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Real world IoT: refined

By John Oates

If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link then a refinery is only as reliable as its least reliable pump.

Coupled with a tight regulatory regime and a necessary focus on staff safety makes a refinery the perfect case study for Internet of Things technology.

It also offers a truly tough environment and a real need for robust equipment. But the refinery also contains areas of explosive gas which mean normal electronic equipment cannot be used safely making the project even more challenging.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Aruba has been working with Texas-based Texmark Chemicals to create the refinery of the future.

Equipment failures in a refinery at their best create hugely expensive downtime, at worst they can mean dangerous leaks which is why Texmark spends over $1m a year on inspections and 35,000 man hours on monitoring equipment.  A failure of a key pump can take out the entire production process leaving valuable plant, resources and people doing nothing.

Texmark and Aruba chose a mesh network for security and location beacons. The mesh network was about half the price of a fully hard wired network and can be installed with less disruption.

The system uses HPE Edgeline Converged IoT platform and HPE Pointnext powered the systems using an HPE Micro Datacenter in a single cabinet.

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This gave Texmark’s own plant control systems edge-to-edge connectivity, data capture and analytics on one platform.

The final stage of the project will build on these foundations to improve predictive maintenance, advanced video analytics, better safety and security and eventually full lifecycle asset management.

Linda Salinas, Plant Manager, Texmark Chemicals, said in a statement: “We’re building a refinery of the future that combs through data and reveals how the entire plant is interconnected. It becomes like a living, breathing organic plant that knows how it should operate; if any part falls out of line, it flags for intervention.”

As well as improving day to day operations the system will also allow a faster and more effective response in case of an emergency or spill. The system will know just where all the staff at any given moment.

This means Texmark Chemicals has a target for safety incidents and unplanned outages of exactly zero.

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