HART benefits the bottom line at MOL Refinery

Implementing the right technical solution the right way can have a major impact on your profitability. A HART Plant of the Year Award recipient reveals keys to effective implementation and resulting financial benefits.


Across the entire facility, there are about 40,000 individual tags. Roughly 4,000 to 5,000 of those have been identified as critical or deployed in connection with a larger critical asset. Courtesy: MOLIf you live outside Central or Eastern Europe, you may not recognize MOL as a major oil producer. Compared to global giants such as Shell, BP, or ExxonMobil, MOL is a much smaller player, but in the region it serves, the refiner is a critical supplier. Moreover, size notwithstanding, larger companies have reason to envy MOL’s profitability as it ranks in the top 10 for Europe.

Operationally, MOL has compiled an admirable record, particularly over the last several years. Plant availability has been very high, maintenance costs have dropped substantially, and process safety has been exceptional, including an entire year free of accidents. During a time when many refineries are struggling to stay out of the red, how does this kind of development take place?

Within MOL, management along with rank-and-file employees, see this performance stemming from two things. First, a strong sense of innovation at all levels, giving all individuals an entrepreneurial spirit to drive the company positively. Second, the right technical solutions implemented in the right way that have allowed the company to keep the plant operating using predictive and proactive techniques that make maintenance efforts more efficient and less costly.

HART enters into this picture because it provides critical communication and facilitates the larger maintenance management program.

On the Danube 

The MOL Danube Refinery is located on its namesake river near Budapest in Hungary. Courtesy: MOLThe MOL Danube Refinery is located on its namesake river near Budapest, Hungary. Within the fences are 58 operating units. It is not a shiny new greenfield operation, but like many plants, has a mix of platforms and legacy equipment. Roughly 70% of the total is driven by Honeywell TDC3000 and Experion systems. Yokogawa CS3000 systems run 20%, with Emerson RS-3 and DeltaV the balance. Of the 40,000 tags, 30,000 are HART-enabled, 2,000 are Foundation Fieldbus, and 8,000 are other analog or pneumatic devices. Of this total, roughly 4,000 to 5,000 have been identified as critical or deployed in connection with a larger critical asset. Some process units have been fitted with native HART I/O, but HART diagnostic data is captured using multiplexers from MTL and Pepperl+Fuchs in most parts of the facility. (For more technical detail about MOL and its use of HART Communication, go to HART Plant of the Year.) 

For those that think sophisticated device management systems can only be deployed in situations where there is one platform applied consistently and equipped with sophisticated field I/O wiring to support smart devices, this may come as a shock. MOL has built its successes on the same mixed platforms that are common in so many existing operations. Technical impediments have not stood in the way of developing improved programs and work practices. All that to say, MOL’s facility had no particular technical advantage that made its turnaround possible. In many respects, it was the company’s attitude that made it work. Here are some of the major elements that drove the program:

MOL determined that HART and an effective asset management program is a tool that supports its efforts to reach its basic business goals of improved profitability through reliability and reduced maintenance costs. Courtesy: MOL• The operations and maintenance departments of the plant spoke to management with a unified voice. Implementing an integrated program required breaking down the walls between these two critical areas. Much of the groundwork for the human elements of the process took place at an internal company conference where both sides were able to work together and develop strategy. Any adversarial attitudes were put aside in favor of a common goal. 

• Individuals within the plant had to be trained to take on greater responsibility. Teams of people under the FIMS (field instrumentation management system) banner learned that, using supplementary information provided by HART communication, field devices can post a large number of diagnostic reports concerning their operation. Based on this information, it is easy to determine the type of actual breakdown and the method of repair. In this situation, HART had an advantage in that it was easier for technicians to master this approach than a more complex system such as Foundation Fieldbus.

The Danube facility is not exactly shiny and new. Like most refineries, it was built at various times and has a mix of equipment from various vendors. HART helps smooth over those differences. Courtesy: MOL• Individual field devices had to be connected to the SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Bridging these two distant systems proved to be one of the more challenging technical hurdles. However, using an Emerson AMS system as an intermediary, it was possible to move diagnostic information to the larger maintenance management system.

