February 2021

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Executive Viewpoint : The importance of digital twins and cloud-based services

Hydrocarbon Processing spoke with Andrew McCloskey, Chief Technology Officer and Head of R&D at AVEVA, about how digital twins and cloud-based services are used, their benefits and challenges, security issues, etc., as related to the downstream oil and gas, refining and petrochemicals industries.

Hydrocarbon Processing spoke with Andrew McCloskey, Chief Technology Officer and Head of R&D at AVEVA, about how digital twins and cloud-based services are used, their benefits and challenges, security issues, etc., as related to the downstream oil and gas, refining and petrochemicals industries.

HP: What are digital twins and how is AVEVA using them to facilitate its customers’ digital transformation initiatives?

McCloskey: Digital twins are virtual replicas of a physical object or system. Extended reality technologies enable manufacturers to create a complete digital twin of their processes and assets, which allows them to respond to unexpected events quickly and efficiently, and reduce unplanned shutdown time that can cost businesses millions of dollars each year. Additionally, digital twins can incorporate real-time process data with current economic conditions, expediting the decision-making process for operators.

Our customers in the downstream oil and gas, refining and petrochemicals industries have faced significant challenges to their efficiency, sustainability and profitability due to COVID-19—deploying digital twins has boosted their resilience and reduced costly downtimes. For example, with this technology, operators can create the representation of an actual piping and instrumentation diagram (P&ID), map each equipment object to a detailed engineering database, and 3D model build and test the dynamic stimulation early in the process design.

HP: You mentioned the impact of COVID-19 on the downstream petroleum industry. In the current, largely remote working environment, how do digital twins support workers in this industry and enhance refinery and petrochemical plant operations?

McCloskey: The benefits of deploying digital twins in workforce training are multifold, and include familiarizing employees with an industrial site, bolstering safety protocol training and enabling interactive field operations and maintenance. For example, using a tablet device or Microsoft HoloLens, employees can view an augmented overlay of a physical asset and access step-by-step procedures for maintenance or training purposes. This, in turn, generates precise operating information that enables teams to improve performance and accelerate pace.

AVEVA has also been helping oil and gas industry clients ensure operational continuity during COVID-19 by prioritizing their remote visibility. For the worker that is now offsite, the digitalization gap poses an immediate issue, as what could be easily observed while onsite must either be captured and conveyed by the skeleton crew onsite or via sensors. If remote work becomes the new normal in the long term, the need to digitalize the closed-loop process to capture higher levels of fidelity—which, in effect, represents a process twin—is made even more clear.

Increased information sharing between internal stakeholders is another way in which digital twins enhance refinery and petrochemical plant operations, with key performance indicator (KPI) data projected across process and overall plant production. Digital twins accelerate the operational excellence of plants by supporting the entire engineering lifecycle, from unleashing a continuous improvement of operations to optimizing process and control design by comparing capital vs. operating costs.

Refinery and petrochemical plant operators today are demanding improved flexibility and agility, as well as the ability to collaborate seamlessly from their technology deployments, and AVEVA is responding to this need.

HP: How does the current volatility in oil prices impact your customers? What are the challenges associated with using digital twins?

McCloskey: The current macro operating environment for oil and gas companies has accelerated the need to optimize manufacturing operations and improve performance to protect profitability.

Ensuring the accuracy of data is critical to success. In response, we are increasingly seeing these producers invest in their own cloud-based data platforms for current and future capital projects, operations and maintenance as part of their digital transformation projects. By and large, this shift is due to the fact that accurate data, kept in one place, ensures the reliability of a digital twin’s output and the efficiency of operations throughout the asset’s lifecycle. Through 3D visualization, engineering data can tell customers the type, size, connection source, operational background and location of equipment installed on a plant site. This data is generated in capital projects, from new plant builds to brownfield revamps and retrofits, and forms the backbone of the digital twin.

Lowering total cost, time and risk in capital projects are the major challenges associated with implementing digital twins. While each industrial environment brings different challenges, the petrochemical industry is well-positioned to adopt digital twins. In fact, early adopters of digital twins have predominantly been the continuous process and certain discrete repetitive industries, which have higher levels of automation. Due to their highly instrumented environments, these industries can more easily minimize essential workers onsite and shift many operational functions offsite using high-fidelity digital twins.

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has forced every industry to reexamine its work processes and digital twins offer a framework to reimagine the new world of work.

HP: What does the future refinery/plant look like?

McCloskey: The future refinery/plant will likely put sustainability at the forefront: managing energy usage and costs, optimizing process yields, and reducing or eliminating safety-related incidents will contribute to this goal.

The industrial world is progressing through the transformation cycle that retail and finance experienced 10 yr ago. We are working with leading companies in energy to increase operational efficiency, unify their data and connect their teams to realize Industry 4.0. Companies like BP are using us to accelerate decision making from weeks to hours and optimize profitability throughout their value chain.

The pandemic has accelerated our conversations because everyone is under pressure to cut OPEX and minimize CAPEX and risk. Software can materially affect how companies transform and streamline their operations, and our customers are working with us to lead them through this period of change. HP

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