construction firms (EPC's), subcontractors, to achieve tighter collaboration. Collaboration during design and construction has significantly increased during the past years, and as contractors provide more and more services for plants in operation too, it is expected that the importance of efficient cross-enterprise collaboration will further increase .

Compliance of processes and equipment can be efficiently handled when requirement engineering is electronically linked to qualification processes. Information should also be reused across engineering, operations and maintenance within the corporation, and by their subcontractors. As all stakeholders work on the same asset, they should all work off the same asset information to coordinate and optimize their plans and actions. This concept is referred to as integrated engineering or integrated operations.

In a second stage, these efficient processes can be applied to more productive and flexible process designs using intensification, modularization, and mobile processing units.

Accurate asset information requires a state of the art application and data repository that must be complemented by processes for keeping asset information up-to-date. People must be trained and motivated to use them. When these key success factors are in place, operations and maintenance can be optimized, to sustain a compliant and reliable asset at the lowest cost and with the lowest inventory of spare parts. This includes modern asset management strategies, such as predictive maintenance and condition monitoring, and the simultaneous optimization of asset capabilities and production requirements.

Companies that have pioneered these new practices, report increased engineering productivity, improved handover, accelerated operational readiness, reduction of regulatory compliance cost, reduced maintenance costs and improved reliability.

Asset Management Challenges
The chemical industry is very diverse and, depending on the region, features various characteristics. We can broadly distinguish the following categories :
  • Aging, commodity producing assets. These are most likely to be found in advanced economies, and need to be operated and maintained at the lowest operating cost possible. At the same time, they need to operate reliably , safely and be compliant with regulations. Asset information is at risk of being dispersed on paper and in various systems.
  • Recent assets for commodity products using classical, mostly continuous process technologies. These assets are mostly found in growing economies , for example in South-East Asia, but also in the USA. Asset information is more likely to be available in electronic format. Reliability, safety and compliance are likely to be satisfactory, but need to be maintained.
  • Assets for specialty chemicals, specialty polymers, agrochemicals, food and pharmaceutical ingredients, mostly using traditional batch processing. The products have a high innovative content, and plants are regularly adapted and reengineered, or have been recently constructed. In these cases, it is likely that electronic asset information is available. Regulatory compliance is an increasing cost factor.
  • Assets using modular and/or intensified process technology for chemicals or polymers. Existing plants are built for research and process development purposes. The first commercial modular plants are coming on -stream. Asset information is available in electronic form.
  • From an engineering and asset information management perspective, a number of challenges can be distinguished:
  • In plants under construction by engineering procurement and construction firms (EPC's), owner-operators (OO's) require a tighter collaboration than before. Being responsible for the plant's performance and regulatory compliance at startup, they require design reviews in electronic form as well as the tracking of construction and commissioning progress against electronic documents. More and more qualification processes use electronic design and requirement documentation, with electronic sign-offs.

  • In recently constructed plants, the asset information built up during engineering and construction is traditionally handed over on paper, and is often incomplete or outdated at the moment of transfer. NIST estimates that the cost of information losses during handover to be 1.8 percent of capital expenditure. There is a huge opportunity to improve the process by making it electronic, and make sure the information is reused.
  • In existing plants, when engineering or maintenance troubleshoot an operational issue or need to start a modified project, they first spend time- sometimes weeks or months - to find out the actual status and performance of equipment and piping, the available or missing spare parts, etc., before starting their actual work. Further time is lost in ordering missing parts or equipment, increased time to repair, and multiplying travel times. In other cases wrong or excess parts are available, which increase working capital without benefit. Incomplete, inaccessible, and inaccurate asset information therefore leads to a longer project duration, longer "mean time to repair" (MTTR), higher operational and capital expenditure than necessary. Compliance costs increase, or compliance becomes impossible as accurate information cannot be produced at any point in time. NIST estimates the cost of information losses in the operate-maintain phases of the asset to 2.4 percent of the capital expenditure cost, higher than the cost of losses during handover.
Chemical plants are usually part of large industrial complexes, where plants , and utilities and storage facilities are distributed over the premises. It is a real challenge to keep track of the asset state, as operations, maintenance and contractors work independently on the same assets.

These challenges imply that it is not a trivial task to obtain a complete, accurate and up-to-date virtual image of distributed assets, easily and rapidly accessible to office and field workers throughout a vast geographical area.

The different types of assets have partly different regulatory obligations, but for all of them regulatory pressure is increasing and will continue to increase in the future. The spirit of these regulations tends to evolve from describing the means for protection into a responsibility of the owner -operator to be able to demonstrate performance-based quantitative risk management.

Whether asset information is built up during engineering and construction, or by operations and maintenance of an existing installation, in the end there is always an installation in operation that undergoes maintenance activities and engineering projects related for reasons of improvement, troubleshooting or debottlenecking.

As a result, two or more organizational entities work on the same assets, using - ideally - the same asset information: engineering to design changes and improvements; operations and maintenance for day-to-day activities and long term asset management. To streamline the collaboration between those entities, the concept of "integrated engineering" was created.

The "Integrated Engineering" Concept

In 2005, Dr. Thomas Tauchnitz published a vision for "integrated engineering"(Tauchnitz,2005), based on three basic principles: "[...] every information is generated and maintained at only one location, existing knowledge is reused where possible, and the software tools stay interfaced while the production plant is in operation." He sketched the workflow as starting with process design followed by the transfer of the resulting process information to an engineering software tool, common to all engineering disciplines involved in front-end and detail engineering. To increase engineering efficiency, he proposed to implement modular engineering - using standardized, generic engineering modules comprising all functions built and maintained within the common tool.

Many plants apply a wide variety of control systems. To further increase engineering efficiency, control engineering should be done at a generic level, enabling reuse of designs. The designs can be used to configure systems, and compile the generic designs within different DCS brands.

The next step is the transfer of the engineering information to operations and maintenance and keeping it up to date with the goal to transform "as- built" information into "as-maintained" information to ensure accuracy and save time.

Therefore, "integrated engineering" incorporates different disciplines during design and build stages, and also integrates engineering, operations, maintenance and automation during operate and maintain stages of the installation life cycle.

Finally, the vision includes the implementation of standardized processes across the extended enterprise, reducing the number of systems and interfaces, and organizing centralized maintenance and support and promoting company-wide knowledge management.

In the case of maintenance and improvement projects related to automation and instrumentation, seamless, bi-directional integration with automation systems simplifies the changes to the automation systems significantly, by enabling the configuration of the control system directly from the design in the engineering tool. Vice versa, when a control system configuration is changed in the field, the control system would automatically update the application with the actual control system configuration. The NAMUR standard NE 150 enables doing this in a standardized manner.

Collaboration between internal or external engineering departments and maintenance(and/or operations) may occur during these projects or changes. It is of utmost importance that the stakeholders work off the same, up-to -date asset and engineering data. This has important benefits for engineering and modernization projects by simplifying the work, unloading personnel, while guaranteeing accurate and up-to-date asset information. It creates even more benefits by saving engineering work when the same changes need to be applied to several sites. Many standards are available for this complex domain. ISO 15926 is the most well-known, standardizing the equipment specification.