Automating Routine Work in Aspen Unified Improves Work Life Balance

September 10, 2020

The Importance of Work-life Balance

Family may be the most important aspect of our lives – even our society. I think we can all agree if our employer helps us manage work/life balance, we are happier, healthier and work harder. We grab at any chance we have to improve the work-life balance for ourselves and our colleagues, especially if there’s a minimal investment.

I’ve written about this before, but it’s even more important today as I introduce a whole new opportunity to save more time than ever in your planning and scheduling work. Meet Aspen Unified, a new version of AspenTech’s industry-leading planning and scheduling solutions. 


Automating Routine Work

Like many people in the U.S. where I live, I’m all about saving time – from shaving a minute off my commute to using a robot vacuum to clean up the crumbs my kids drop. When choosing tasks to automate, a good rule to follow is to compare the time it takes to set up automation with the time spent on each task. Randall Munroe at XKCD  has a great comic on this: “Is It Worth the Time?” For example, if a task takes you five minutes and you do it daily, automating in less than six days will save you time over five years.



However, Randall also jokes that automation projects grow in scope and can end up never really saving time.  I’m sure we’ve all been there. Remember that spreadsheet an engineer made three years ago… the one you’re still calling them to fix? 

Essentially, if you do the automation yourself, the project can become a drain on your time. To save you that effort, we at AspenTech have added these automated steps into our products for you. We know the amount of time you spend to save time is a delicate balance. That’s why we made adopting Aspen Unified easy, with an automatic model importer from PIMS-AO to Unified PIMS, which converts 90% of models in less than one minute… then you can use the Unified PIMS model to create a Scheduling model too!


What Is Aspen Unified?

Aspen Unified is the first truly multi-user, unified production optimization environment, including planning and scheduling with links to dynamic optimization and APC.  

  • At the heart of Aspen Unified is Aspen Unified PIMS, a new and improved version of the classic Aspen PIMS planning solution, which is used to optimize more than 70% of the world’s refined crude.
  • Similarly, Aspen Unified Scheduling is a new and improved version of the classic Aspen Petroleum Scheduler used to simulate and schedule 40% of the world’s refinery operations.  

Aspen Unified has been designed for the modern, tech-savvy user, with intuitive interfaces and data visualization.  

We intended to make Aspen Unified future-proof: it’s fully cloud-enabled, browser-based, platform- and device-agnostic — even mobile capable. These options should significantly reduce the total cost of ownership as well as making it easier, faster, and cheaper to upgrade to the latest version.

Tests show that Aspen Unified can deliver significant margin improvements of up to seven cents per barrel at typical refining margin, above and beyond very good PIMS-AO usage. On top of the financial savings, we estimate saving hundreds of hours per year, for planners and especially for schedulers, with the following new features.


Examples of Automating Routine Work

Automatic Scheduling Reconciliation (my favorite)
If you are a scheduler, how long does it take you to reconcile the schedule in the morning? For example, pull all your historian data (unit production rates, tank levels, lab data, etc.) then update your schedule baseline for today? An hour? 30 minutes?  Even if you use the Excel integration assistant in Aspen Petroleum Scheduler (APS), I bet it still takes you 15 minutes.  Just for example, referring to the XKCD table above, assuming it takes 30 minutes and you do this daily… if you can automate it in SIX WEEKS, you would save time. Aspen Unified Scheduling connects directly to your historian and LIMS system to automatically reconcile your schedule, saving that time. See below the table of each tank level and its sulphur content.


[Note: screenshot “3 - Scheduling Reconciliation” requires a zoom / blow up / expansion on the right side table, as shown]


Automated Price Sensitivities
How long does it take you to set up your price sensitivity cases? An hour? Two? What if you want to specifically analyze the crack spread or freight cost? Can you even do it? What if these tasks were automated and transparent so that you could perform the analysis easily, save the template for the next month’s plan, and rerun it again with updated prices at the push of a button? How much time would that save you? In Unified PIMS, you can do exactly that. Then you can even build a graphing dashboard and push the new cases to visualize the data without any data massaging or manual editing. 


[4 – Price Sensitivities]  [5 – Graphing]


Streamlined Model Management
How much time do you spend archiving models and saving them for business records? Have you or someone on your team ever had a model not converge and not know what changed? What if you could easily revert to an autosaved version of your model? What if your planning tool automatically tracked every change made by every planner in your company? Unified can do all that. You can even control access to certain areas of the model to prevent mistaken changes.

Cloud-enabled Speed
How much time do you spend waiting for cases to solve? How often do you forego opportunities because you can’t analyze them fast enough? If you could solve 10 or 100 times more cases than you currently analyze, in one-tenth the time, would that be valuable to you? Unified can let you solve those cases quickly because it is fully cloud-enabled. At our global conference, OPTIMIZE 2019, Shell presented about their PIMS-AO in the cloud project and told our community how planners couldn’t finish during normal working hours, but with the rapid solving of the cloud, their work-life balance improved.


In closing, I am so proud of our company at this time as we deliver this revolutionary solution for our customers. We are really committed to making you more effective and making your job easier. Want to learn more about these new features?  Drop me an email and ask any questions you may have! Don’t forget to register for our Introducing Aspen Unified—The Next Generation of Planning & Scheduling webinar. (Remember, if you can’t attend live, register and you’ll get a recording.)





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