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Greg Blackman reports on some of the uses for data management platforms in petrochemical production and R&D labs


etrochemical production is generally a multi-stage, high-throughput process dealing with large volumes of product. The laboratories that

monitor refinery processes are typically dealing with off-line analysis and therefore, according to John Gabathuler – a director at LIMS vendor LabWare – the key to the business is being able to automate and streamline these activities so that results can be delivered for decision-making quickly and reliably. ‘The majority of samples in the petrochemical industry manufacturing area are sampled at known times and frequencies, with up to 80 per cent of all samples being typically scheduled. The emphasis is on turnaround times,’ Gabathuler states. LabWare LIMS’s standard features provide for automation and integration to other process and business systems, which is important for increasing efficiency. Rapid turnaround time of test results from

the lab to production and QA is one of the main challenges encountered by Ecopetrol, a petrochemical company based in Colombia. Ecopetrol operates three refineries producing gasolines, fuels and lubricants and the company has been running SQL*LIMS, now part of LabVantage’s LIMS products, since 1996. Almost real-time data has to be supplied

to both production and QA from the laboratories to maintain a peak performance of the refinery and LIMS is an important tool in this process. In this respect, Estewim


Díaz Vásquez, technical leader, IT systems, at Ecopetrol says: ‘The LIMS had to be able to interface with various instruments in the refineries enabling analysts to pull data from instruments quickly into a central data repository where the results can be checked to ensure they are within specifications.’ If analyses were carried out manually using paper, it would take much longer to get results to production. ‘The challenge for Ecopetrol is speed and getting the data to the production staff making the decisions in near real-time,’ continues Díaz Vásquez. The laboratories serving Ecopetrol’s

production plants will carry out a whole range of tests, from analysis of the crude oil, for instance determining the heavy metal content of the crude oil, which, if too high, could damage the reactors, to monitoring process streams, which would include taking samples from various pipes and valves in the refinery throughout the process to manage it for peak performance. The labs will also perform analysis on the final product to guarantee octane and the lubrication effectiveness of the oils. Based on samples taken throughout the refinery process, engineers adjust percentages of flow rate, temperature, pressure and other factors to achieve peak performance.

Process management There are numerous software packages used in a petrochemical production environment. Typically laboratory-generated data is


stored within a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), which will in turn be integrated with other data systems. Typically, these will include chromatography data systems (CDS), one of the most prevalent techniques in petrochemical analysis; Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, for batch release, specification checking and certificates of analysis; and Manufacturing Execution Systems and Process Information Management Systems (MES and PIMS), to verify and calibrate online analysers within the plant. ‘Typically all of these systems are mission critical,’ states Colin Thurston, director of product strategy, process industries at Thermo Fisher Scientific. ‘LIMS manages the quality data for the product as well as data to show compliance with regulations, e.g. ground water testing to confirm no effluent. ERP manages the enterprise commercial process, from the customer’s order through manufacturing, stock control and shipment. MES and PIMS maintain control of the plant operations, with real-time data being used to monitor the manufacturing parameters.’ Pemex’s (Petroleos Mexicanos) Gas and

Basic Petrochemicals (PGBP) division has implemented Thermo Scientific’s SampleManager LIMS across its nine gas processing facilities in Mexico. Jose Manuel Cardel Gonzalez, laboratories coordinator for PGBP and project manager for the SampleManager implementation, states that the company wanted a standardised platform across all of its gas processing plants to automate the data capture and validation process and therefore accelerate the analytical cycle. According to him, the system has resulted in an estimated production cost savings of more than $500,000 per year.

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