The Middle East is undergoing an enormous building programme through the entire value chain of petrochemicals with companies moving quickly into both bulk and specialty chemical production. This rapid evolution of multibillion dollar businesses presents both challenges and opportunities for the region.
Global competitiveness has become more intense with price changes in both oil and finished products. The Gulf’s polyethylene producers, for example, face increased competition from the US as ethylene crackers start producing polyethylene and other derivatives. In fact, petrochemical production in the gulf cooperation council (GCC) countries rose by 4.5% in the past year, the second highest growth region in the world, according to the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association's (GPCA) Annual Report for 2014.
However, the region’s producers are now witnessing a limited new gas supply. Industry leaders need to expand their export industry using naphtha feedstock instead, as well as finding ways to develop new growth markets. In addition, the traditional reliance on an expatriate workforce has meant that the region has furthered its efforts to develop local chemical engineering talent and empower them with cutting-edge technology to build a more sustainable engineering skills pipeline and nurture a generation that can grow the region’s industrial prosperity.
Adapting to market opportunities
The Middle East has deep resources, both in terms of oil reserves and feedstocks, as well as access to capital. Significantly, the region is now a leading global producer and supplier to world markets of ethylene, derivatives and methanol. Despite market turbulence, Middle East exports of polyethylene are still expected to soar as production in the region ramps up. Consequently, the opportunity exists to capitalise on newly-built facilities with state-of-the-art production capabilities. Prospects, therefore, are still favourable for Middle East petrochemicals companies to develop their industries. However, when margins are likely to be lower in the future than companies have experienced in the past, they will need to implement rigorous operational excellence initiatives to boost returns.
Nurturing a rapidly-learning, indigenous workforce will help the region innovate and keep ahead of international competitors. The adoption of cutting-edge, integrated software empowers staff to achieve integrated engineering designs and workflows through to managing production efficiencies, and set higher standards in production. Fostering the next generation of chemical engineers is a high priority for the Middle East’s refinery and petrochemicals companies, along with engineering and construction organisations (E&Cs). Investment is being poured into training and developing experts, both in the use of advanced software tools and in the control of plant operations and processes. With economic diversification and employment growth on-going in most Middle East countries, the expansion of domestic petrochemicals is essential for capitalising on the region’s most important asset – people.
Squeezing out more from the operation
By conquering complexity throughout operations, process manufacturers have tremendous opportunities to increase profit with the use of advanced, integrated software solutions. With better visualisation capabilities that can look across an entire complex facility, it is possible for engineers to design processes and look at the trade-offs to achieve operational improvements.
Many of the new facilities built in the Middle East are even more complex than builds constructed in the past. Sophisticated technology is now required to manage these assets efficiently. With both refining and bulk chemical operations, advanced process control (APC) has been used for many years to help reduce energy costs, control the plant throughput and be more efficient in meeting production and quality objectives. Due to the complexity of the software, the technology has primarily been restricted to a few specialist engineers, who are focused on installing, tuning and operating APC.
AspenTech’s Aspen DMC3 addresses these issues by providing the ability to ‘tune’ robustness to accommodate undesirable and common scenarios. The software incorporates business-changing innovations, such as AspenTech’s ground-breaking Adaptive Process Control, a patented product which uniquely provides automatic tuning and step-testing technology with advanced model identification and analysis capabilities. It converts APC maintenance from a project to a continuous background activity and enables less disruptive plant testing. AspenTech’s latest Smart Tune functionality within Aspen DMC3 allows the user to set up and specify more frequently the operational objectives directly in the controller (e.g. the trade-off to maximise light diesel vs maximising gasoline, etc.) and easily eliminate the need for complicated and iterative optimiser tuning. This innovation makes APC applications more agile and effective by enabling engineers to quickly adapt the controller strategy to a company’s changing economic objectives.
Integration and flexibility are also vital attributes for any successful plant. Producers need to know what they are supplying and when and where to meet customer expectations. It is vital, therefore, that the planning and the scheduling functions are integrated, so the short-term and long-term decision-making can be performed consistently. With advanced software tools, engineers can plan, visualise and analyse the information quickly to make better decisions, which will increase profitability. Integrated software avoids the problems of silo practices with different departments and helps automate knowledge to empower indigenous engineers to be better decision-makers, particularly in addressing feedstock planning, operational efficiency, energy optimisation and safety analysis.
AspenTech has helped many Middle East companies with its integrated aspenONE suite of innovative software solutions, including additions of interactive, online and multimedia training tools. These features enable the new generation of engineers to keep pace with industry trends and be able to add immediate value to their roles. The company has introduced a variety of intuitive and embedded functions that offer access to easily searchable materials, training and online tutorials to guide process engineers and learn as they encounter problems during the design or analysis process.
Capitalising on potential
The Middle East has enormous scope to set industry standards for petrochemicals by achieving operational excellence from design through production. Downstream investment is crucial to help drive further commercial opportunities and overcome fluctuations in energy prices and feedstock availability. With the growth in emerging economies for basic chemicals and plastics, Middle East operators can maximise their potential with advanced process optimisation software and empower local talent to drive efficiencies that will give the region a greater strategic advantage.
Written by Ossama Tawfick, AspenTech. Edited by Callum O'Reilly
Read the article online at: https://www.energyglobal.com/downstream/gas-processing/10082015/empowering-people-and-optimising-production-1266/