``Using Mobile Operator has made a major contribution to reaching a plant availability factor above 90%, since it has integrated perfectly with the other innovations added to our equipment.`` - Mauro Tassistro, Applications Team Leader
Vado Ligure, Italy − Every time we start the car, our gaze falls almost without fail to the fuel gauge, since fuel is the essential element for making a vehicle run. We only think about oil when the indicator light comes on, and we rarely stop to think about the additives that help optimize engine function. And yet, engine oil and additives are fundamental elements in ensuring that the cars and other means of transport we use to travel around everyday are working properly.
The production of these additives for lubricant oils is the core business of the Infineum Group. The company was established ten years ago through the merger of Paramins (the additives division of what was then Exxon Chemical) and Shell Additives. In Italy, the factory in Vado Ligure (near Savona) is the Infineum Group’s main European supply center for additives in lubricant oils.
When working in the petrochemical sector, it becomes essential to combine safety and productivity by anticipating potentially damaging situations. In addition, unforeseen problems have immediate and financially significant repercussions for production and therefore, to the business.
Inspections using the Manufacturing Efficiency Index, carried out by management in the years following the merger showed an average plant availability of 80%. This is not an acceptable value for a highly automated firm looking to the future.
In response to this, Infineum launched the Global Manufacturing Excellence Program in 2004, with the aim of maximizing plant reliability, achieving availability of over 90% and limiting production downtimes to scheduled maintenance only. Efforts have therefore been concentrated on two specific fronts: preventive maintenance and operational management.
In this context, it is easy to understand the importance of maintenance at large scale plants. Seemingly less important, however, is the periodic monitoring of the plant carried out by field operations personnel.
However, these professionals, thanks to their regular rounds, are in fact the people who know the site best. They are able to recognize abnormal or potentially dangerous situations that are not detected by plant instruments.
The plant’s production process is constantly monitored by electronic instruments and detects any deviation from the ideal working parameters. All this information is fed back to the DCS in real time. However, certain specific factors such as noise, vibrations or the presence of dirt or small internal leaks, are not efficiently measured or detected by automatic instruments.
Installing additional measuring instrumentation would lead to higher costs and could overload the DCS. Human supervision therefore, remains fundamentally important even in an industry that is becoming more and more automated.
Traditionally, operators use paper for reporting even though it is prone to transcription errors. These reports then had to be transferred manually, therefore increasing the amount of time required to obtain useful information. Moreover, some inspections are not carried out from the correct location, thus limiting the accuracy of the observations.
As part of the Global Manufacturing Excellence Program to increase plant availability and optimize operators’ work, the Infineum Group decided to equip its staff with devices capable of collecting critical operational information in a quick and efficient manner. The group needed to identify a reliable tool that optimizes direct inspection activities.
This was not a simple search, since each plant has its own particular features. This makes it impossible to standardize the inspection processes. The whole search was made even more complicated due to the regulations in each country.
For this reason, it was necessary to start by establishing a new method of inspection procedures. The operators themselves were directly involved in this task, leveraging their specific experience to identify the correct steps.
The organizational planning also required the adoption of instruments that will enable operators to work optimally so that they could concentrate on their field of expertise.
Infineum tested multiple solutions, but most of them ended up being unsuitable to the complexities of the plant’s production. An intense software selection process began, intended to identify a single platform capable of adapting to the specific needs of all production plants.
At the end of this search, only two products were found to fulfil these requirements. Even when narrowed down, the choice was still complicated since the success of the whole project depended on the selected platform.
“As we were faced with two possibilities,” explained Enrico Bertossi, Infineum’s Global Manufacturing Excellence Program Advisor, “the real and concrete references presented by the System Integrator, Rex, played a crucial role in the decision-making process.”
Another factor was the need to achieve integration with SAP, the business system Infineum uses for planning plant maintenance operations. The only tool able to meet these requirements was AVEVA Mobile Operator, the mobile workforce and decision support system by AVEVA.
This solution is designed to enable workflow, procedural and general task management activities required to achieve reliable operations. These capabilities are enhanced by the tool’s key feature: allowing on-site operators to input information and receive support at any location within the plant, without the need of a physical connection.
The decision was made easier by the fact that “Mobile Operator was priced less than the other supplier,” said Bertossi.
“All our expectations were confirmed immediately after the application deployment. We were able to obtain the approval of all system users after only 6 months of development,” said Mauro Tassistro, Infineum’s Applications Team Leader in Italy.
Tassistro himself has an overall view of the whole project, since the system architecture is centralized in Italy, but has continuous connection to the plants in France, Germany, North America and Singapore.
These plants present extremely different situations in terms of both production and staff operating methods. However, the approval of users, who appreciated the ease- of-use and maintainability of the system, was one of the critical factors in choosing the Mobile Operator based monitoring system.
Field operators previously used paper forms for reporting during their rounds. This was difficult, especially during adverse weather conditions. By contrast, AVEVA Mobile Operator installed on a handheld device is simple and intuitive, allowing operators to concentrate more on their traditional tasks.
As an added benefit, the integration with RFID technology means data relating to a specific observation can only be input when the operator is in the correct position. This procedure prevents errors. In addition, the practical use of the Mobile Operator interface made these operators really appreciate the technology being developed, since they understood the benefit for their day-to- day work.
“The decision to involve users from the very start of the project has enhanced the advantages provided by an innovative tool like Mobile Operator,” emphasized Tassistro.
“Staff approval is the result of the solution’s usability in the plants. In addition, installation was completed in just a few months, therefore minimizing the impact on staff operations and avoiding any interference with production,” confirmed Bertossi.
“Using Mobile Operator has enabled the plant to achieve a plant availability factor of over 90%. It has integrated perfectly with the other innovations added to our equipment,” said Tassistro.
The platform developed by AVEVA has allowed the identification of certain situations, usually overlooked, which could have potentially led to the progressive deterioration of some pieces of equipment that would subsequently need emergency maintenance intervention.
Finally, the use of inspection support tools has also increased on-site operators’ sense of responsibility, as they feel more involved in ensuring that the entire plant is run properly and correctly.