Process analysis needs paradigm shift

Industrie 4.0 is driving demand for capable, reliable, cost-effective new technology.

By Paul Studebaker

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Process analyzers are just a means to an end, but they have great potential for improving operations if plants can justify, choose and support them well. The more we use, the less expensive they’ll become, but the path to increased use of cost-effective analyzers has some bumps and curves.

“Our plants profit from safe, reliable, environmentally responsible operations,” said Dr. J.D. Tate, senior technical leader, Dow Chemical, to attendees of his keynote session at the 2016 Yokogawa Users Group Conference this week in Orlando. “Our objective is to make money by controlling the process using computers, models and measurements. Some of those measurements require analyzers—they’re a means to an end.”

Where possible, we should make more money by reducing costs such as maintenance and personnel with more and better technology. Production needs fast and timely information to run safely, profitably and reliably, and on-line analyzers often can provide critical information at a lower cost than lab-based measurements. They can also satisfy regulatory requirements for 24/7 analysis of air and water emissions, and provide accurate and relevant online information for big-data analytics.

Dow Chemical has 22,000 analyzers worth $1 billion, and replaces 1,500 of them every year. “But anyone with a big enough checkbook can buy a gas chromatograph (GC),” said Tate. “Can we use analyzers to gain a competitive edge? What are the opportunities, where are the benefits? Where are your constraints?”

Holding us back

Engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firms don’t have much breadth or depth of skills in analyzers, and even the instrument manufacturers have limited resources for analyzer development, Tate said. “A lot of analyzer technology came directly from the chemical and refining industries—and few suppliers are meeting our needs for the future.”

Dow Process Analytical provides products and services designed to help plants select and support the best technology for the application. “End users have been telling us for more than 10 years that needs are changing, driven by changes in process control, reliability and Industrie 4.0,” Tate said. Model-based control is a reality, and data analytics are changing operations and measurement needs. “Clients are still using last-generation technology, and increasingly need cost-effective, simple solutions because they’re less educated and have less in-house expertise,” Tate said.

“In 2003, Dow had 15,000 analyzers and 153 people in the analyzer group. Today, we have 22,000 analyzers and fewer than 45 people. Our group is losing 432 years of experience in the next five years,” Tate said. “It’s the same everywhere. Something has to give.”

That something should be technology. Today’s analyzers use complex sampling systems with lots of moving parts that are expensive and costly to install and maintain. “The future will bring smart sampling systems that diagnose themselves.” Tate said. “We need numbers we can trust—useful data for operations—and more than just 99% of the time.”

Dow’s 22,000 analyzers include only a few mass spectrometers and Raman analyzers, maybe 300 FTIRs, and hundreds of chromatographs, TDLs, filter IRs and similar complex instruments. “We have thousands of pH and conductivity analyzers,” Tate said. “But compare that to our more than a million pressure, temperature and flow transmitters. If we want more analyzers, we need to bring down the barriers so we can treat them more like regular process instruments.”

Plants can see the potential. For example, at a Dow customer plant, the cause of contaminated product was traced to carbon dioxide in the raw material feed. The incident cost $680,000, and the plant wanted to add an online GC to monitor impurities in the incoming product so it would be able to respond before the final QC analysis. The commercial, off-the-shelf solution included the GC ($80,000), sample conditioning system ($50,000), analyzer building (100 sq.ft., $200,000) and a construction and utilities estimate of 2.5 times the capital equipment cost for a total installed cost of $825,000. The customer could not afford the solution, and the opportunity for improvement was lost.

Driving forward

Industry must overcome personnel, technology and cost impediments to satisfy coming needs for more and better process data. The value drivers for Industrie 4.0 include a long list where analyzers can make material contributions, including:

  • Smart energy consumption;
  • Intelligent lots;
  • Real-time yield optimization;
  • Remote monitoring and control;
  • Predictive maintenance;
  • Real-time supply chain optimization;
  • Batch sizing;
  • Statistical process control;
  • Advanced process control;
  • Digital quality management; and,
  • Rapid experimentation and simulation.

Innovative analyzer engineering is also needed to keep assets competitive. “About 20% of analyzers are at or near the end of support by their suppliers,” Tate said. With replacement and new project rates near 1,500 per year, Dow users need programs for analyzer rationalization (necessity and reliability audits), recommendations for standardization, and assistance for project development, resourcing and execution. They also need help to sustain existing analyzers and introduce improved technologies.

Tomorrow’s technology

“The last fundamental change was lab to field,” Tate said. “Another change is required.” The characteristics users need in the next generation of analyzers include:

  • Technologies that do not require HVAC shelters;
  • Faster speed of response;
  • Technologies that do not need sample transport;
  • Reliable, simpler sample systems;
  • Low maintenance cost – field-repairable/replaceable;
  • System validation designs;
  • Standards-based communications interfaces;
  • Asset management system support; and,
  • Practical solutions for regulatory compliance.

Tate offered as a benchmark the Yokogawa tunable diode laser spectrometer (TDLS). But with few exceptions, analyzer suppliers have not innovated, leaving it up to the process industries. “Dow and the industry generally have more expertise than suppliers, and more access to technology breakthroughs,” he said. “But Dow and the industry do not want to develop technologies. We need a new route to commercially available products.”

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