Operational Excellence Extends Its Reach

Tying in supply chain partners often is becoming an important element

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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The quest for operational excellence increasingly is taking a broader focus both within companies and with partners along the supply chain. Initiatives at Air Products, BASF and Lanxess exemplify the extension of such efforts.

Air Products, Allentown, Pa., promotes operational excellence by setting annual targets for every single plant to maximize value for customers. “These targets include maximizing onstream time, minimizing operating costs, improving productivity, and increasing energy efficiency, as well as certain safety metrics,” explains Yako Wijnands, director of operational excellence.

Part of this involves looking at more specific key performance indicators (KPIs), such as ones for an individual air compressor. “These more specific KPIs vary depending on the type of plant, for example a cryogenic processing plant versus a natural gas reforming plant,” he adds.

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To pursue ongoing operational excellence, Air Products also draws upon extensive experience in plant operation and currently monitors and maintains more than 400 industrial gas facilities globally. Foresight and insight about asset performance comes from a patented, web-based, predictive-monitoring and fault-diagnostic platform called ProcessMD. (For more on this platform, see: “Predictive Analytics Capture Heartbeat of Plant.”)

As an example of how this helps to improve overall operational excellence, Wijnands cites the case of a slight increase in valve temperatures at a multi-service reciprocating hydrogen compressor that occurred at a plant just before a planned outage of a sister plant feeding the same pipeline.

“The ProcessMD platform was able to detect this deviation and predict the valve failure, allowing reliability engineers to control and manage the situation by proactively shutting down the compressor and replacing the valves ahead of the sister plant’s planned outage. This avoided machine damage that could have cost in excess of $100,000, as well as significant supply chain costs,” he explains.

Due to increasing market demand, the company also has formalized its operational excellence offering to customers by adding three levels of asset monitoring and control to its existing optimization, troubleshooting and consulting services. The first is a version of ProcessMD designed for customer-owned plants, the second is similar but includes near-real-time-data process monitoring and reporting, while the third adds all the benefits of mentored operations. “So we operate the customer’s industrial gas plant as if it was part of our own fleet,” adds Wijnands (Figure 1).

Meanwhile, a digital advancement team that was formed in 2017 works closely with the company’s information technology organization, industrial gases businesses and functional units to develop and execute the company’s digital initiatives. Its charter is to help Air Products achieve smarter products, more efficient and agile operations, and simpler, more seamless interactions with customers.

“Digital technologies are transforming the world and providing us with opportunities to accelerate our business capabilities. Digitalization is already enabling us to run our plants more efficiently through technologies such as wireless sensors, cloud computing and analytics. In addition, these technologies help us keep our operating costs competitive and reduce our environmental footprint. We are also joining digital technology with some of our offerings to help our customers optimize their processes as well,” notes Mark Binnig, industrial gases digital transformation manager.

New Initiative

Meanwhile, BASF, Ludwigshafen, Germany, is launching its DrivE strategic operational excellence program at the end of 2018. DrivE is expected to contribute around €1 billion ($1.14 billion) in earnings every year compared with a 2015 baseline and builds on the success of the earlier STEP operational excellence program that has contributed €1.3 billion ($1.5 billion) annually to earnings over its three-year lifespan.

“We constantly work on improving our sites, plants and production processes and are continuing with our restructuring and cost-cutting measures. At the same time, we are increasing our operational excellence through ongoing improvements by harmonizing our business processes worldwide and improving their efficiency,” says Detlef Kratz, senior vice president, corporate technology and operational excellence.

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