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Helping operators better manage chaos—or avoid it altogether

Sept. 16, 2021

“With pressure mounting to accelerate industry decarbonization, more intimacy will be required between process control and the electrical load.” Schneider Electric’s Lucas Pellegrin explained how greater visibility into electrical dependencies can help avoid the electrical trips that lead to unscheduled downtime. 

We all know how chaotic a power outage can be in our daily lives, but what if it happens to you as an operator in a petroleum refinery, LNG plant or mining facility? Operators stand to make better decisions if they have situational awareness; they’re also more able to help minimize the impact of unexpected developments.

“You may already have faced the chaos caused by unplanned downtime,” said Lucas Pellegrin, EcoStruxure Power and Process execution leader at Schneider Electric. “Teams are often rushing to recover the process as fast and as safely as possible, doing their best with the information available.”

In his presentation during this week’s Schneider Electric Innovation Talks for users of the company’s EcoStruxure Foxboro process automation systems and EcoStruxure Triconex safety systems, Pellegrin explained how these chaotic situations can be rendered easier to deal with or, better yet, avoided altogether.

“A typical plant will have more than 800 medium- and low-voltage motors, compressors, burners, pumps, pipe heaters and valves,” he explained. “Each plays a key role in process operation and efficiency, but they could also be a source of unpleasantness for many different reasons.”

Hundreds or even thousands of electrified assets are typically easy to repair, but their uninterrupted operation is critical for business continuity. “From experience, we know that even 1% of unplanned downtime adds millions in lost production and maintenance costs,” warned Pellegrin.

Citing research, he noted that one in five unplanned shutdowns of North American refineries are electrically related. “These are similar to LNG facilities, where the average loss of revenue per electrical trip is $5 million,” he said. “It’s clear. Unplanned downtime generates major expenses in costs, labor, logistics and spares.”

Pumps, motors, fans, compressors and motor-operated valves are critical for business continuity. They can account for up to 40% of maintenance costs, Pellegrin cited. “With pressure mounting to accelerate industry decarbonization, more intimacy will be required between process control and the electrical load,” he explained. “One of the ways to improve production is to increase operator awareness by sharing the relevant information coming from the electrical-load-control system, such as breakers and motor starters.”

For example, in a de-ethanizer, the pressure on one of the reflex pumps might be dropping. With a situational-awareness graphic, the operator can see a visual warning and a recommended action on how to keep the trip from occurring, based on previous experiences or from predictive maintenance readings.

In this example, the recommendation would be to reduce the throughput. After the operator reduces the throughput, the warning goes away. But the operator still needs to check the pump and the cause of the issue. The operator could create a work order for the maintenance person by using the work-order screen in EcoStruxure Maintenance Advisor. Once the work order is created to check the pumps in the field, a member of the maintenance team can be deployed.

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“A plant manager can follow all of these activities from a Unified Operation Center,” explained Pellegrin, referencing AVEVA’s system-of-systems approach to integrated, real-time production monitoring. “We all know the chaos a medium-voltage trip can cause. It can happen because of an inrush current or a hot flash. All of the connected motor control centers lose power and go into fail state.”

With EcoStruxure Power and Process solutions, the recovery can be made easier and faster. 

“We can follow the single-line diagram and use digital-twin capabilities to identify which motor control center has tripped and also the associated medium-voltage switchgear,” said Pellegrin. “In this case, a redundant pump might have taken over to avoid any production loss. But it’s very important to find the root cause of this issue so the trip doesn’t happen again. A sequence-of-events report is generated automatically around any programmed trigger. It combines data from multiple sources into one single report.”

With improved situational awareness, operators and plant managers can minimize the effects of electrical incidents on critical assets. Integrating power and process together decreases the amount of downtime through better alarming and better maintenance practices.