Keep the Process Analyzers On-Stream

Despite Computer Operation Simplicity, Personal Skills Are Still Needed to Achieve the Full Benefits of Process Monitoring

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Paul Pulicken is in charge of analyzer technology at BP's Texas City Refinery, as well as working with others in this technology at the company's five U.S. refineries. With 23 years of analyzer experience in a variety of petroleum and chemical processes, Pulicken is well-positioned to offer direction in this field. [Editor's note: Pulicken is now head of process analyzer technology at Bayer Americas.]

The Texas City Refinery, with roughly 1500 analyzers, isn't your typical manufacturing operation. Servicing these instruments with a staff of fewer than 40 people, however, is every maintenance manager's analyzer challenge—in spades.

The No. 1 challenge, Pulicken's experience shows, has been presenting a representative sample to the analyzer. This is a problem, not only in the sample system's fundamental design, but also in its continuing maintenance. Much effort is currently directed at standardizing and rationalizing sample system design and component interfacing, and assuring integrated data flow for sample-system troubleshooting and optimization. Traditionally, this activity has been long on experience and ad hoc decision-making, which leaves operating management vulnerable to key personnel reassignments.

Challenge No. 2 is the shortage of qualified project engineers and managers who have sufficient experience with modern analyzers. This situation often shortchanges the analyzer's value as a provider of key process performance measures.

The third challenge is the lack of analyzer knowledge at the plant operations level. This usually translates to less-than-optimum use of analyzer data, as well as slower response to impending maintenance issues. These three chief challenges don't even include instrument problems.

In Pulicken's view, education and training are the major needs. For instrument training, particularly with a new or advancing technology, he relies on the instrument manufacturer. For more system-level training, particularly with multiple vendors involved, he generally opts for training courses from analyzer systems engineering firms.
According to a PAI 2008 worldwide process analyzer market study, the annual expenditures for instruments, sample systems, installation/commissioning and maintenance) was almost $7 billion. The current economic malaise is likely to defer some, perhaps many, capital projects, and cause substantial reductions in analyzer-related spending, but it's unlikely to seriously reduce the value of the analyzer enterprise. This technology is now an integral part of the safe and efficient operation of much of the world's production capacity.

According to PAI Partners' new worldwide process analyzer market study (PAI/2012), "The Process Analyzer Enterprise," annual expenditures for instruments, sample systems, installation/commissioning and maintenance was $6.6 billion in 2010. The credit crunch of 2008-2009 caused many capital projects to be deferred, resulting in substantive reductions in analyzer-related spending. Analyzer technology, however, is now a deeply embeded component of safe and efficient operation in the petrochemical industry, and is likely to rebound strongly.  

[Editor's note: A version of this article first appeared in Plant Services, April 2009 and has been revised for this issue.]

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