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Revolutionizing Plant Shutdown With Digital Transformation

In a world of industrial environments that combine workforce shifts, complex equipment and a multitude of sensors, plants must undergo a shutdown from time to time – whether scheduled or unexpected. From planned maintenance to upgrades to emergency situations, it's not a matter of if your plant will need to shut down but a case of when it will need to go offline and for how long.

That's why digitally transforming your power operations is vital to execute a safer plant shutdown that limits operational disruption and reduces the risk of environmental impact.

With the right digital technology, plant leaders can access reliable, accurate and up-to-date information that can enable them to generate robust shutdown strategies and schedules to manage critical operations during downtime.

Using the right data and advanced digital solutions that improve situational awareness, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, operations and maintenance personnel can monitor safety-critical assets, address vulnerabilities, and reduce the impact of abnormalities that can cause a plant to shut down. By leveraging big data analytics and smart sensors to supply actionable information organizations can make crucial adjustments and asset improvements before a costly abnormality can occur.

Big Data Analytics Facilitate an Efficient Shutdown Process

Power operators can employ data mining, statistical algorithms and machine learning technologies to implement streamlined plant shutdown protocols and enhance critical workflow efficiencies.

Using digital transformation technology, stakeholders can leverage descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytics to anticipate component failures, make course corrections and mitigate plant shutdowns:

● Descriptive analytics: By depicting exact details of events leading up to the current moment in time, descriptive analytics empower stakeholders to recognize critical trends and identify operation issues

● Predictive analytics: Power operators can leverage predictive analytics to implement course corrections before they occur, decreasing operational risk and reducing unnecessary plant maintenance costs

● Prescriptive analytics: After using predictive analytics to identify the need to shift course, stakeholders can use prescriptive analytics to determine effective action plans that minimize the impact of those complications

In addition to descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytics, personnel can employ many other tools to reduce plant shutdowns. As POWER notes, power teams are leaner today , so one of the most effective actions an organization can take is to provide staff with more data. Smart sensors connected to the control room can supply actionable and useful information, as just one example. Sensory devices alert plant management when threshold parameters are exceeded, which can result in component failure and a plant shutdown. For instance, excessive vibration in a fan can indicate an issue with the bearings or a loose mounting. Early detection can lead to accelerated course corrections that decrease operational risks and the need for a plant shutdown.

Digital Twins for Performing Shutdown Walkthroughs

Power operators can leverage operational twins to replicate the plant and build a cohesive, centralized network that features:

● safety procedures

● alarm methodologies

● preventative maintenance work orders and engineering schematics

● 3D models

● laser scans

● cybersecurity safeguards

From there, digital twins can be used to perform walkthroughs of each phase of the turnaround (TA) process for a safer, more efficient shutdown.

For example, navigating a plant shutdown can produce safety concerns. The digital twin allows VR, maintenance and construction crews to train virtually for the different scenarios they may encounter to prepare them for a real-life shutdown — without risking exposure to potentially hazardous conditions. Operational twin technology empowers plant operators by allowing them to visualize the components of their factory and identify vulnerable areas. Early detection results in proactive plant maintenance, reducing the risk involved in a forced plant shutdown.

When performing data-powered digital walkthroughs, operations managers can use digital twins to generate an efficient and updated electronic record for plant shutdown procedures. By digitalizing the TA process, operators can mitigate challenges experienced throughout each phase.

1. Scoping Phase

Digital twin technology generates a virtual representation of the plant, allowing organizations to map and coordinate asset inspection activities during initial TA planning and strategizing. Power operators can attach documents to each section of the digital twin to provide details such as maintenance schedules, video inspection results and relevant engineering reports. With all necessary information stored in a central location, stakeholders can access data as they need it, providing a clear understanding of planned TA procedures for each section of the power plant.

2. Preparation Phase

By leveraging updated, relevant data stored in the digital twin, power producers can conduct detailed planning and coordinate resources to ensure a safe TA — such as verifying measurements and developing logistic plans for equipment demobilization, storage and protection.

3. Execution Phase

Using the digital twin, plants can facilitate a safe, efficient and coordinated TA process in which activities are carefully tracked and monitored. Since all resolutions have already been prepared and documented in advance, there is a reduced need for ad hoc decision-making that could prolong the shutdown period or pose safety risks. With integrated resource management and progress measurement tied to the approved schedule, managers can easily monitor performance and productivity. Forecasts of final completion dates and costs can be done in near real-time with greater accuracy to ensure the facility is inoperable for as little time as possible, given the lost revenue implications of the shutdown.

4. Startup Phase

As maintenance crews work to execute their action items, they can update them first in the digital twin through a formalized sustaining engineering process — allowing stakeholders to monitor changes and add new or relevant insights. Doing so ensures all startup protocols and procedures are accessible to those who need them, resulting in fewer miscommunications and a safer, more streamlined startup process.

5. Review Phase

Plants can use the digital twin to confirm completed work and equipment status as it occurs — generating a detailed timeline of how and when TA procedures were performed.

Give Your Plant Shutdown a Strong Digital Backbone

By employing technology to measure the performance of plant TAs, power plants can look for areas that require optimization and continue on the journey toward operational excellence. A cohesive and comprehensive digital backbone links operations and processes, enabling plant managers to:

● connect data flows and eradicate siloed operations

● create an operations map that allows internal teams to become more efficient and effective

● standardize and streamline TA processes

● digitalize safety-critical procedures

● prevent vulnerabilities and reduce operational risks that can contribute to a shutdown

How Salt River Project Created a Digitally Connected Plant

The j5 Operational Management Solutions from Hexagon's Asset Lifecycle Intelligence division allows power producers to streamline reporting from the office to the plant floor. By creating a more connected facility, power generators can enhance data flow, automate shift handovers, reduce risk by maintaining digital logbook procedures and maintain situational awareness around high-priority actions.

Salt River Project — the third-largest public power utility in the U.S. and one of Arizona's largest water suppliers — previously used a generic notes application to oversee operations. The tool did not allow stakeholders to monitor maintenance issues, creating less accurate alarms and reducing situational awareness across the facility. The organization implemented j5 applications to:

● improve operational visibility by recording and displaying events across shifts

● increase process efficiency by allowing stakeholders to review data, events and alarms at Shift Turnover

● quickly distribute critical communications to operational teams

● record real-time events and use retrieved insights to optimize human workflows

● provide straightforward data retrieval and search functions to strengthen day-to-day safety operational organization and cross-team communication

Rather than combining multiple applications, Salt River Project leveraged j5 Operations Management Solutions to connect its power facility, digitize manual processes and auto-feed specific alarms to improve accuracy and situational awareness during Shift Handovers.

When developing your plant shutdown preparedness strategy, you can trust Hexagon solutions to power your organization through a digital transformation that produces a streamlined, efficient and safe TA process. Our team of global experts provides power utilities with evolving, state-of-the-art technology that enables smart solutions, propels continuous improvements, drives plants toward operational excellence and helps you prepare for tomorrow, today.

Learn more about how our digital solutions are creating digital plants of the future now.

Bob Hooper is a senior industry consultant in Hexagon’s PPM division with a successful track record in the development and implementation of operational excellence, lean manufacturing and reliability programs within the oil and gas, chemicals and consumer products industries. His areas of expertise include program management and change management, and specializes in helping customers understand the intricacies and applications of a variety of digital technologies.