Operational Excellence in Refining and Petrochemicals

The refining and petrochemicals industry is facing increasing mandates for compliance and safety while also being pressed to improve production and increase operational efficiency. However, efforts to reduce risk are often seen as diametrically opposed to efforts to achieve production targets and improve production efficiency.

In order to maintain a competitive edge, the refining and petrochemicals industry must focus on creating more agile, cost-efficient and effective operations in spite of volatile market conditions.

Recently KBC and IQPC teamed up to survey more than 100 operations leaders across the refining and petrochemicals industry to understand how leaders are responding to the current market conditions and setting themselves on a more sustainable path. This research was conducted over a period of six weeks with a view to better understand how the industry is adapting and adjusting their operational excellence efforts in this environment of unprecedented complexity and volatility.

The majority of participants in the survey were from North America (> 49%), however Europe and the Middle East also represented a relatively large percentage of respondents.

Engineering, Operations and Maintenance (72%) topped the list for functional areas surveyed, with other areas including Planning, Strategy and Commercial.

Of the respondents, 46% were from the refining industry, with the rest split across other petrochemicals, upstream and midstream oil and gas.

The results of the survey identified three key trends within the industry which ran alongside a general consensus around the need to invest more in operational excellence initiatives.

Firstly, respondents were widely in agreement (79%) that having an operational excellence mindset would help them on the path to a safer, more reliable and more profitable organization, therefore operational excellence remains high on their agenda. However, respondents demonstrated a general uncertainty towards a clear vision of how operational excellence is defined.

The second distinguishable outcome was that respondents feel a new approach to achieving operational excellence is needed, specifically in terms of shifting skill-focus. Industry professionals want to see more attention placed on engineering and coaching, alongside an increasing preparation for high-risk industry factors such as market volatility.

Finally, trend three identified the influence of technology on the industry. Respondents showed a strong desire to obtain a digital blueprint for the future, however, felt underprepared within their organizations for the adoption of current technologies including the Cloud, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Artificial Intelligence.

In order to thrive in today’s ever-evolving business environment, the refining and petrochemicals industry needs to put operational excellence at the forefront of their strategy to deliver safe, reliable and profitable operations. This can be achieved by leveraging the latest technologies, but also by understanding the need for highly-skilled operators and robust business processes.