The world as we know it has changed significantly. There is a term used by the US Army and many others to describe an uncertain environment, VUCA, i.e. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. What we have experienced for the past few months is nothing but an extreme VUCA.
How do refineries and petrochemical companies maintain productivity and profitability in this kind of environment? In the past, the industry was operating in a somewhat predictable macro environment, but that paradigm has shifted. The macro environment is not the only change impacting the process industry, another dimension is the technology revolution with AI/ML and Cloud along with a new set of users with very different expectations from technology.
Look no further than the iPhone as an example of how technology can significantly transform our daily lives. We have come a long way from the rotary phone to the age of iPhone. Process industries will also need to adapt to the technological revolution and macro-economic changes, only the most versatile and resilient organizations can respond and thrive in times of great transformation like this. For the process industry, the solution lies in accelerated digitalization and more automation.
Some of the key challenges faced by the process industries include market, production and regulatory uncertainty. Additionally, for the most part, these organizations are operating in silos where the planning and economics departments are responsible for generating an operating plan; however, operations is tasked with executing this plan. There are two big challenges with this approach which can lead to “margin leakage”:
- The assumptions and models used in generating the plan are often inconsistent with the actual plant operations, and
- Manual and error prone alignment and data exchange processes across departmental silos
Countless hours can be spent trying to reconcile the plan vs. actual and ascertaining the deviations to different aspects of the operations (market, price, operations, etc.). A siloed approach can hinder automation and reduce efficiency. In the current hyper-dynamic condition, it is imperative to better align the plan vs. actual to ensure a more agile, accurate and responsive production optimization.
AspenTech recently unveiled its vision of the Self-Optimizing Plant, which includes a self-learning, self-calibrating and self-sustaining plant. We strongly believe that the world is headed in that direction and our recent experiences have accelerated the path to more autonomous production optimization. To achieve a Self-Optimizing plant, companies will need to have the right IT/OT infrastructure in place.
We also recently introduced our next generation production optimization environment called Aspen Unified.TM This is a transformative platform combining best-in-class technology elements from AspenTech for planning (PIMS-AO), scheduling (Aspen Petroleum Scheduler aka Orion) and Dynamic Optimization (GDOT) in a single web based, Cloud-enabled and scalable environment. Aspen Unified envisions a world that is Cloud centric and takes collaboration to the next level. It’s designed to scale, and eventually, encompass the entire Value Chain Optimization of Refining and Chemicals customers.
As part of the new release, Aspen Unified has been re-architected with the following key tenets of innovation:
Collaboration – This is an area of significant value and Aspen Unified allows seamless sharing of data and models in a truly multi-user enterprise environment. This collaboration ensures a “single version of the truth” that is shared across planning, scheduling and real-time dynamic optimization. Model and data consistency will empower our customers to plan more accurately and aggressively capitalize on market opportunities.
Cloud – We have seen customers going through a digital transformation and adopting the Cloud to enable faster and more agile decision making. Aspen Unified is architected to be Cloud native. It can be deployed in a customer’s private Cloud and has been designed to leverage high performance computing. This enables our customers to simplify deployment and upgrades, and ultimately lower the cost of ownership. Aspen Unified also provides a powerful environment for a workforce that is increasingly working from home.
User Experience – This is another area where a demographic shift in the industry makes it very pertinent. Aspen Unified has transformed how users interact with the systems. Its intuitive user interface enables users to increase productivity and ensure that they can easily build, maintain and analyze scenarios in an efficient manner. Gone are the days where technology-heavy solutions required weeks of training and months of experience to be fully productive.
Industrial AI – AspenTech has also invested heavily in AI/ML (artificial intelligence/machine learning) and is embedding these technologies to enable our users in areas of diagnostics, data analysis and error detection. AI is something that will continue to evolve and transform the way process industries operate.
With these technology enablers, Aspen Unified has taken a huge step closer to the Self-Optimizing Plant and is poised to transform the way process industries and manufacturers optimize their production.
Here are three primary ways Aspen Unified can benefit users:
- Closes the gap between a company’s plan and execution with a “single version of the truth” in a truly collaborative environment
- Streamlines the user experience to a faster, easier to use and quicker to learn environment
- Uses modern Web-based and Cloud-enabled architecture that is intended to better align with an organization’s digital transformation journey
In conclusion, we are at the tipping point of transforming how process industries have operated for the past few decades, and the infusion of technologies like AI/ML and Cloud, along with the hyper-dynamic macro environment, will influence and nudge the process industries towards more digitalization and higher automation. Aspen Unified can help these industries take the next logical step in their digitalization journey.
Download our Aspen Unified brochure to learn more.