Connected Worker and IIoT: Refinery of the Future

How Connected Worker and IIoT Work Together at the Refinery of the Future

In a recent podcast, we spoke with Peter Moser, IoT and AI Strategist at HPE, our own Stan Galanski of CBT, and Linda Salinas of Texmark Chemicals about the Connected Worker solution they integrated into the Refinery of the Future. What we learned was that connectivity is becoming more prevalent and affordable. Businesses are exploring how they can connect their workers in the field to improve collaboration, productivity, create new efficiencies, and more importantly, health and safety. 

We learned about some compelling business reasons that led to Texmark embarking on this digitization journey and how the concept of connected workers fit into that journey. For Texmark, there were a couple of business drivers. First, they had a need to upgrade their antiquated distributed control system. They had a vision for growth for the company and they felt like they were outgrowing their current system. They were looking for something that would grow with them. They figured it to be a five to six year plan, so they thought they should begin the process. Another reason was the need to formalize their mechanical integrity program. One reason to do that was because OSHA said to, in order for Texmark to be a process safety management PSM facility. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to manage your assets so that they operate reliably for you. They felt like it was time to take a step back and look at those business objectives, and they realized very quickly that both were sources of information for their workers. And, how better to provide them with the information that comes from two systems. It was their distributed control system and their asset management system. They needed to find some way to connect them to that information and out of that grew the connected worker use case.

A Lot to Consider

When CBT and HPE began working on the project, we had a lot to consider. We’re talking about something that’s very complex; we had to take a non- traditional approach and apply it because it’s not like another factory environment, it’s very hazardous. We had identified a set of partners that were both IT and OT oriented. We had to take into consideration that we were going to be working in a hazardous environment; we couldn’t have anything that would possibly spark and ignite a fire. And we had to schedule all our operations such that it would not disrupt the normal activity/productivity or create a safety hazard. So with all that in mind, we tried to keep existing IT functions operational, but at the same time, introduce these new changes, new adaptations of technology and make sure that the plant was able to continue to produce without hesitation. 

We started thinking about this program from a very broad level of what we are going to be able to deploy that would serve the entire mission of the business, but take it in chunks, or in steps, one small process at a time. And then from there, once it was proven, we would scale accordingly. Having done that, we then sought the available technologies that would fit into a functional framework that would support all the other RotF use cases here at the plant and work with the associated contractors that could produce those technologies needed.

Intrusive or Non-Intrusive

It was very complex, we are talking 24/7 operations, in a Class I Div I operating environment and it encompassed multiple technologies. The customer wanted us to provide a solution that would allow the worker to collect information, with the minimal set of mechanical tools and equipment at their disposal. 

They’re working in a hazardous environment; so clearly, they want to minimize the things they’re carrying. So this had to do with looking at pumps; a typical day would have them doing rounds and examining the condition of the pumps. They needed to collect readings of temperature, pressure and fluid levels. So, we needed to know what the data was, which they gave us. We needed to know how to extract that data. We found out the best way to do that was to apply sensors. We could either do intrusive or non-intrusive sensors, but then the data had to be streamed from the asset to a compute platform, which has a ubiquitous WiFi system by Aruba, that brought the data into an edge data center that could be collected and stored in the database. 

Once the data was there, it would be triggered to be resent out to the worker upon request, the way it was triggered was through the use of a visual capture capability. And we were using a brand new technology from RealWear, called the HMT-1, that allowed the worker to have a camera on its helmet recognize its location or the object that it was standing next to, correlate that with an identifier in the database, and immediately grab the data and beam it back to his helmet and put it on a headset display. In addition, that tool also provided noise-cancelling conversation between the worker and the control room operator.

The Benefits Learned

When you hear all the capabilities described, you have to think of what kind of business benefits Texmark is seeing from it today and what kind of benefits will you see in the next year, three years or ten years? Texmark said, the first thing, of course, is efficiency. But what does that really mean efficiency? This is a simple approach on what Texmark was doing then versus the direction CBT and HPE took them.

At that time, they had an operator with a clipboard and a two way radio and a valve wrench and his own PPE personal protective equipment, doing the rounds. And to provide that connectivity today, the operator will stand in front of that piece of equipment and make some observations, maybe write it down, maybe not. All the information may not have been there while they were standing in front of the pumps. So then the operator would need to radio back to the control room and ask for additional data that would be on the control board. And then they have a conversation back and forth, an exchange of information. So that the operator standing in front of the pump can make a decision and then make a move, take some action. All that stuff takes time and would take two people.

The solution the partners brought together is efficiency so that one worker can do the job that two were doing. Standing in front of that pump, getting the information that they need that’s either available locally, or from wireless sensors or wired sensors, and then they can make a move. It happens more seamlessly and more quickly. Quickly equates to efficiency, higher yields, savings, and more profits. 

And even more importantly, it equates to safety. Things happen more quickly, and less time is spent in the field, near the equipment and in that Class I Div I area we talked about. Now, it frees their operators up to go do other things. When you can make decisions more quickly, especially if you’re in an emergency type situation, then time is of the essence.

Five Case Studies for Texmark

There are actually five cases or situations going on simultaneously at Texmark. CBT is the primary integrator of those five use cases. We are doing kind of minimally viable solutions right now with each of these use cases. But eventually, they’re all going to come together into more of an integrated set of workflows.  

