Within the seemingly incomprehensible maze of pipes and equipment of refineries, operators use decades-old technology to monitor and manage everyday tasks. But when developing an IoT and mobility strategy for these complex environments, don’t overlook where employees fit in — because automating workflow is as much about people as it is about things.
That’s one lesson an oil refinery learned when it recently partnered with CDW to develop and implement IoT and mobility. The facility has hundreds of valves that operators open and close manually — and in a specific order — to move materials and products throughout the plant. Historically, this process was coordinated with two-way radios.
If employees forgot to close a valve, or opened one out of sequence, the wrong ratios of raw materials might ruin a batch or waste money. It could also result in a spill that caused a fire, an injury or environmental damage.
Now, with IoT and handheld mobile devices, the refinery can track each employee’s location and each valve’s status. This enables a centralized system that sends alerts if an employee is in the wrong location or manipulates a valve out of sequence.
The ability to track employees in real time has two additional benefits. First, when there’s an emergency, businesses know exactly who is where, which helps first responders reach injured employees faster. Second, businesses can confirm that contractors are where they’re supposed to be in order to meet time-on-tools requirements. This information can be entered into a database for analysis, such as identifying opportunities to streamline workflows.
Integration with Legacy Systems
Another CDW client is a chemical refinery that wanted to streamline and improve maintenance processes, which required a combination of disconnected digital and analog tools. Employees used these tools in the field but then had to manually enter data into a computer in the office at the end of the shift. CDW is creating a mobile application which allows operators to perform their rounds, access information or remote experts sooner, resolve issues more expeditiously and complete a more accurate shift report in real-time.
The new system also includes alerts for equipment that is not included in the published rounds. For example, if a pump is out of service but in the field, the new application will send an alert to the operator to inspect, as needed, and provide a current status update. This is an important piece of determining true uptime and failure rates of key equipment.
This client exemplifies how integration is key for successful IoT and mobility initiatives. It had five legacy systems that didn’t need to be replaced, so CDW worked with multiple partners to overlay the new system’s hardware and software.
A Great Network Provides the Foundation
A reliable data network is key for successful IoT and mobility initiatives. CDW helps identify the right network technology and service provider for each client based on unique requirements such as bandwidth, latency, coverage and price.
For example, Wi-Fi is a good fit for locations where wired broadband is available, while cellular is viable for remote sites. Satellite is expensive but can be worth it if, for instance, it enables remote monitoring and control that reduces the need to send employees to remote locations on a regular basis.
Bottom line: IoT and mobility are proven ways to save money, and even lives. But call in the experts because the solution options and implementation considerations often are as complex as the workplaces they can improve.
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