March 2018

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Viewpoint: Digitalization is key to increasing the process industry’s productivity

Consumers are continuously looking for healthier, safer and more environmentally sustainable products.

Tuomaala, P., Neste Engineering Solutions

Consumers are continuously looking for healthier, safer and more environmentally sustainable products. The process industry must respond to these demands, which call for a considerable change in how fuels and chemicals are refined and processed. Engineering companies need to be able to provide solutions that help customers respond to these requirements.

The process industry is going through a vast transformation—a paradigm shift in the true potential of production capacity will reshape the industry within the next 5 yr. Without question, the shift will have an impact, either directly or indirectly, on all companies involved with the process industry.

Attributing the production capacity of a plant to its physical factors is an outdated way of thinking and prevents us from perceiving the true potential of a production plant. The traditional methods of improving productivity through CAPEX and OPEX projects are no longer sufficient. The future approach to these improvements lies in a different solution: software.

Significant improvements to the production capacity of an existing plant are achieved through data-utilizing software. Many plants have uncovered the potential to generate profit through a more comprehensive use of data. It is the task of engineering companies to discover ways to maximize the value of this data and make it profitable for our customers.

At Neste Engineering Solutions, we took a revolutionary approach to these changes. Beyond being an engineering contractor, we grew ourselves into a data refiner specializing in information management. In other words, we refine our customers’ data to discover their plant’s hidden potential and utilize that data to generate profit for them.

The spearhead of this unconventional thinking is a proprietary software called NAPCON. This software is a fusion of in-depth process know-how and highly sophisticated automation solutions that replace manual adjustments.

Our expertise and experience of customer cases are well demonstrated by our work with various companies in the process industry. Examples include Bahrain Lube Base Oil Co., a JV between the Bahrain Petroleum Co. (Bapco) and Neste Oyj, the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel; and Valio, the largest producer of dairy products in Finland.

Valio is an excellent example of how data refining with an innovative software can generate significant results without notable hardware investments or an increased demand of resources. Valio gained a 10% productivity increase and a decrease in undesired product variability by utilizing proprietary production software. By using an enhanced production software tool, Valio was able to witness an increase in production and a quicker payback.

These types of software help companies understand their production processes, make decisions in light of valid data, improve results without major CAPEX or OPEX, and train staff. These benefits help to improve environmental sustainability and a company’s bottom line.

I believe in the digitalization of the process industry. In my vision, 2018 will be the year when digitalization will advance significantly in oil refineries. The price of oil is rising, and refineries must make investments into the safety and security of their plants. Making these assets more efficient with software is an easy and cost-effective method.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), artificial intelligence and gamification are offering new possibilities for oil refineries, as well. We have begun to bring gamification into process industry training, and have been developing operator training games for more than 10 yr. In September 2017, we launched the first next-generation training game to make operator training even more interactive and engaging. 

There is no room for mistakes in the process industry, and guaranteeing well-trained operators is important risk management. Several research studies support the fact that gamified training increases skill-based-knowledge assessments, factual-knowledge and retention rates. HP 

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