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Digitalization in refining and petrochemicals – opinions of Asia-Pacific end-users

Digitalization is the hype. At present, it is almost impossible to find a refining or petrochemical company that has not announced its plans to introduce digital solutions at its plants. Digitalization issues were discussed at Asia Downstream Week 2018, which was organized by Euro Petroleum Consultants (EPC) and held in Bangkok 9-11 October. The event was attended by representatives of the leading refining and petrochemical companies of the Asia Pacific region – Hyundai Oilbank, IRPC, Petronas, PTTES, PTTGC, S-Oil, ThaiOil and others.

A focused session at the event was dedicated to the issues of production’s digitalization, and during this session, delegates were able to actively take part in the discussion through voting, enabling a broad understanding of the relevance of digitalization issues for the industry and determining the main directions of development, the applicability of technologies, and the challenges.

Voting began with the most common question to determine the relevance of the subject: How important do you think digitalization is for refining and petrochemical plants?

The importance of digitalization for refining and petrochemicals was predictably determined to be high – more than 60% of delegates believe that digitalization has a number of benefits, but time is needed to implement correctly and minimize risks. It is interesting that only 25% identified the importance of digitalization as very high – it will totally transform plant operation and business.

Speaking of digitalization, it is sometimes forgotten that this phenomenon is only part of Industry 4.0, including such technologies as 3D printing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR) & Virtual Reality (VR), Blockchain, Drones & Robots, Internet of Things (IoT). The next question was: What do you see as the most important 4.0 technology for refining and petrochemical businesses?

The voting results showed a wide range of opinions: AI and IoT were the leaders, receiving 43% and 23% of the votes, respectively; while 14%, 11% and 9% respectively voted for the importance of AR & VR, drones & robots and blockchain. And no one voted for the importance of 3D printing!

Delving deeply into the applicability of new technologies into the functional areas of refineries and petrochemical plants, the delegates were asked to answer the following question: What do you see as the most important activities for 4.0 technology implementation in refining and petrochemical plants?

The overwhelming majority of delegates (over 70%) see the main direction of new technology application in process control and simulation, while only 6% voted for such a promising area as maintenance. Other areas – Planning & Scheduling of Operations and Supply Chain Optimization scored 12% each.

There was a lively discussion about success of implementation: What has been the success rate in delivering tangible results from digital programs?

Almost half of the delegates (46%) answered that the rate has not been as expected, which highlights the importance of ensuring the correct approach to the development and implementation of such programs.

This was confirmed by the results of voting on the next issue: What are the key challenges in implementation of digital programs?

Among the key implementation problems, delegates noted; Lack of coherent digital transformation strategy and roadmap (43%) and Organizational culture not allowing experimentation, fast learning cycles (27%). Other 3 choices – Lack of correct capability to pursue digital implementation initiatives; Isolated and non-impactive proof of concepts, unable to scale up; Misaligned operating model and decision making mechanism to move the dial on digital – scored 12%, 10%, and 8%, respectively.

EPC will continue to pay close attention to the issues of digitalization in the refining and petrochemical industries around the world. To find out more don't miss the 5th Operational Excellence in Oil, Gas and Petrochemicals Conference and Exhibition – Op-Ex Russia & CIS 2018,, held with the support of co-hosts Gazprom Neft and Rosneft on November 14-16, 2018 in Sochi, Russia, as well as International OpEx & Safety Forum taking place in London, 15-16 January 2019