The ‘Smart’ Refinery

Showing off the new technology - Suncor Edmonton Refinery Process Automation and Analyzer team members getting ready to connect the new nuclear magnetic resonance analyzer to the refinery control system. The state of the art analyzer was installed in October 2018 and will be used to measure the crude oil compositions and to optimize process unit operations in real time.

Everyone is talking about ‘smart’ technology, which over time is changing many aspects of our personal and professional lives. In a ‘smart’ home, many electronic devices are interconnected in one controllable network, enabling residents to interact with their homes like never before and offering greater security, convenience, personalization and energy savings.

In the refining industry, automation and advanced control are also the name of the game – and the Suncor Edmonton Refinery is an industry leader in process automation and optimization. 

Running a ‘smart refinery’ requires three things:

  1. knowing exactly what the refinery is doing at any moment;
  2. comparing that information to what the refinery is expected to do and understanding the differences; and
  3. then predicting the impact of process changes all aimed at making the best decisions for future operations.

Through automation, innovative technologies and optimization, the refinery can develop and implement solutions to maximize safety, reliability, efficiency, product quality and environmental performance.

“The term ‘automation’ can cover applications ranging from a household thermostat controlling a furnace to a large industrial control system with tens of thousands of input and output signals,” says Dian Wang, process automation manager, Edmonton Refinery. “At the refinery, we use best-in-class safety controllers to run our plant-wide safety systems - ranging from critical equipment monitoring to providing automatic refinery shut-down in the event of an emergency.”

The entire refinery is also automated with control systems that connect more than 60,000 input/output points to the process units. The state-of-the-art advanced analyzers provide ‘real time’ process measurements for a vast variety of conditions and product compositions.

Extensive personnel training in computer simulation labs ensure our operations team are fully trained and competent to run the complex process units. In addition, the refinery automation team designs the strategies behind the technology that helps us safely and reliably process crude oil while meeting environmental regulations and customer commitments.

“We run a complex refinery that processes extremely challenging and varied crudes through several interconnected process units,” adds Dean Hawthorne, engineering director, Edmonton Refinery. “The technologies help us safely optimize our operations, but at the end of the day, it’s the talented employees who develop and use the technologies that really make our refinery ‘smart’.

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