Recently, AspenTech President and CEO Antonio Pietri introduced the vision for the Self-Optimizing Plant, which represents the next major step in the digitalization journey of industry leaders. This technology will allow companies to unlock greater value from their production assets — making them safer and more capable, flexible and profitable, regardless of external conditions.
With the new release of Aspen Unified, refiners can take the first step toward the Self-Optimizing Plant, boosting profitability by bringing operations closer to the optimal plan, increasing the level of automation possible and enabling the next generation of production optimization.
A New Era of Autonomy
The process industries are not the only sector on a journey to autonomy. Take autonomous vehicles, for example. Over the last decade, automakers have introduced the concept of “autopilot” in cars, comprising more and more assistive technology features to help drivers operate their vehicle more safely, such as by avoiding drifting into adjacent lanes or braking automatically if a vehicle ahead of them slows or stops suddenly. As the level of autonomy in the vehicle increases, the load on the driver and the need for human intervention decreases. However, in an industry where safety is paramount, this is a journey.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, says this of his vision for autonomy: “There are no fundamental challenges remaining,” he said recently. “There are many small problems. And then there’s the challenge of solving all those small problems and putting the whole system together.”
While I would not call the challenges and operational complexities that refiners face on a daily basis “small problems,” companies can begin working toward solving those problems and “putting the whole system together” by applying technologies that exist today.
That’s where Aspen Unified comes in. To start moving toward the Self-Optimizing Plant, many companies are seeking to enhance and better align their existing business processes, with an eye on reducing the gap between planned and actual performance.
The Pathway to Greater Profitability
If you think about any plant operation, there are many optionalities: markets are changing, supply is in flux, prices are fluctuating, and there is a level of uncertainty associated with refinery operations. The Aspen Unified environment combines planning, scheduling and operations to connect and automate isolated processes to run the plant, consistently, closer to its limits. Let’s look at how Aspen Unified enables you to move forward on the path to self optimization:
Planning: Where should I go?
How should I operate my refinery to achieve maximum margins? This is the most important, and most valuable, question. With Aspen Unified PIMS, planning scenarios can be evaluated very quickly to determine the most profitable product mix given all of the variables at play based on pure economics. Think of this as entering your target destination into the car’s satellite navigation system, but in this case, the destination is the optimal refinery plan.
- Scheduling: How can I get there?
Once the high-level decisions are made, is the plan executable and can it be translated into real operations? Scheduling performs these fundamental feasibility checks. Knowing exactly what your intended destination is, scheduling selects the final "route" to get from where you are today to achieve your plan. With consistent models and the ability to share constraints and data across planning and scheduling, Aspen Unified Scheduling is optimized to align with the plan, with full visibility into any constraints or limitations of the plant (the “traffic”).
- Dynamic Optimization and Advanced Process Control (APC): I’ll take you there!
This is where the autonomous driving comes in. Closed-loop automation systems like dynamic optimization and APC “drive” the refinery to execute the optimal plan, while continuously updating to reflect actual process conditions. As disruptions occur, Aspen GDOT is constantly reconciling and adapting operations in real time to conditions that the schedule did not anticipate. Aspen Unified enables GDOT to provide feedback on the actual performance of the plant back into planning so that constraints and parameters can be adjusted for an even more accurate, and ambitious, plan.
Each step on the path to self-optimization will create incremental value along the way, as companies target this technology to address specific business needs throughout the operation. By unlocking new levels of production efficiency, companies in the process industries and beyond will find new and previously untapped areas for margin optimization and achieve greater reliability, even during downturns.
Learn more about how Aspen Unified can help you take the first step toward the Self-Optimizing Plant here or watch the video.
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