Partnering Proves Profitable

Chemical makers increasingly look for outside help to improve performance

By By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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"Cabot has plants all over the world and wanted to standardize its product so that carbon black from every facility was absolutely identical. That would give them tremendous supply-chain flexibility. Huge savings have been made because the company no longer has to hold so much inventory. And we are seeing a lot more of this sort of APC application," says Price.

She sees a trend in the evolution of "lighter" controllers for smaller units such as those used by specialty chemicals producers. "In the future, there will be batch process control once the dynamics have been fully understood. However, closer at hand is adaptive modeling, which is tentatively aimed at a Q1 2010 launch. We are currently doing extensive data testing with a number of customers in both Europe and the U.S."

A Changing Environment
Environmental regulations, notably REACH in Europe (www.ChemicalProcessing.com/articles/2009/219.html), are compelling stronger communication along the supply chain and leading to partnerships. For instance, regulatory compliance has been one of the driving forces behind AspenTech's tie-up with International Environmental Associates (IEA), Houston, a company that focuses on delivery of compliance programs. Together they have been working with BASF, Ludwigshafen, Germany, on a system to monitor ground-flare hydrocarbon emissions (Figure 1).

To this end, IEA has developed an environmental monitoring and compliance suite of applications that operate in an Aspen InfoPlus.21 environment. Now, adverse events trigger automatic notification of BASF personnel, while online access to emissions data allows immediate agency notifications.

Regulatory compliance, of course, requires myriad operational data. So, processors are investing in the sort of rugged hardware and software solutions that allow acquiring and processing vast amounts of data as quickly as possible.

For example, the downstream manufacturing division of Royal Dutch Shell, The Hague, the Netherlands, has entered into a multi-year partnership with Invensys Operations Management (IOM), London, U.K., to utilize Invensys' Wonderware IntelaTrac mobile workforce and decision-support solution as one tool in the ensure safe production (ESP) initiative at 29 of its global manufacturing facilities.

The IntelaTrac system, which includes both configurable software and rugged intrinsically safe hardware, will help Shell operators, field engineers and supervisors create, define and routinely execute equipment surveillance and regulatory procedures following best practices, corporate policies and regulatory mandates. It will alert operators executing in-the-field procedures on their mobile computers to potential equipment issues in real time so that they can take corrective action immediately, as well as maintain regulatory compliance.

REACH, for one, also is making it increasingly important to have as much information as possible on hand about individual chemical species. This has spurred a new alliance between AspenTech and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Boulder, Colo., that has enabled the company to add more than 15,000 chemical species to its physical property database. "In the future, we plan to extend the database to include binary data, too," notes Sanjeev Mullick, director product marketing.

Sometimes, though, it's not lack of data, but the varied types and forms of data that's a key problem. "Advances in IT have been a hidden gold mine for many manufacturers. Access to data is often not the issue," says Keith McPherson, director, Rockwell Automation, Milwaukee, Wis. Instead, the challenge is connecting multiple data sources — real-time, historical, relational and transactional — to create a single resource that can access, aggregate and correlate information. Such cohesive information improves decision-making for the manufacturing environment — from inventory to maintenance, quality to production all the way through the enterprise, including the supply chain, he explains.

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