How Many More Months Will It Run?

Technology bolsters plants' quest to boost uptime.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Now probably more than ever, chemical makers are striving to boost efficiency and reduce costs. This is driving ongoing spending on asset optimization — and the release of new ever-more-powerful technologies designed to deliver it.

Since 2006 the worldwide market for Plant Asset Management (PAM) systems has grown 13% per year, or more than $400 million in value, says ARC Advisory Group, Boston, Mass.

That growth will continue, believes Wil Chin, ARC research director, because PAM systems offer users solutions that are appropriate both in good times and in today’s tougher economic climate. The challenge, he believes, is to properly get the PAM message across: “End-users understand that PAM can help them to predicatively diagnose the health of critical assets, but don’t always make the connection to how this can help improve profitability when resources are scarce and demand for their products is declining. Suppliers and end-users alike need to educate themselves about the benefits that PAM systems offer to help them survive the economic contraction.”

It was an effort to make just such a connection that led INEOS Chlor, Runcorn, U.K., which is the largest chlor-alkali producer in Europe, to undertake a major project with trip systems on its large chlorine compressor.

Before plant startup, 40 inputs into the compressor must be calibrated and tested. Each instrument on the compressor and the chlorine systems around it — monitoring conditions such as pressure, temperature and vibration — need calibration and then driving to the trip point to test the operation of the shutdown system.
The majority of the transmitters are on toxic gas duty and normally would have to remain in a completely clean and decontaminated state until the work was completed. Registered chlorine fitters then would re-joint the system in a highly controlled manner before pressure testing it for leaks. Having these people shadow the instrument team while shutdown tests were finished was very inefficient and time-consuming.

Traditional testing methods generally call for the majority of mechanical overhaul efforts to be completed and then instrument systems checked. With so many inputs to the system, the test duration was significant and prevented other work, such as pressure testing the system with chlorine, from continuing until it was certain that instrument tests were done.

INEOS Chlor wanted to explore alternative methods of trip testing to remove instrumentation tasks from the critical path of the project. So the company turned to Emerson Process Management, Austin, Texas, and its PlantWeb digital plant architecture, which consists of field instrumentation communicating digitally via HART communications protocol to AMS Suite: Intelligent Device Manager. This made it possible to use the instruments’ simulation mode functionality and to remotely vary instrument output being read by the analog trip system.

The instruments were decontaminated and calibrated during the mechanical outage. A dedicated team of instrument technicians and chlorine fitters then were able to reconnect, working methodically from one system to the next, rather than having to connect up piecemeal as each instrument was tested. Pressure testing could take place as soon as the fitters had finished.

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