I/O Systems

ExxonMobil takes on electrical integration

The company's latest effort to simplify and streamline capital project execution

By Keith Larson, group publisher, Control

HUG 2015Banner

ExxonMobil made waves across the process automation industry by championing the concept of configurable input/output (I/O) sub-systems to reduce project execution risk, a methodology that has since been adopted across industry. Now Sandy Vasser and his team of electrical and instrumentation engineers at ExxonMobil Development Company have taken up the cause of electrical integration to further simplify capital project execution and help to bring the company's often multi-billion-dollar efforts in on time and on schedule.

"We continue to challenge everyone on things that we can continue to improve," Vasser said in his keynote address to the 2015 Honeywell Users Group Americas conference today in San Antonio. The automation group has made terrific strides toward taking their work off the critical project path, Vasser said. "Now we're challenging the electrical group to do the same."

Electrical energy is a vital input to process manufacturing operations, often secondary only to raw materials. And, just as the flow of process fluids through pipes, valves and vessels typically is controlled by a dedicated process automation system, the flow of electrons through transformers, circuit breakers and motors is the traditional domain of a dedicated electrical control and monitoring system (ECMS). Historically, both types of systems work largely independently to ensure safe, uninterrupted production. Indeed, the differing dynamics of electrical and process phenomena has led over the years to the development of parallel systems, suppliers and support organizations for each type of system.

But for ExxonMobil, those days are gone. "We're completely eliminating the ECMS," Vassar said, noting that a modern distributed control system (DCS) can readily take on electrical control and monitoring tasks. "We need to take full advantage of the power available in our systems today," Vasser said. Further, control systems that speak IEC 61850, the language of intelligent electronic devices (IEDs), allow fiberoptic network connectivity to banks of low-voltage motor control centers, eliminating the need for traditional hardwired interlocks.

Like configurable I/O before it, electrical integration satisfies ExxonMobil's drive to adopt new technologies and work processes that are SCERT: simple, capital-efficient, robust and timeless, according to Vasser. The company also is applying this philosophy to its capital project procurement processes, replacing the traditional specification development and bidding process with pre-selected, standardized equipment that can be ordered by part number or customized through data sheet parameters, whenever possible. "The project team will create data sheets, not specifications," Vasser said, "and we'll do this at each level of the electrical infrastructure."