HART helped build the bridge that carries information from individual field devices to the SAP ERP system. Now critical information is available at all levels. Courtesy: MOL• Engineers and technicians within the plant had to begin to think like owners. This meant that all individuals had to take into account the economic aspects on their actions while maintaining their high level of technical professionalism. It took some time, but by remaining diligent with that message, the plant’s engineers began to act as if they owned the assets, paying attention to their technical and business viewpoints at the same time.

• Stop practicing reactive maintenance and get ahead of problems. Gábor Bereznei, head of MOL’s automation and electrical department characterized this as the most critical change. “We made a list of the growing number of threats, pressures, needs, and possibilities,” he says. “Seeing all those factors we stopped for a second and said to ourselves: ‘Do we really want to run from threats, pressures, needs, and demands? Or do we want to gain an advantage that allows us to interpret these internal and external drivers soberly as guidelines to determine the path that we want pave and follow?’ We voted for the second scenario and decided to fully exploit our existing technologies such as HART Communication.”

The motto around the plant soon became: “More predictive and proactive, less reactive.” While that got people thinking the right direction, it was a far cry from actual implementation that would make such a change reality. Bereznei and the others looked at all the resources they had available as loose pearls that would have to be strung together to make a necklace.

Once they began to use diagnostic information from the field devices, technicians began to see the similarity between a warning of impending failure from an instrument and a process alarm that an operator receives in the control room. Both warn of a problem while there is still an opportunity to take action before something worse happens.

One of the areas where the asset strategy benefits became visible first was in valve maintenance. Diagnostic information allowed MOL to reduce its turnaround time and cost substantially. Courtesy: MOLAs an example, Bereznei points to a typical control valve that’s beginning to stick. It’s possible to open the valve, but it will not close. A technician will not be able to see the situation developing that from looking at the valve, so the situation could go untreated until the unit needs to shut down and the valve won’t move. At that point, it is a problem. On the other hand, the HART diagnostics can give a warning signal of the condition. That warning should move through the system to the responsible people so they can take action when they determine it is needed and can be performed with the least disruption. The system should help determine which notifications are serious, which can be postponed, and which do not need any attention at all.

That kind of valve maintenance situation has been one of the major savings realized from the larger program. As Bereznei describes it, “If we use the HART diagnostic information cleverly, we can carefully select the control valves that really need attention during a turnaround, which allows us to significantly reduce the scope and durations of our turnarounds. The savings thus achievable amount to US$20,000 to $70,000 in one turnaround. And I haven’t mentioned that we can control the safety and environmental protection level, preventing production losses that the bad actor control valves would cause otherwise.”

He adds that there were people in the company that questioned whether something as simple as HART could really produce these kinds of savings, but he pointed to the key benefits that they did not have before taking on this project:

  • Diagnostic information gained sooner when it’s easier to reduce risks of failure
  • Deeper insights into the technical condition of equipment, such as control valve diagnostics
  • Prevention of emergency shutdowns
  • A systemized framework for arranging daily work
  • Utilizing the diagnostic capabilities built into the devices instead of leaving them idle, and
  • Continuous learning for our people, for the sake of the company as well as for their own sake, encouraging personal development and professionalism.

After thinking about the lessons learned since beginning this program, Bereznei looks ahead: “Our future plans call for implementing a new paradigm. We intend to roll outs benefits of HART technology to the entire lifecycles of our assets, simply because we know the system is capable of following the equipment from cradle to grave. We also want to carry on the integration and make use of latest technological development, HART can offer us. If you have a musical instrument like a piano, you can easily and quickly learn a children’s song, but that’s not why you have your piano. This instument can do much more than that and over years, we discovered we can also develop and learn how to play more heartfelt music.”

Peter Welander is a content manager for Control Engineering. pwelander@cfemedia.com

Anonymous , 04/30/13 03:41 AM:

Learn more about institutionalizing device diagnostics as part of daily maintenance and turnaround planning from the user guide here:
It includes coverage of the NAMUR NE107 concept of status signals for categorization of device diagnostics into four easy to understand icons, as well as the need for prioritization based on asset criticality.

Some systems and device vendors make both 4-20 mA and fieldbus devices very easy to use

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