Most process plants do not operate at peak efficiency, resulting in substantial added costs and increased emissions. One of the main areas for improvement is energy use, which offers enormous potential for variable cost reduction and better environmental performance as long as the impacts on the process, throughput, yield or reliability are taken into account. These multiple stakeholder and complex interaction projects can be fast tracked and amplified via cloud-based collaboration, but there is a risk that directly outsourcing services can lead to a hollowing out of site expertise.
Cloud-based services are seeing wider use, allowing producers to receive support when the in-house workforce is limited either in number or skill set. With a skills shortage being a consistent industry issue, these types of services can offer value and productivity gains by globalizing monitoring, maintenance and support activities, with expertise, analytical and simulation tools that identify, assess and help solve the site problems.
Not all cloud-based services are created equal. They can be divided into three basic types, defined by where the tools and expertise reside: traditional on-premises studies; outsourced services; and collaboration services. The latter approach is fast becoming the preferred option due to its vast array of benefits. These include: operating sites and third-party specialists both having access to actionable data and tools in the cloud; subject matter expertise to analyze energy savings and process performance together; and the ability to have “the plant’s best engineer” effectively on duty 24/7/365.
The value from reducing energy consumption is significant in most process plants. While on-site studies can certainly help cut energy costs, human constraints may undermine the long-term effectiveness of the consultancy and the technical software tools. Cloud-based collaboration addresses these issues, with service providers able to maintain the performance of the digital twins, interpret data and make expert recommendations in supporting the process plant personnel to take the appropriate actions.
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