How Process Design Solved Oil & Gas Valve Misalignment

How Process Design Solved Oil & Gas Valve Misalignment

Valve misalignments are a serious and costly issue in the petrochemical industry. Misalignments in tank fields and blending areas can result in financial losses from product quality and issues with environmental safety.

Here’s how a custom electronic pinboard automation integration solution developed by Matrix Technologies, Inc., helped a large oil refinery mitigate valve misalignments and improve efficiency in the alignment process design.

Why Valve Misalignments Can Be Costly

Integrated systems are a control standard for processing and pipelines in the oil and gas industry. These fully automated integration systems are the most robust approach to meeting the industry’s demands for quality and safety.

But in many oil and gas industry operations, it’s still common to use manually operated valves instead of fully automated systems because of the sheer cost of installing such systems at large sites.

This was the case at a large U.S. oil refinery. This customer is part of a large, multinational corporation and serves a major portion of United States petrochemical consumers with various products.

At the customer’s Midwest blending operations site, paper drawings, charts, redlines, and pinboards were being used to track the status of valves being open or closed. Though these types of solutions can work for a handful of instruments, handling 85 tanks and over 2,000 valves in the customer’s tank field area requires an approach much less cumbersome and prone to error.

Valve misalignments were creating serious cost and safety issues for the customer. In 2013, the customer’s tank field area experienced 15 incidents of valve misalignments resulting in over $900,000 in documented financial loss. This loss was due to product quality issues when product tanks or deliveries became contaminated and operational issues when incorrect tank alignments caused process unit upsets. In addition, these incidents presented a significant safety and environmental risk.

Eliminating these misalignment incidents required a change in procedure and a new integrated solution to facilitate the changes. The customer turned to Matrix Technologies, one of the world’s most experienced oil and gas engineering companies, to develop a new approach.

Figure 1. Tank with multiple valves and piping connected

Creating a New Oil & Gas Process Design Solution

Understanding how the tank field operators currently monitored and tracked valve statuses was the key to coming up with a usable, effective solution.

Operators had an enormously detailed site-wide CAD drawing, printed and spread out over multiple ANSI D-sized sheets. They needed to see the entire tank field, but also needed to see the intricate valve configurations that connected the tanks, like that in Figure 1. The new solution would need to make it easy to switch between a high-level overall layout of the tank field and an in-depth close-up of the valve lineups.

Working closely with the customer, Matrix recommended creating a new process design system that would monitor the current configuration of every valve and tank on the site. Operators would communicate the location of the valves that needed to be opened or closed via radio and workers in the field would radio back once the work was complete.  System data, such as a car sealed valve or problems operating the valve, would be entered into and stored in the system.

To get the level of detail required to show thousands of valves and quickly switch between different viewpoints, Matrix engineers had to move beyond standard HMI development tools. This led to the development of custom process operations technology, using AutoCAD as the Graphical User Interface (GUI) for the system. Data management was handled by a Microsoft SQL Server database.

How the Process Operations Technology Works

AutoCAD is a tried and true tool in oil and gas the engineering industry. The basic controls of interacting with a drawing are easy to learn. Autodesk offers software developers the functionality to integrate custom applications with AutoCAD to extend its features.

The process operations technology software application created by Matrix adds new toolbars, command line options, and functions to AutoCAD’s existing commands. Operators can search for a particular valve based on its identifying information. Upon selecting a valve, the operator can change the valve’s status between “Open” and “Closed.” The change is visually relayed to the operator: A red valve indicates closed and a green valve indicates open.

Figure 2. Valves configured as open (green) or closed (red) connect process piping. Layer colors (blue, pink, amber, and black) indicate different process materials.

As valves are configured between opened or closed, changes are logged into the database. A client-server relationship between the AutoCAD HMI and the database server enables the use of multiple HMI clients running the customized AutoCAD software. The database catalogs input from the different HMIs and distributes the changes among all clients. Every HMI sees the same valve configuration.

Figure 3. System Architecture for AutoCAD HMI tools communicating with SQL Server

The process design system runs on an isolated private network, not connected to enterprise or process control networks. The database, however, has been configured for feedback and control uses. The software structure is in place to integrate and show live data from the field or to transmit control signals to the equipment.

