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UCDS working with Sunoco

UCDS Helps Sunoco Design a New centralized control facility that aims to optimize their Philadelphia refinery

Console Operator Bill Johnson, a 24-year Sunoco veteran, makes changes in the operations of the new low sulfur fuels unit from the new central control room. The recently finished low sulfur gasoline unit is the first plant to be run from the new central control room. By June 2006, it is expected that all Point Breeze unit operations will be controlled from this centralized facility.

The first phase of the new centralized control room at the Philadelphia Refinery is operational and the refinery is already seeing the benefits through better management of the fuel gas system and higher distillate yields. Located on the Point Breeze side of the refinery, the control room – in a series of three phases over the next several years – will eventually control all unit operations, utilities, and blending and shipping for the facility.

There are several places where a centralized control room can benefit a refinery’s operations, explained Mike McKee, Philadelphia refinery Operations Manager. “First, it allows the various operating units to be managed with better continuity, he said. “When you don’t have a central control room, communication among the units relies on telephones, radio and fax. We are seeing better decisions because the people are interacting face to face.” A centralized control room allows the various units to better share resources, such as steam, fuel gas and heat, to ensure that the refinery is optimized as opposed to one individual unit.

Before, the thinking was that if each unit in the refinery was optimized, then the refinery overall would be running at optimal levels, McKee said. However, McKee said, sometimes what may be the most effective operations for one particular unit may hold back rate for another unit that is producing an added-value product in demand in the marketplace. In that case, it is in the refinery’s best financial interest to optimize for certain units knowing that the gains will outweigh the loss of running one unit at a sub-optimal level. To maximize the opportunities a centralized control room offers, the position of console operator supervisor was created to coordinate unit changes and operations.

“Before a centralized control room, there was not an efficient way to recognize this and communicate the necessary changes to the operators,” McKee said. “Now with both the position of console operator supervisor and the face-to-face interaction, we are in a better position to ensure that the refinery is running in a way that will best capture the market.” The centralized control room also helps the refinery better react to the market because it allows for the business planning group to review refinery operations information at a centralized point, compare that to market data, and communicate changes that are more easily implemented to adjust to the changing market conditions.

The key to running an optimized refinery is the ability to make global changes to such systems as the fuel gas system or distillate production. This is done through greater utilization of automated process control (APC), which is now possible with the centralized control room. The APC allows changes to be made not just on a unit basis but across multiple units for a system-wide impact. And while it is a benefit that McKee hopes to never utilize, the centralized control room allows for remote control and shutdown of a facility during an emergency or evacuation. Although Philadelphia has had a smaller central control room, the real benefit to this new facility is a number of enhancements that are expected to improve not only operations but also the work experience for console operators.

The ergonomics of the new control room – from the lighting to the desk height to the chairs – were researched and selected to provide the console operators with a non-distracting work environment that allows them to remain focused on their responsibilities during their 12-hour shift.

Entering the new control room, the expansive, well-lit room with high ceilings, bright monitors and large observation screens on the walls is in stark contrast to the existing control room with its dim lighting and low ceilings and high banks of console boards which isolate operators from each other. Nobody likes to work in the dark, McKee said, but the old control room has the low lighting because the older CRT monitors are difficult to read in brighter light.

New technology has allowed Sunoco to create a more conducive work environment where operators can have both light and screen visibility. “The need to stay alert is critical to a well-run facility and the new control room, which also features a kitchen and an exercise area, will help operators stay at their peak during the entire shift,” McKee said.
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