The digitization and automation of manufacturing processes offers to unlock productivity, continuity, and competitiveness efficiencies. Shell has long been at the forefront of using digital technologies to improve operations, with the new Shell Polymers polyethylene plant in Monaca, Pennsylvania, as just the latest example. 

State-of-the-art technology already used throughout Shell’s global work includes proactive technical monitoring tools, sensors, advanced analytics, virtual reality, and more. Those advances in technology will soon be put to work by our Pennsylvania plant team to ensure quality and quantity of polymer supply for our customers.

Let’s take a closer look at how Industry 4.0 technology will help power our plant and provide confidence to our customers:

Reliable Production Through Predictive Monitoring

Reliability and availability are critical to customer satisfaction and competitiveness. Our team will rely on predictive performance monitoring programs to give converters confidence in their supply.

These programs offer operators a real-time view of systems and equipment which provide insights that enable efficiency and ensure plant reliability. Continuous digital monitoring will be used to avert critical equipment trips and failures that impact reliability and availability. Some examples of monitoring tools include:

  • Embedded sensors
  • Analytic models
  • Dynamic simulation
  • Machinery and equipment diagnostic tools
  • Electrical network monitoring & control systems

These tools help operators identify issues as they develop and fix problems before those irregularities disrupt operations. Sensors will stay on top of critical variables such as temperature, pressure, and vibration to help maintain consistency and productivity.

Quality Control Using High-Tech Analysis

To meet converter expectations and reduce any fear of new supplies, the pellets we create will be of the quality and grade they expect. To make that happen, the PE units are equipped with advanced monitoring and control systems. This gives the production team a comprehensive view of process conditions and key quality parameters. 

Those systems also help them achieve reliable and stable operation, and thus consistent product quality. State-of-the-art on-line analyzers are used to monitor finished products in real-time. That provides an additional level of assurance that polyethylene quality is on target and consistent.

Challenge-Ready Through Simulation Technology

The plant’s opening won’t be the first time our operators have seen the controls they’ll be working with regularly. Our state-of-the-art simulator enables effective plant operations right away by giving our operators experience and familiarity with our equipment, controls, and unit operation before producing our first pellet. The simulator replicates behavior and control systems for various functions such as reactor startup, performing grade transitions, safe shutdowns, and more.

While many simulators in the PE industry are generic, ours is plant-specific. That means our operators see precisely what they will see in a live environment. We are also exposing our operators to unplanned scenarios to be ready to handle production issues that have yet to happen.

By the time the plant is live, each operator could have accrued at least six months’ worth of operating hours experience. That will significantly impact operator skill level and competencies and help them be ready for challenges to maintain uninterrupted polyethylene supply for converters.

Adjustments On-The-Go With Shipment Monitoring

Our digital eyes won’t stop scanning at the plant’s gates. Our Customer Relationship Coordinators (CRCs) will have shipment monitoring technology that provides real-time transparency of shipments from our doors to yours. This internal tool will give our CRCs the ability to digitally monitor customer accounts in real-time. 

CRCs will be enabled to quickly and easily do manual checks to find problems with rail cars. And in the event they discover railcar issues, they’ll be able to promptly summon trucks as a transit substitute, keeping the supply chain moving.

From plant equipment to the control rooms and while en route to customers, Shell Polymers uses advances in polymer technology to anticipate the unexpected and give converters a supply option they have reason to depend upon.

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