Figure 4. Connecting the AutoCAD HMI System to Process Network devices

Ensuring Proper User Access and System Security

One important issue that had to be addressed when developing the AutoCAD HMI tools was keeping the CAD drawing showing the tank field, valves, and piping segments intact. AutoCAD is by design a tool for creation and editing, but the customer needed the drawing content to be static.

Matrix implemented a security model based around user access to secure the state of the CAD objects and entities in the drawing. Different levels of users have different levels of access, which were implemented in software by disabling subsets of AutoCAD’s editing commands and functions.

Users were broken into three groups:

  • Non-operational users, who could view but not make changes to the system;
  • Operators, who could configure valves and enter metadata;
  • Process Engineers, who could make CAD-changes to the system.

Login credentials were created so individuals had only the access they needed.

Enhancing Operator Interaction with Advanced Viewing Technology

Designing a process operations technology system built around PC software created flexibility in the visual display hardware that could be used. Touchscreen monitors were one possibility, so as part of the GUI design, the AutoCAD Ribbon Toolbar was utilized to create large buttons for easy access by touch.

Figure 5. Custom buttons and tools added to the AutoCAD Ribbon Toolbar

The main system display was designed to be as large as feasible so its contents could be easily seen by all operators, even at a distance from display. This was achieved using an LCD television with a screen over seven feet in diagonal measurement, although a projector also was considered. AutoCAD’s native zooming capabilities also complemented the size of the screen.

This powerful viewing technology created huge advantages to system users. When searching for a particular valve or tank, the system zooms out to show the entire site, and then zooms back in toward the object in question, helping convey relative geographic location. Zooming and panning also are tied to a computer mouse scroll wheel, giving operators manual, granular control over what they’re viewing.

These methods of interaction proved to be very intuitive. Large areas of the site could be viewed on the television screen with moderate detail of the tanks and valves and the detailed valve configuration could be reached instantly without lag or loading time.

How these Innovations Prevent Misalignments

Once Matrix established the HMI interface and the tracking of configurations and metadata about all tanks and valves, the next step was making use of that information. Knowing the configuration of the valves, we added in the data about how the piping itself was built and connected. This enables the customer to determine at any given moment which process materials were flowing through which pipes.

By adding in the piping configuration data – over 15,000 piping segments and how they joined together –operators could see the results of their intended valve alignments.

Operators now can catch valve misalignments before they happen.

Figure 6. The current process flow path, depicted as lines and tanks colored green.

In Figure 6, TANK-1635 has been selected to identify the process flow path. It takes only a few seconds for the SQL Server database to analyze all possible routes throughout the entire site, passing through open valves and stopping at the closed valves.  Results are displayed to the operator’s screen. In the case of Figure 6’s potential valve lineup, process is flowing between TANK-1635 and TANK-1625, perhaps unintentionally.

By identifying where process materials will be flowing, operators can see when tanks are cut together and determine whether or not they should be. Valve lineups can be checked throughout the entire tank field prior to being set on the physical equipment.

The Result: Misalignment Costs Reduced to $0

In just over a year of running the new AutoCAD HMI system, the customer has achieved significant results, including a 100% drop in financial losses caused by misalignments, from over $900,000 per year to $0.

Additionally, by recording the valve changes in a database, reports and analytics yield data about which valves have been reconfigured multiple instances over a short period of time and thus may be prone to failure. These reports allow engineering to allocate funds to buy spare and replacement components ahead of time, reducing down time and the urgency of getting a much-needed part at the last minute.

Finally, one of the most notable successes is the change in procedural workflow for operators and engineers. The simplicity and ease of migrating over to the new system has led to it becoming a tool that they actively want to use.

