Every second worth millions, says UOP cloud boss

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After more than a century in business, industrial giant Honeywell UOP is launching a cloud platform for enterprises of all sizes, although the type of businesses it generally deals with own billions of dollars worth of assets. 

But given the exponential increase in demand for data in all walks of life, UOP’s IIoT-based, data-driven services are likely to become central to the industrial giant’s business going forward, and applicable to enterprises of all sizes.

One of the men responsible for all the data and analytics systems at Honeywell UOP is Zak Alzein, whose full title is vice president and general manager of Connected Performance Services, or CPS, at UOP.

CPS is a newly created entity, launched by Honeywell a couple of months ago. It’s one of many industrial cloud, or industrial internet, platforms to have emerged in the past couple of years, although this one has a company with more than 100 years of history behind it.

Honeywell UOP’s CPS platform is used in a wide range of industries, including logistics, building management, retail, aerospace, smart electricity grids, and, perhaps most importantly because of the company’s history, the oil and gas industry.

Alzein was involved in the recent UOP deal with Petrovietnam, in which the company is contracted to provide its IIoT-based CPS system to manage and improve Petrovietnam subsidiary Binh Son Refining and Petrochemical’s manufacturing operations in Quang Ngai City, in Vietnam.

In an exclusive interview, Alzein provides some insight into UOP’s connectivity services, which while mainly geared to the petrochemicals sector, have capabilities relevant to other manufacturing sectors.

Time is priceless  

Alzein starts by helpfully explaining that manufacturing is often divided into two broad categories:

  • discrete manufacturing, which is the production of finished products, such as smartphones, cars and so on; and
  • continuous manufacturing, which is mainly concerned with the production of materials, such as oils and gases which can be used by the discrete manufacturers as raw materials for their goods or as fuel for their factories.
Zak Alzein, general manager, UOP Connected Performance Services
Zak Alzein, general manager, UOP Connected Performance Services

Alzein says: “If we talk about continuous manufacturing, there is certainly a lot of different industries in this category, and oil and gas is one of those. This is where I am focused, and it’s where I do a lot of work – upstream, midstream and downstream, including petrochemicals, chemicals, the pharmaceutical industry, and so on.

“There are common things between all of them: obviously, considerations about efficiency and productivity. A common question might be, ‘How do I increase my output from the facilities for my input?’

“You’ll find this in crude oil, petrochemicals, or anywhere else. It might be considerations about energy efficiency, or output, or different aspects of input. So, how do I get more output for my input?

“And that is a function of a number of things. One big aspect that we deal with in these industries is plant reliability. The minute you have disruption to your manufacturing operation is a minute that can cost a lot of money. Whether you’re a discrete manufacturer or in continuous manufacturing, and whether it’s your equipment or your processes, any unplanned downtime – with things breaking down or not working reliably – production time goes down and costs go up.

“This is the area we pay a lot of attention to. How do I maximise utilisation? How do I maintain production?

“For example, a very well-run refinery might be at 93 to 95 per cent utilisation, so that’s a refinery that’s running very hard. A petrochemical plant, if you’re running in the low 90s, you’re doing very well, and some of that is due to planned downtime, some of it is due to unplanned downtime.

“So, you might have 1, 2, 3 per cent flawed production because of problems related to equipment reliability.

“In some processes that are also very difficult and cumbersome, you might even have 10, or more than 10 per cent downtime impact, which could be significant. Depending on the size of that manufacturing facility, you’re dealing with millions or even tens of millions dollars’ equivalent in lost production.”

Critical juncture 

Alzein goes on: “I’ll give you an example. Sometimes, if a piece of equipment – a very critical piece of equipment – shuts down in a refinery, it might lead to serious consequences.

“A refinery might have 20 to 30 major power efficient units, and a handful of those are considered the heart of the refinery, and when those go down, it would cause the whole refinery to go down. And if the whole refinery goes down, it takes you a minimum of a week, sometimes more, to bring it back up.

“You need a refinery to run all the time. Even when they have some downtime with some equipment, it may not take a whole refinery down. It may take some sub-units down, but not the whole refinery.

“A related issue to consider is to do with maintenance. A lot of times you do maintenance on equipment on a certain timeline or in a certain rotation, and sometimes that isn’t necessarily the optimum way because you could be doing maintenance and spending money on pieces of equipment that do not necessarily merit the resource allocation.

“In the meantime, you could have other pieces of equipment which may be close to breaking point and losing them may cause a larger production loss.

“Also, maintenance and reliability increasingly involves predicting what work needs to be done with which pieces of equipment, checking their health and taking care of them, and in what order.”

A different type of industrial cloud 

Honeywell UOP is a diverse, industrial giant that operates in a number of different markets. It employs approximately 130,000 people and has annual revenues of $40 billion.

Honeywell UOP’s petrochemicals customers include companies which operate dozens of plants in a wide range of locations. And as industry becomes more data-driven, the company could become a leading power within the computing world as well.

Everyone needs data, and they need it to be presented in a form that they can understand and act upon. Which is probably why Honeywell UOP launched its Connected Performance Services in the first place a couple of months ago.

As more and more people are acknowledging, data is the crude oil of the 21st century, and unlike oil production, which some say has reached its peak, data mining is in its very early days. And even though computerised data has already virtually taken over the world, there’s a lot more where that came from – always will be, whether we’re here to analyse it or not.