Modern Production Technology Builds a Better Plant

Modern Production Technology Builds a Better Plant

Take a closer look at our polyethylene plant’s digitalization technologies and see how they will benefit customers (spoiler alert: they improve our supply chain reliability).

By Shell Polymers on Sep 10, 2020

Imagine a production facility that couples digital sensors with artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced data analytics to anticipate and help avert equipment failures. One that leverages a state-of-the-art digital twin to make risk mitigation decisions and uses machine learning to self-optimize its performance. These are just some of the capabilities of the polyethylene plant that Shell Polymers is building right now in Monaca, Pennsylvania.

As a greenfield venture, the Shell Polymers Pennsylvania Chemicals plant has a unique opportunity to break the mold of what converters expect from a polyethylene supplier and do things better. Without the legacy systems or constraints that can face existing facilities – and with a desire to change the PE industry – the project team is driven to unlock new and better ways of operating.

Advanced Technology Helps Solve Supply Chain Challenges

Yolanda Walker, IT Innovation Lead at Shell Polymers, says one of her key objectives is to help the plant deliver top-tier reliability and run with the highest availability by combining advanced technology and data capabilities. This is an essential focus area because the impact of unplanned downtime can extend far beyond lost production costs. For example, if downtime prevents converters from being able to fulfill orders on time, it can lead to a loss of customer trust.

She explains, “Because reliability and availability are so critical to customer satisfaction and competitiveness, we’re setting aggressive targets, leveraging leading-edge tools, and drawing on expertise from across the Shell Group to help us achieve them.”

"Because reliability and availability are so critical to customer satisfaction and competitiveness, we’re setting aggressive targets, leveraging leading-edge tools, and drawing on expertise from across the Shell Group to help us achieve them.”

Yolanda Walker

In line with these goals, the site’s predictive maintenance program will combine embedded sensors, analytic models, and artificial intelligence to help avert trips and failures in critical equipment. These sensors will track key variables such as temperature, pressure and vibration. Plus, the artificial intelligence algorithms will learn to identify when issues are developing.

Data Enhances Safety and Streamlines Processes

Much of the plant’s data and documents will be stored in a smart, unified, digital platform that reaches across the engineering, procurement and construction functions. Here, people can search for the latest engineering documentation and pull up related information, including location, technical drawings, specifications, maintenance records, and history with tag search, reporting, data integration capabilities.

As one might expect of a Shell facility, the site also has a wealth of safety features, including real-time gas monitors, fall protection, and a drone monitoring and inspection program. The latter will help eliminate the need for people to work at heights since drones will be used for inspections.

To support field workers’ maintenance execution and ensure safe production processes, the site will also use mobile digital forms.

At many facilities, operators and technicians still use paper forms to collect inspection data that will be manually entered into a desktop computer back at the office. At the new polyethylene plant, the workers will use a tablet in the field, so data can be uploaded instantly. This method will provide additional information such as full work order details and allow for notifications that could halve the time of many inspections.

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Simulation Prepares Frontline Workers for Start Up

To get the operators comfortable with working on a unit before it fully exists, the organization has developed a state-of-the-art simulator. This system replicates the plant’s behavior and control systems to train frontline workers with a customized series of immersive training experiences using 360° virtual reality video, which they can access remotely.

Shell Polymers’ simulator system replicates the plant’s behavior and control systems to train frontline workers with a customized series of immersive training experiences.

Alan Maupin, IT Program Manager at Shell Polymers, adds that remote video inspection is being widely used by the construction teams too. He says this technology really came into its own during the recent lockdown when limited numbers of workers were allowed on-site.

“Getting a piece of kit ready for turnover requires a system walk-down,” he explains. “Preparing a major equipment item for installation used to involve maybe 30 people inspecting every detail of a piece of the plant and noting any deficiencies or punch list items. During lockdown that wasn’t possible, so, instead, we’d have maybe five or six people in the field with a camera and a headset, and then we’d wire the remaining 20 or so into that session to watch what the guys in the field were looking at and to ask questions.”

Capitalizing on Technology Expertise within Shell Global

Yolanda explains that “Shell Polymers is leveraging the company’s global manufacturing digital agenda to support the delivery of their innovation plans. The agenda includes various technologies, expertise or best practices shared across sites through regular engagements. We’re replicating as much as possible while also breaking new ground with other activities such as the data platform.”

Shell V Power

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Drone Technology Monitors Construction

It is a slightly different story in construction. Dmitry Gurevich, IT Manager at Shell Polymers, is responsible for the technology used in the facility’s construction and commissioning. He explains that the recent technological advancements driving engineering quality, construction efficiency, and personnel safety have also created a “shared truth” between Shell and the execution contractors. The digital twin of the construction site empowers individuals to make better decisions based on visual evidence, while its AI component improves the quality of engineering documentation and data, improving safety behaviors in the field and measuring the installation progress in near real-time.

“Some of the solutions we’ve implemented have become Shell standards for future projects,”

Dmitry Gurevich

Consequently, Dmitry’s team often drew on approaches from outside Shell. “Some of the solutions we’ve implemented have become Shell standards for future projects,” he says. “For example, the LNG Canada project, which started construction about a year ago, was able to leverage our digital toolkit, further advancing it in order to suit their specific needs.”

One solution that is a blueprint for replication across Shell is the iHawk Portal, now deployed at more than 20 other Shell sites. Dmitry explains, “iHawk was introduced in 2017 as a website hosting the drone imagery that was documenting construction progress, but, over time, we have added new functionality that stretches the tool far beyond its original premise.”

“iHawk is now used to locate and track the utilization of equipment, plan emergency response, manage quality observations, and retrieve the engineering and construction information in a fraction of the time compared to legacy document-centric ways of working.”

Dmitry Gurevich

For more on this, watch the video:

Digitalization at Pennsylvania Chemicals

Title: Emma Lewis

Duration: 58 seconds


A short video about the new plant in Monaca, PA

[male voice]

Here at Pennsylvania Chemicals, we have the opportunity to be the plant of the future.

[Lauren Schwartz speaking]

The more data we have the smarter we have to be about managing it.

[Ed Cadena speaking]

Everything at the site is located by an equipment tag. We use that as the basis to connect all the databases. We have complete accountability over three million documents and equipment tags on this site.

[Lauren Schwartz speaking]

Now I can go to the tag number for my equipment and immediately find what I’m looking for.

[Alejandro De Jong speaking]

Digital twins use drones to take construction project snapshots on a weekly basis. And from these images, we create accurate 3D models of the entire construction site.

[James Bouanchad speaking]

This enables me to get a top-down view, to quickly determine what we need to do and what is effective.

[Ed Cadena speaking]

Any reduction in time will mean literally waiting time that we’ll avoid. And we’ll have a safer project too.

[End video]

State-of-the-art Technology That Supports the Customer Experience

Having pioneered or adopted a wide range of digital innovations, the Shell Polymers polyethylene plant is expected to be one of the most technologically advanced production facilities in the world. Despite these gains, the reality is that advanced polymer technology on its own will not revolutionize the customer experience for plastic converters. That is why Yolanda is excited to emphasize her team’s overarching objectives: “The technology is there to elevate the plant’s reliability so that when we say we’ll deliver, we will.”

Now that you know how the asset teams are leveraging technology to deliver maximum customer value, the next article in this series will look at the commercial teams. For example, we’ll provide more details on our customer-centric business model, from novel logistical tools to experienced technical support.

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