The Past, Present and Future of Plant Optimisation

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The Past, Present and Future of Plant Optimisation

The energy world is rapidly changing and it seems as though everyday there is a new innovation. Over the past ten or so years, drones have begun to survey plants instead of humans, optimisation practices have become more streamlined and the energy industry has gotten creative i.e. exoskeleton from shrimp for sustainable battery electrodes but how much farther can technology advance? This was one of the topics we covered with Frank Thiel the Managing Director at Quezon Power Philippines Ltd recently. Specifically, we asked Thiel what radical changes to plant optimisation he has observed recently and he shared a couple of notable upgrades with us starting with effectively utilising virtual reality. “We are seeing more remote support being made available using virtual reality. Troubleshooting and repairs where the TA is located remote [which] simply guides the worker in the field on activities to be performed are now possible. Inspections inside the boiler are being done via drones, ditto for stacks. Before, this was all done manually,” Thiel said.

With the release of continuous upgrades and new technology to achieve plant optimisation, we asked Thiel what advances had the most significant impact within Quezon Power. He quickly listed data gathering tools such as wireless sensors, handheld devices, digital twin implementation, and remote diagnostics via real-time data taking. With the data gathered from tools such as these, the plant management’s responsibility is to make the most of the data analysed by leveraging information gleaned and reviewing analytics for reliability. Having stores of data to analyse creates a challenge in itself, but the importance lies in acting upon the learnings to further improve performance and efficiency. Overall, Thiel said, “data analytics provides more value for portfolio management.” 

Despite the new technology Thiel outlined, managing plant operations during the COVID-19 pandemic was anything but efficient. “The travel restrictions imposed due to the pandemic made it very challenging to secure outside services and support for planned outages. As a result, a number of planned maintenance activities were deferred. Scope was reduced and limited to only the activities that could be performed using local contractors,” Thiel said. Not to mention the mandatory testing of all workers reporting to the site slowing down things and that quarantine facilities had to be made available. So how did they move through the process? “Additional time was built into the planning of the outage to accommodate the need to test all involved,” Thiel said.

There is [a] tendency to migrate to wireless sensors, and to add digital twins to improve efficiency and reduce costs. We may see more of these options in the future. Someone has already implemented a ‘totally autonomous’ plant concept [but] can this approach be extended further?

Frank Thiel

Now that procedures are more or less in place, some plants have returned to business as pandemic ‘normal’ and can move on to managing the potential cost and the impact of retrofitting technologies that will improve their overall performance. “Managers use cost/benefit analysis to determine the potential improvements that can be derived when retrofitting technologies [such as] ‘keep as is’, or ‘improve’ [which] need to be evaluated carefully,” Thiel said. Once things have been fitted plant management review their impact then they deem whether items are considered as improving productivity and they then calculate benefits post implementation via a testing process which is essential. “There is [a] tendency to migrate to wireless sensors, and to add digital twins to improve efficiency and reduce costs. We may see more of these options in the future. Someone has already implemented a ‘totally autonomous’ plant concept [but] can this approach be extended further?” Considering the steady advancements stated above and how quickly technology has evolved in just the last decade, the possibilities seem endless.

To watch the interview with Frank Thiel, Managing Director of Quezon Power Philippines Ltd, click here

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