Next Level in Digital Transformation

Refinery of the Future: The Next Level in Digital Transformation

Modernizing business with advanced Industrial IoT (IIoT) can deliver improved process analytics, up-time, customer satisfaction, and worker safety. During a past podcast, Rob Schaeffer, HPE Vice President of Channel Sales U.S., and CBT’s Jason Mendenhall and Stan Galanski talked about the next level in Digital Transformation and how they were bringing Texmark and the Refinery of the Future to life. They discussed the digital transformation challenges Texmark faced within their industry and how they experienced immediate benefits as the Refinery of the Future was being implemented.

The work being done with Texmark was equally interesting and challenging. The goal was to bring together a group of industry-leading partners to integrate advanced IIoT technologies into a live chemical production environment. Because this project was one of the first of its kind, Texmark agreed that their facility would serve as a testbed and an example of the possibilities of implementing IIoT in the real world. 

What a Brave New World Looks Like

The brave new world is where the Edge and the previous infrastructure meet. In probably 10-20 years, it’s one of the most exciting things seen in tech. It’s actually helping customers in real-time, improving their profits and their safety. It is the next level in Digital Transformation.

With this new world, there’s a lot of uncertainty, and it’s important to make significant headway into delivering meaningful results, both on the business side, leveraging technology, but also in cost management. 

The Evolution of IoT

IoT and IIoT have evolved beyond the feel-good buzz words that everyone knows. The core use case of Industrial IoT is the idea of asset intelligence. The big question from customers is, how do we get more intelligence out of the things that are not inside our building, but critical to our business? 

Until recently, this question hadn’t been addressed holistically. At CBT, we realized that there were a lot of point solutions out there to solve individual problems, but the real opportunity was the marrying of operational technology and information technology. So, when we became involved with Texmark and the Refinery of the Future, it was a perfect fit for us to demonstrate our approach to solution design.

The opportunity was founded in five use cases facilitated in early meetings between HPE and Texmark: Connected Worker, Asset Integrity, Worker Safety & Security, Condition Monitoring & Predictive Maintenance, and Video as a Sensor. In principle, we knew we had the appropriate technologies to solve these problems, but the true challenge was implementing them on the campus of a live refinery. With workers out in dangerous environments, we couldn’t just go out and freely experiment. Not to mention we couldn’t do anything to interrupt Texmark’s chemical production schedule without causing significant financial loss.

We made a significant investment of time and energy into taking technologies from over 10 different partners, integrating and deploying them in Texmark’s Refinery of the Future real-world environment, and then opening that environment up for all to see and experience. We knew that we could bring a unique perspective and agility to what needed to make this kind of innovation happen.

About the Program

The Refinery of the Future program was centered around solutions that the customers in the oil and gas industry said were important to them.  

  • Being able to predict the lifespan and productivity of their equipment, knowing when and what time it was going to fail, replacing it without shutting down unknowingly, and understanding the long term data around it.
  • Was there anything happening in the plant that might be unsafe? This can be solved by outfitting the worker with sensors to measure biometric activity and location. It is important to know whether they’re vertical, horizontal, etc. This works by pairing video analytics with cameras in the refinery with the sensors they are wearing. 
  • Productivity, which saves money. The end goal is having the operator work more efficiently in the plant in less severe conditions. Bringing data to them while they’re in a volatile environment, to be able to make assessments and adjustments to equipment, and to get in and out quickly does just that. 
  • Needing to know everything about a piece of equipment should it fail. They need to know when the equipment was last maintained. When was it installed? Can it be fixed in a short time frame? That must be done with an asset integrity program. So when you think of asset integrity, location-based processing, pull that all together and that’s asset management. 

The Edge Solution

Hewlett Packard Enterprise invested $4 billion in the Intelligent Edge to take core compute outside of the data center and into the field. This has manifested in their Edgeline compute systems, which represent the best Edge servers in the industry. CBT is always one step ahead, always looking for what’s next, what’s real and deliverable. We knew, based on HPE’s investment that they were committed to delivering best-in-class when it came to the Edge and would ultimately become the foundation of any Edge solutions deployed at Texmark and the Refinery of the Future. The customer didn’t need a point product, they needed a real solution, which happens all the time. In the oil and gas industry, it often revolves around two areas: profitability and safety.

Believe it or not, they’re interrelated. If you don’t have safety, you probably have an unsafe condition. An unsafe condition could lead to a catastrophic event, which could bring a plant down and could cause revenue loss, fines, or potential long term shut-down. 

The Task of Many

There had to be an underlying infrastructure to further the communication platform and we found that in HPE’s Edgeline systems. To make a building work, you have to have a great underlying infrastructure that starts at the foundation. When you get into worker safety, predictive maintenance, asset integrity, and sensors detecting ongoings in the environment, they require that, but the partnership is much bigger than just that technology piece alone. Because here’s the issue in this brave new world- no one person has the entire story.

HPE has an element, National Instruments has an element of operational technology, RealWear has an element of how a worker might connect, and PTC’s ThingWorx application has some software that helps enable this.

Nobody we’ve seen yet comes to the table with the complete story, and this is where the partnership is key. Without innovations from HPE, the underlying infrastructure doesn’t exist. Without us as a partner, who can then aggregate all these other disparate, vertical pieces of the story into one complete area? It’s not successful and it’s what we learned in this. 