The next phase is we’re going to scale what we’ve done. And as we’re scaling, we’re looking at how the five use cases are going to start connecting and overlapping. Right off the bat, connected workers are dealing with dynamic performance of an asset, it’s collecting real-time data of a moving pump. That’s very important to be able to determine whether there’s going to be a pending problem, imminently. But there’s also the data that’s being collected in solution 5 (asset integrity management), and that is looking at corrosive conditions of piping and instrumentation, and various radiometric readings that are collected over time. 

So the maintenance worker who cares about that degradation of static equipment might also be interested in what’s happening with the performance of a dynamic piece of equipment that connects to it. So with all that said, bringing solution five, which is collecting maintenance information on static equipment, versus connected workers, which is acquiring data that is dynamic. Putting that together gives a more holistic picture to the worker and to the operation center control later.

The Day to Day with Texmark’s Mechanics

Linda told us that Texmark’s operators are mechanics, they walk around the plant and they’ve been weighed down. They’ve got tools, they’ve got a pipe wrench, a clipboard, a handheld radio, they’ve got their personal protective equipment, and then whatever diagnostic tools they might carry with them. And in the case of the operator, they’re walking around the plant looking for and making observations about normal operations to make sure that things are on spec. The millwright and the mechanics are doing routine rounds, doing diagnostics on the equipment and taking notes. 

So when the mechanics are out in the field, they might hit seven to ten pumps in any given day. And as you’re inspecting those pumps, you might find something that needs a little further research. And so the mechanic would go back to the office, dig out mechanical integrity records, perhaps call a vendor to do some research. And that then diverts his attention from the typical rounds. You might not just blast through and catch all the pumps in one week.

So now the maintenance team is focused on this one anomaly and those things take time. In the future, the millwright will be seen making his rounds using technology. He’s got a hands free device and his own dashboard persona that will direct him in the areas of the plant that need his attention the most. Texmark sits on eight acres. A lot of the super-majors they deal with are probably on 8000 acres. Together, we see a real benefit for them. Through his handheld device or through the helmet, he can call up the data that he needs while he’s in the field. There’s no walking back to the office to look on the database. He can collaborate with his other workers wearing the helmet and make real-time decisions.

The CBT Approach

CBT took an approach that proved most successful, which was integrating the worker into the process of deploying these new tools and technologies. We tried to take it incrementally. We brought them in, showed them the tools, showed them exactly how things were going to be presented. We asked for their opinions and integrated them. And then we went to the next stage. So along this path, we include the operators, the plant workers, so that they felt invested and understood what was coming their way. So none of this happened abruptly or all at once. In fact, having them involved was very helpful because they gave us some ideas. Not only do we want to see the real time data, but also I need to know the history of that pump, what’s happened over the last week, 10 days or a month. And we incorporated that, we went into the historian database, pulled that up, and they were able to see both in lickety split time. That helped make their decisions more complete and direct. And right now, they find themselves on a daily basis asking us when’s the next solution? How can we help?

Just like our cell phones today are very intuitive and we don’t even think twice about using it as a camera or to take notes. Texmark is seeing workers do the same with the connected helmet. They’re in the field and they say “navigate home” and they say “take photos” and all hands free, they’re able to take a picture of something in the plant that they need to then transmit to other workers, or they might use in a meeting, or use and talk directly with equipment vendors. It can also record video so if they wanted to take notes and dictate some notes and take a video of whatever it is that they’re seeing – there’s excess vibration, I see here that the temperature or pressure is this – and then send that short video clip to the manufacturer; and that is very valuable. And just using that technology, just like it’s intuitive with phones, is becoming more and more intuitive for the workers.

Not as Simple as it Sounds without Partners

The data flow and how everything is captured, moved, stored and then redistributed to the user is a very complex operation and was not a simple process. But something to understand and appreciate are the very qualified partners. For instance, PTC was brought in, because they had a very good visualization tool. They allowed us to take an agile approach to do cyclic design collaboratively with the user and the worker. So we would show them how the data would be presented, we would ask for their comments, they would make recommendations, and we would feed that back to PTC. And because of the flexibility of the Vuforia studio, we could make those changes in 24 hours, have it back in front of the customer, and get their buy in, which helps to speed development. 

RealWear was a fit for purpose product that was able to work in a Class I Div I environment. We didn’t have to pre-qualify it, wait for testing, or anything like that. And the fact that it brought noise cancelling audio and video and picture capture and geolocation with it was all the better. Using the Aruba ubiquitous Wi Fi was critical to establish the foundation. It was flexible, we were able to switch frequencies in different parts of the plant, to increase signal strength where we needed to, and that just made the data transfer that much stronger. And then lastly, the use of the edge data center from HPE enabled us to store the information in a mobile, environmentally secure cabinet that can be located almost anywhere on the campus. This way we could put our servers, our storage, and our network components all in one location and one facility. It was environmentally safe, we could monitor it and move it in any location of the facility as needed. Because of its simplicity, we could also purchase another one and have disaster recovery on the same plant site.

It is incredible to think about how the partners are able to come together and how it’s transforming Texmark. CBT was able to help Texmark see a vision through successfully without any impairment to their production or operations, and without any injury during the course of this journey.

If you’d like to learn more about Texmark and the refinery in the future you can visit our Refinery of the Future page. 


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