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2021 AFPM Summit Virtual Edition: Defining and Achieving Operational Excellence

MIKE RHODES, Managing Editor, Hydrocarbon Processing


Tuesday morning at the AFPM Summit, AFPM President and CEO, Chet Thompson, kicked off the virtual program with introductory remarks, presented the prestigious Peter G. Andrews Lifetime Service Award to longtime industry leader Bruce Taylor, and then moderated an informative executive panel.

Thompson began complimenting the AFPM members for their resiliency through the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, increasingly stringent environmental regulations and a tough political landscape.

“The Summit is about our collective goal of operating at peak performance—safely, efficiently and reliably—something you help your companies do every day,” Thompson said. “We know that operating a refinery or petrochemical plant requires many disciplines and subject matter experts, as well as teamwork and coordination. The Summit is designed to bring many of these critical disciplines together at the same time to share knowledge and to learn from one another.”

He stressed that the AFPM team and Summit attendees are joined by experts in the fields of automation, FCC, hydroprocessing, maintenance, operations, reliability, and many others, all dedicated to improving plantwide performance. “This year, we also welcome to the program our industry professionals from labor relations, human resources and security.”

Thompson said that while the industry has faced some of the most challenging days of our lifetime, he believes that things are continuing to get better. “We certainly have our work cut out for us, but I’m optimistic that we will continue to adapt and meet these challenges head on, just like we always have over the many decades we’ve been in operation,” he said, emphasizing the need to work together and remain committed to tackling and solving the toughest problems.

“We will have to adapt and become even more efficient and more sustainable. Demand for our products will remain strong for many decades to come. However, if we want to continue to thrive, we will have to meet that demand sustainably and smartly, and this will require great leadership,” Thompson concluded.

Lifetime Service Award. Thompson presented the Peter G. Andrews Lifetime Service Award Winner to industry veteran Bruce Taylor, formerly of Sinclair Oil Corporation and former Chairman of the Operational Planning, Controls & Automation Technologies Committee.

As a senior management professional, Taylor has more than five decades of experience developing and implementing leading edge information technologies. Beginning his career supporting the Apollo lunar mission and subsequent space-based programs, Taylor transitioned to the commercial market where he has now spent more than 40 years in the oil industry focused on enabling Operational Excellence through the effective application of technology.

In his remarks, Taylor thanked the colleagues he collaborated with through the years and pointed out that he couldn’t have had his successful career without the support of his family. Although he admitted to being a technologist at heart, he stressed the importance of the human element in the refining and petrochemicals industries.

“With all of our conversation and focus on assets and asset performance management, we need to stop, take a pause, take a breath, and remember that your most important asset walks in and out of your facility each day—and they do it by choice,” he said. “We must maintain the balance between technology assets and human assets.”

Industry Leadership Panel. Thompson then moderated an executive panel comprised of Robert Herman, Executive Vice President, Refining, Phillips 66; David Lamp, President and Chief Executive Officer, CVR Energy Inc., and Matthew Smorch, President and CEO, Countrymark Cooperative Holding Corp. The industry leaders provided their perspectives on the future of the refining industry, including operational excellence, technology, workforce, sustainability and more (FIG. 1).

Thompson turned to the conference’s theme of Operational Excellence, which he said could be fairly subjective. Because the panel members are in a position to define the term for their companies and facilities, Thompson asked them how that can be done, and what metrics they use.

FIG. 1. During Tuesday morning’s Industry Leadership Panel, Chet Thompson, AFPM President and CEO (upper left), moderated a group of industry leaders that included (clockwise from upper right) David Lamp, President and Chief Executive Officer, CVR Energy Inc.; Robert Herman, Executive Vice President, Refining, Phillips 66; and Matthew Smorch, President and CEO, Countrymark Cooperative Holding Corp.


“To me, operational excellence is simply safe, reliable and environmentally responsible operations,” said Lamp. “If you break any one of those ‘wheels,’ it all falls apart, costs go up, exposure goes up, legal bills go up, and people become worn out.”

Smorch said, “When I look at safety, it’s keeping our people safe, but it’s also process safety—following procedures, conducting inspections, mechanical integrity. Being safe and incident free is really our license to operate in our communities.”

Herman agreed with those statements, but also expanded it to include an environmental aspect and cost control. “This is a tough business and globally competitive,” he said. “We all work across the complete company to try to solve problems rather than remaining in siloes.” When asked if the COVID-19 pandemic changed their definition of operational excellence, Herman asserted, “No, we just applied that definition to a new problem: keeping our people healthy and still running the plant while staying true to our principles of how we operate.”

“The resiliency of our company and our industry really came out during the pandemic,” Smorch said. Lamp and Herman also praised the dedication of the workforce, noting that people came to work and did what needed to be done to keep the facilities running and producing.

Thompson shifted the discussion to the criticality of automation and technology to drive change. The panel stated that they have been working to incorporate more automation and technology through every facet of operations (e.g., employing neural networks on top of advanced process control systems). Companies are embracing the idea of utilizing technology to make the jobs of operators and engineers easier and safer.

The discussion continued and addressed the political landscape and the future of the industry.

The on-demand version of this informative panel discussion is available here: https://summit.afpm.org/sessions/01-01a-SUMM-LS

The AFPM Summit continues through Wednesday. To access news and editorial from the AFPM Summit, visit the Conference News tab on the homepage of www.HydrocarbonProcessing.com.

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