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A Plant Manager’s Worst Nightmare

Don’t Be on the Evening News… Secure Your Plant’s Safety

As a plant manager, the safety of your personnel and your plant is probably one of your most crucial responsibilities. And you never want to experience an explosion and/or fire at a plant under your charge. It’s a frightening thought. Managing and running an industrial manufacturing plant is extremely difficult. Having to keep track of all the assets and processes and the production intricacies is taxing. The responsibility is huge, especially when human life is at stake.

When I was Googling recent plant/refinery incidents, the prompt People also ask “Why is a plant/refinery a dangerous place to work?” appeared. It’s pretty obvious why but if not, it doesn’t take much imagination to guess why. The answer was along these lines: These places are extremely high-risk areas (due to the types of processes and raw materials/chemicals used) and are prone to workplace hazards. With a minor mistake or process irregularity, fire and explosion can result threatening personnel, assets, and production.

In such complicated processes, there can be numerous potential causes for industrial incidents, but one cause is equipment failure that was not caught by operations/maintenance in time to prevent the disaster. Here are a couple of major industrial incidents, both of which were in the news, and both of which were due to issues with maintenance.

2012 – The Pipe Rupture and Fire at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, California 
A pipe broke on the crude unit in this plant releasing vapor that subsequently exploded. Unfortunately, 18 employees did not escape the vapor cloud before it caught fire. Smoke and particles affected the surrounding community causing physical and health problems for 15,000 people. The pipe had been damaged due to sulfidation corrosion. A preventive maintenance strategy was set in place to monitor equipment for warning signs before failure but was not successful in averting the failure.

2014 – The Sulfuric Acid Spill at the Tesoro Refinery in Martinez, California 
Early in this year in the Alkylation Unit of the Tesoro Martinez Refinery, there were 2 sulfuric acid releases resulting in injuries to personnel. The alkylation units in this refinery contain acid catalysts and light hydrocarbons which when combined can have potentially severe consequences. Both of these incidents occurred during non-routine maintenance work.

Fire, explosion, injuries, asset damage and loss…easily anyone’s worst nightmare. But what if the plant manager and the team on duty during each of these incidents had help in the form of “24/7 eyes on the process”? What if they were using technology such as self-service analytics to secure plant safety that allowed them to monitor operations and receive alerts about a possible operational issue, even during maintenance work?

While we can’t say for sure that these accidents might have been entirely prevented with self-service analytics, what we can say is that incidents like this have a higher chance of being avoided with the right systems in place.

Self-service analytics platforms like TrendMiner have many important capabilities that can help plant managers and their teams to do their jobs better and easier, but it also helps them to run more stable and thus safer plants. It can help them find root causes faster and prevent future incidents. Let’s look at how self-service can help you.

Improving Root Cause Analysis & Preventing Future Incidents  

Industrial manufacturing plants capture an immense amount of sensor-generated process data that can and should be leveraged to better understand chemical processes. Traditionally, global experts and data scientists are often brought in when incidents happen. They will deep dive into historical time-series data and construct mathematical/statistical models to help local process teams to better understand what happened and to determine how they can prevent future incidents. This approach can be inefficient, however, as there are rarely enough global experts and data scientists for the number of projects needed. It’s also costly and time-consuming.

Dashboards can be created to monitor the statuses of your assets

A more viable and efficient approach would be to equip process experts with the tools to perform the analytics themselves. This is where self-service analytics comes in play, bringing significant value as it allows the process experts to do just that. They would be able to:

  • Analyze and segment historical data quickly.
  • Perform complex real-time calculations on process data.
  • Improve knowledge sharing by allowing users to leave comments on process data (in order words – to contextualize data).
  • Monitor and predict processes within the operational context.
  • Assist with scheduling maintenance and predict preventive maintenance.

With these capabilities, process experts can perform efficient and fast root cause analyses (RCA) and improve asset reliability and health thus helping process experts to avoid plant incidents. But if, however, an incident occurs, an incident investigation is usually conducted by operations to understand the root cause and to generate action items that would mitigate or prevent future incidents.

Usually, this is carried out by manually scanning through process data in the historian and data wrangling in Excel files to establish a root cause or to generate a correlation.  However, using self-service analytics, the engineer can search through historical data for patterns and specific process conditions with the click of a few buttons and quickly locate all correlations between process tags (including lag time) within seconds. Furthermore, this work can be shared between users, allowing for a bonus of improved collaboration and record keeping.    

Besides improving RCA and helping to prevent future incidents, self-service analytics can help you improve plant safety by increasing the effectiveness of process safety and risk management programs.

Increase the Efficiency of Process Hazard Analysis Studies

In the United States, the foundation for process safety and risk management programs within chemical plants are the Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) studies that are required by OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) and the EPA’s Risk Management Plan (RMP) regulations. PHAs also help protect against product quality issues, process downtime, and property damage.

During a PHA session, process experts often need to locate specific information or process parameters within a specific time period that could span the previous 5 to 10 years in order to assess whether a particular process safety scenario is valid. Using self-service  analytics, the user can quickly pull up statistical information on and between different process tags and also layer events on top of each other, which facilitates the speed and increases effectiveness of PHAs.

Another common task during PHAs is to identify the number of times a certain temperature or pressure exceeded a given threshold. Traditionally using Excel, this could take hours if not longer to complete with multiple people looking within a specific time span. However, with self-service analytics, this search can be done in seconds. Process experts can then ensure that no event of interest is missed when assigning risk categories, which contributes to the effectiveness and accuracy of PHAs.

Run a Tight, Secure & Safe Plant  

workers looking at the factory

You and your crew realize the importance of running and securing a stable and safe plant. It makes good sense to take advantage of available technology that can significantly ease your job and increase the safety of your team and plant.

By using self-service analytics, you can have help monitoring and visualizing operations and be warned about a potential issue in time to take corrective action. And, hopefully, avoid being on the evening news.

Find out how Huntsman, global manufacturer and marketer of differentiated and specialty chemicals, runs a tight, secure, & safe plant.

Jasper Rutten, Advanced Analytics Manager and Global Excellence Team Member for Huntsman Polyurethanes, explains how in this webinar on demand.