Innovation boosts safety at Chevron

Chevron Oronite deploys wireless personnel tracker to boost safety and efficiency. Steam-trap monitoring and mobile HMIs are next on the list.

By Paul Studebaker

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Chevron Oronite manufactures hundreds of additive packages for engines, gears and hydraulic fluids in seven plants around the world. “Our facility has expanded over the years, becoming larger and more complex. As part of an overall Chevron effort, we want to improve safety, and we started by looking at access control,” said Tom Madilao, regional manager, special projects, Chevron Oronite, in his presentation, “Using analytics and sensing technology to improve safety, energy efficiency, and productivity at a chemical plant” at the 2017 Emerson User Group Exchange, this week in Minneapolis.

“It’s easy to have employees and contractors in the wrong place at the wrong time, especially during startups and shutdowns. And during an incident, we need to be able to find and account for everyone,” Madilao said. “We don’t want everyone having to go to the control room to sign in and out, and even then, we weren’t certain about their location. We wanted to go from ‘I think…’ to ‘I know…’”

The solution is a real-time locating system, and Emerson provided a practical approach. “We now have RFID tags for employees and contractors, so we know where they are. If they get into trouble, they can press a button on the tag and we’ll respond to a ‘man down’ alert,” Madilao said. They added a WiFi and WirelessHART “traffic light” system, so if a person goes to an area and the light is green, they can go on in. If it’s red, don’t go in, and if it’s amber, they should be careful and look for instructions.

The system has been in operation for about a year, including during a major turnaround about six weeks ago. “Knowing exactly where people are, especially at night, helps us keep them safe,” Madilao said, “And when contractors have to take a trip to the control room every time they move to sign in and out, they lose efficiency. Now they don’t have to.”

A reliable plant is a safe plant

Madilao is now embarking on other opportunities. One of them is steam-trap monitoring, and the plant has thousands of them. Instead of checking them manually, he said, “We have a trial of acoustic sensors installed on 30 of them, with built-in analytics to tell us which ones need service.”

The plant is further exploring reliability with wireless vibration monitors on large rotating equipment, a program that is also taking place in Chevron refineries. It’s also using wireless for production monitoring and for loss of containment.

“Non-intrusive wireless is a process control playground,” said Madilao. “We’re trying wireless sensor devices for temperature, pressure, etc. to learn where we need them to improve operations.”

He’s also experimenting with mobility. “As a former operations manager, I ask myself what operators will be doing in the future,” Madilao said. “Is it the right thing to have them go out and check, or instead, to have the system check for them?”

A current trial gives operators tablets with wireless connectivity. “They have information at their fingertips, at any time,” Madilao said. “If a pump doesn’t sound right, they can take a video, press a button and create a work order then and there. They don’t have to go back to the control room, write it up, then try to answer a lot of maintenance questions about it.”

Digital innovation drives results

Madilao said each program has shown quantitative success. The access control and monitoring program was the first such implementation at Chevron, and has resulted in faster mustering tally, more effective and efficient access control, and enhanced emergency response capability. Steam-trap monitoring allows immediate detection of failures, which has avoided steam loss, hammering and process upsets. Vibration monitoring has accurately predicted pump failures, avoiding loss of control and safety incidents. The mobile worker program has increased the effectiveness of field surveillance and allowed faster response to abnormal conditions.

“People who want to digitally innovate often need help answering the question, ‘What are the right tools to pick up and apply?’” Madilao said. “I suggest you partner with Emerson and make a plan to improve business results. Manage the change—we needed to teach those operators how to use those tablets. And make sure the technologies you choose will drive business performance.”

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