Process Design Lessons for Industrial Manufacturers

The solution created for this oil refinery offers valuable lessons for other industrial manufacturers facing similar process design challenges:

  • There is large value in being able to run a process predictably. Aggregating the data about a process automation system provides visibility that enables manufacturing to be predictable and reliable and have a consistent, expected outcome;
  • The client recognized that they had a procedural workflow issue and that the standard tools and HMI packages they had available would not satisfy the needs for such a complex system. They knew they needed external expertise and approached Matrix Technologies, whose staff had the experience to recognize the problem, and the skill to devise the solution. This led to the custom solution integrating industry-standard tools in a new and unique way;
  • Operators and engineers are open to ways that allow them to do their job better. Usable, intuitive tools that improve their job will be quickly adopted and are more likely to succeed;
  • Once data about a process and equipment is centrally collected and properly organized such as in a database, it’s possible to analyze that data and make determinations to gain insight, reduce maintenance costs, and improve future business.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our automation integration capabilities and oil & gas engineering solutions, contact Austin Escobedo, Senior Engineer 1 in the Manufacturing Systems & Solutions Department

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

Circuit Protection: The Difference Between Circuit Breakers and Supplementary Protectors

Circuit Protection: The Difference Between Circuit Breakers and Supplementary Protectors

To ensure safety in manufacturing plants, it’s important to understand the difference between a circuit breaker and a supplementary protector—and the specific applications for each device.

Electrical power and control systems require circuit protection to prevent fires, short circuits, and equipment damage.  As part of their system design process, the electrical engineering team specifies the required circuit breakers and supplemental protectors.

Your Home Has Both Circuit Breakers and Supplementary Protectors

Most homes have a circuit breaker box, typically with separate 15-20 Amp breakers to protect the wiring for each home circuit (kitchen, living room, etc.) from overheating and damage. (Older homes may still use fuses.)  The breaker opens the circuit when the amperage exceeds its rated capacity.  They have a reset mechanism and can be manually turned on and off.

Residential supplementary protectors stop electricity from reaching an appliance before it can cause damage. They are found, for example, on kitchen garbage disposals, hair dryers, and surge protectors that shield the delicate and expensive electronics of your computer and entertainment systems.  They have a reset button, and provide additional protection beyond the circuit breakers.

UL (Underwriters Laboratories) provides standards to protect homes as well as promote safety in manufacturing plants. UL 489 applies to circuit breakers, UL 1077 covers supplemental protectors, and UL 508A applies to industrial control panels.

Circuit Breakers and UL 489

UL 439 defines a circuit breaker as a device designed to open and close a circuit by non-automatic (i.e., manual) means, and to open the circuit automatically on a pre-determined overcurrent, without damage to itself when properly applied within its rating. They provide service feeder and branch circuit protection for wiring, and are designed for short circuit, overcurrent, and overvoltage protection.

UL tests these devices for proper operation, and certifies compliance with the standard by assigning a Listing Mark that identifies the device as a “Listed Circuit Breaker.”

Supplementary Protectors and UL 1077

This standard defines a supplementary protector as a manually resettable device designed to open the circuit automatically on a pre-determined value of time versus current or voltage. Sometimes located within an appliance or other electrical equipment, they may have a device to manually open and close the circuit.  They provide overcurrent and overvoltage equipment protection but limited short-circuit protection, and are always located after the branch circuit protection.

These devices are tested by UL in combination with the equipment being protected. Approved devices receive a Component Recognition Mark, which is the mirror-image reverse of UR.  It may also include the words “Supplementary Protector,” which is very different from a Listing Mark.

UL 508A: Circuit Protection in Industrial Control Panels

The key to selecting the type of protection is the type of circuit being protected.

Circuit breakers are required for the following circuits:

  • Feeder Circuit: All circuit conductors between the service equipment, the source of a separately derived system or another power supply source, and the final branch-circuit overcurrent device.
  • Motor Branch Circuit: The portion of the electrical distribution system that extends beyond the final branch circuit overcurrent protective device. They serve lighting, appliance, motors, and/or other individual loads.

The following control circuits may require a combination of circuit protection.

  • Class 1 Control Circuit: A control circuit on the load side of an overcurrent protective device where the voltage does not exceed 600V and the power available is not limited. Also, it can be a control circuit on the load side of power limiting supply, such as a transformer. The circuit primary (line side) must have branch circuit protection (circuit breaker or fuse). It may also have supplemental protection on the line side. Secondary (load side) protection can be provided by a supplementary protector.
  • Class 2 Control Circuit: A control circuit supplied from a source having limited voltage (30V rms or less) and current capacity, such as from the secondary of a Class 2 transformer, and rated for use with Class 2 remote-control or signaling circuits (DC power supply). Supplementary protectors can be used for both primary (line side) and secondary (load side) protection as this type of circuit is downstream of a branch circuit device.

