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Controlling the flow of oil separation plants in Venezuela

This Venezuelan oil refiner faced two main challenges—producing enough oil to meet rising global demand and reducing overall operational costs. To achieve both and increase profitability in a market with highly volatile prices, an optimised control system was required across all plants.

An upgrade with no down time

With their objectives in mind, Underwoods undertook this project in collaboration with GSYS, a leading control and automation solutions specialist, to deliver custom-built containerised Control and Power Distribution centres to multiple sites in Venezuela which were processing over 100,000 barrels of oil per day.

These fully integrated power and control centres were housed in a number of bespoke 40ft shipping containers so they could be rapidly deployed on the customers site for immediate use to minimise production downtime. This was to avoid a significant loss in turnover as a result of production downtime because the oil refiner couldn’t afford to unnecessarily shut down any of its plants. For example, in 2018 the average price for a barrel of oil was valued at $71.17. Therefore, if the plant lost an entire days’ worth of production based upon the equipment changeover, they would lose an estimated total of $7.1m.

Each container suite included its own dedicated control room to monitor each of the plants overall activities, a comprehensive PLC room, a Main Switchgear room for power distribution purposes, and multiple Motor Control Centre (MCC) rooms. All container suites were fitted with independent process control systems that needed to quickly detect any faults which could result in a loss of production. Oil separation plants need to run like clockwork because even a slight dip in production can lead to a significant loss in profitability.

Ensuring the safety of each plant’s personnel and minimising each plant’s environmental impact were also crucial objectives of this project. To reliably protect people and conform to stringent environmental regulations, Underwoods and GSYS, configured an Emergency Shutdown System (ESD) so that a critical situation could be quickly defused and the plant would automatically shut down in the event of danger.

This formed part of the overall Fire and Gas System (F&GS) which monitors areas where a fire or a build-up of potentially flammable gasses may occur so that the oil refiner could meet its critical infrastructure protection requirements to immediately detect hazardous events, alert personnel and rapidly initiate the ESD to limit the consequences of a critical event. The F&GS can also play an important part in enabling the plant to quickly recover from abnormal situations to limit production downtime.

Unified Control System

The decision was taken to use a PLC-based Fire and Gas system as it could be easily scaled in an inexpensive manner should they need to increase the size of the system at a later date. In addition, the PLC-based system unified the ESD and the F&GS onto a single platform, which gave engineering and maintenance teams a common tool and drove down operational risk and costs.

The final word

“The system was based upon the Siemens S7 416H CPU’s, ET200S and ET200M IO because this configuration is the ideal choice for applications with high fail-safety requirements and offers hot standby for automatic reaction-free switching to the standby unit in the event of a fault. The high availability of the SIMATIC S7 PLC allows continued operation even when parts of the controller have failed due to one or more faults, meaning this system requires little supervision.

Further process optimisation was achieved through the seamless integration of Variable Speed Drives (VSD), Soft Starters and Direct on Line Starters. The VSDs helped improved the energy proficiency of each separation plant and the Soft Starters significantly reduced the electrical stresses and line voltage sags associated with the plants previous full voltage motor start-ups. By using VSDs, the Venezuelan oil refiner now has the ability to reduce each plants energy consumption by up to as much as 70% thus, significantly lowering each plant’s overall energy usage costs.”‚Äč

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