Aggressive Investments

With the activity out of Texmark and the Refinery of the Future, what we’ve learned is that the partnerships in the ecosystem are the only way this works. And if you don’t have someone like CBT, with deep experience in the integration of each of those technologies, you’re much more likely to fail. The best part is our Founder & CEO, Kelly Ireland, who is up to speed on this and is aggressively investing in expanding our team and our expertise.

If anyone, including our team, were to say that they know every one of these technologies and implement seamlessly, they’re lying. There are probably only a few who can, and at CBT we are still only scratching the surface. We made a plant worker wearing a wearable device share data with a data center sitting somewhere else in the plant. Then, we figured out how the machines actually work with the operational technology platforms from their DCS platform, which is controlling the plant and how that data is coming together. That’s a true convergence of IT and OT (operations technology) and its exciting, but there’s so much more to achieve. 

Wearables and What’s Next?

We’re ready to look at the next industry because this really looks at the bigger picture. Texmark and Refinery of the Future is such a powerful use case for not just oil and gas or petrochemicals, but for other industries; we got in and failed. We failed early and we failed fast. Then, we realized if we don’t have somebody who sits there and watches all of this, then it’s not going to work.

Finally, even with some of the big integrators involved in the project, they learned some things. They realized only working on their one space didn’t help. Not accounting for the back end infrastructure working with their control system for the plant, or how it interfaced with humans, didn’t matter. And so, a little bit of that failure is in learning. We don’t proclaim to be experts in every vertical. But, we believe we are the experts on how those verticals work together. That’s the difference.

Initially, we were going to build a 3-D image of the plant. We thought we were tying all the information related to those assets and the plan to that 3-D model. We realized that it can’t be separated from trying to track the worker and where he is in the plant with his wearables. Ultimately, it became obvious to take the coordinate systems and overlay them so that we could have a real-time location-based capability.

Sharing the Data

Obviously, if we’re going to track that individual, then let’s put sensors on. Then, all of these solutions started to interact with each other. Each was assigned a part. CBT recognized that we need to integrate this, otherwise, we’re going to take twice as long doing it. We were going to trip over one another. Next, how do we determine how to share data? Data needed to flow back and forth and APIs needed to be written. It’s a program rather than six individual stories.

Kelly’s drive to always make CBT industry-leading, unique, different and customer-centric, helped. We wanted to partner with Hewlett Packard Enterprise and other partners. The partners were willing to fail and learn from that failure together.


Texmark began seeing real value in this environment. Texmark has opened up their doors to say, hey, we’ve invested in this as well. We want the industry to improve. If you would like to come to see how this is working, come visit us. By visiting the facility with the team that’s been working on it and reading all of these use cases, someone will probably see something they’re trying to tackle and then ask themselves, why can’t my team do this today?

Large scale projects take a long time, Most internal teams are burdened. This is an innovation project needing a different team and a different approach. It needs to be done with scale in mind. We have a whole methodology that helps us do that, and deliver it to our customers.

Oftentimes, when you get to the executive that’s going to be the sponsor or financial controller, they start to say that’s really great, but that’s really going to cost us more. Unfortunately, it’s really not going to help us in the drive for what we do for a living.

Ultimately, this is going to turn into something that has an ROI or cost associated with the business. The business has to understand it’s not technology for technology’s sake. This is trying to solve real-world problems. Yet, the interesting thing is, for the first time, it’s now available. The idea that you could bring a wearable compute device into an industrial plant environment with safety standards is brand new. So, people haven’t been here before.

The Long Haul

We all knew we were in this for the long haul. Everybody that worked on this kept contributing, saw the benefits, and now it’s all about expanding and scaling it. We had to get the security and training to be out in the plant with the workers, which took time and effort. Ultimately, when things broke, people came together from multiple companies to solve a problem. When you start solving problems together, you start seeing the cooperation and start moving towards the next level in digital transformation.

In this collaborative world, how do we deliver a real-life solution that is meaningful? How do we change the way that people live and work through digital disruption? It’s important to understand the process. How do we get this collaborative group of companies working together to deliver to an end-user customer and their employees? You think about safety and the predictability of what can be as a result of technology. 

Uses in Multiple Industries

Don’t try to bite off all of it. If you try to win the entire match out of the gate, in a massive digital transformation project, it fails. If there’s something you know that’s going to have an impact, pick that. It’s likely it’s going to be close to one of the use cases at the Refinery of the Future. The nice thing is these use cases build upon each other. At Texmark, one of the first ones tackled was mechanical integrity. That asset integrity aspect produced savings right out of the gate and they avoided an increase in their insurance premiums.

They found immediate savings right away! And these other ones started producing immediate savings and productivity once we moved down the pathway. Small innovation is the future demonstrable business value that allows us to move forward. Don’t be afraid to start. Don’t overthink it.

We proved it in a real environment. We know what the gotchas are. And that is easily translatable into a lot of different places. The solutions have value in the downstream part of oil and gas and the upstream side, at drilling sites.  It’s valuable in the utility industry, for folks that are working on transmission lines out in the field. This is the Next Level in Digital Transformation for IIoT.

The asset integrity aspect of it transcends multiple industries; aerospace, automotive, wherever, any process-oriented industry has the same problems.

Learn More

Read about the projects we’ve been working on, our thought leadership, our team members, and what we’ve been doing. You can reach us at via the Contact Us page or you can shoot us an email at Most importantly, please know that we welcome tours out at Texmark and the Refinery of Future plant in Galena Park, TX. Come by and see what’s actually going on and how these Industrial IoT technologies are helping a real business.