In Summary

Safe system design for electrical power and control systems is complex and often requires obtaining engineering consulting services to provide the needed expertise.  Just remember the following guidelines.

Use circuit breakers for:

  • Branch Circuit Protection
  • Power Transformer Primary and Secondary Protection
  • Load Protection for Motors, Heaters, Lamps, etc.

Use supplementary protectors for:

  • Control Transformer Primary Protection
  • Control Transformer Secondary Protection
  • Protection of control devices, such as relays, starter coils, and solenoids

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our electrical engineering capabilities and manufacturing process control solutions, contact Brian Haury, PE, Discipline Manager in the Process & Electrical Design Department.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

Measuring an Industrial Process: Top 12 Common Metrics

Measuring an Industrial Process: Top 12 Common Metrics

It’s an axiom of business that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. This is especially true in manufacturing operations management. Industrial plant managers need to collect and analyze production data to gain clear insight into their manufacturing process control.

But tracking the wrong metrics is almost as bad as tracking nothing at all.  It’s essential to collect correct and accurate data.

Numbers and charts are powerful tools in the business world and vital for industrial manufacturing. The correct metrics can help you identify bottlenecks and throughput issues within the production process, which then can be utilized as part of continuous improvement efforts.

Good metrics offer industrial manufacturers two major insights:

  1. How your business is doing against your business plan;
  2. Where weak areas are that need focus to improve operations.

12 Common Metrics to Measure Manufacturing Operations Management

In our experience as manufacturing engineering consultants who guide industrial manufacturers on manufacturing intelligence and manufacturing operations management, we have found that most manufacturers benefit by measuring the following 12 core metrics:

  1. Cycle Time: The total time required to manufacture a product. Any reduction in this time directly reduces production costs.
  2. Changeover Time: The time required to convert a machine, equipment, or line to produce a different product than it was previously producing.
  3. Throughput: The amount of product produced.
  4. Capacity Utilization: How effectively your assets are being utilized.
  5. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE): Measures downtime, speed loss, and quality. The higher the score, the better the performance. This is the most common metric.
  6. Schedule Deviation: Identifies how closely the production schedule is adhered to.
  7. Planned v. Unplanned Maintenance: Identifies unavailability of the production assets due to routine maintenance or forced/unplanned maintenance.
  8. Downtime: The ratio of the total operating time against planned production time.
  9. Yield: Measures first-time yield as well as overall yield. First-time yield measures products that are manufactured without any rework or scrap or rerun.
  10. Customer Complaints: Customer satisfaction metrics that measures the number of times customers have complained or rejected/returned the product.
  11. Raw Material Quality: Measures the supplier defect rate or incoming raw material quality.
  12. On-time Delivery: Measures order fulfillment rate.

Tools that Help Measure Manufacturing Process Control

Measuring and improving the production performance of manufacturing process control comes with many implementation challenges. There are always additional opportunities for deploying new metrics programs, processes, and technologies that can make a real difference in production.

Maximizing production performance and identifying the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) requires an effective leadership team. It also requires committed functional production teams supported with the right information and insights to impact the production process according to their roles in a manufacturing company.

Are These Metrics Right for your Plant?

Though the common metrics listed here can apply to nearly any industrial manufacturer, there may be additional metrics that are more pertinent to your business or industry. The MESA (Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association) organization has sponsored research over the past years to help the manufacturing marketplace identify the most important metrics and help decision-makers understand metrics improvements and their relationships to metrics programs and the use of software solutions. As part of the most recent metrics survey, 28 manufacturing metrics were identified as being the most utilized by discrete, process, and hybrid/batch manufacturers. The MESA metrics list can be found here.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our manufacturing operations management capabilities and manufacturing process control solutions, contact John Lee, Strategic Manager of Manufacturing Intelligence.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.