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The Sinopec Qingdao Refinery began operations in 2008

Chemical industry

A global strategy

Sinopec and Siemens have signed a strategic global partnership agreement to jointly explore and implement Industrie 4.0 solutions in the process industry. Together the two companies are seeking to increase efficiency in engineering and operations, reduce operating costs, and improve product quality.

When it comes to digitalization and intelligent manufacturing, China’s oil refining and chemicals industries often have to address the fundamental issues of data availability and consistency. Implementing digital services and the required infrastructure is a key prerequisite for digital plant operations – including data generated by the main contractors of the process automation systems and engineering companies. Even plants that are considered state-of-the-art will often lack the type of data integration that forms the basis of intelligent manufacturing.

Completing the digital transformation involves many disciplines – from engineering and design, to automation, IT and lifecycle management. One approach to the complex topic of adopting digitalization lies in combining expert knowledge from several companies for a best-in-class solution. This strategy was also the motivation behind the strategic collaboration between Sinopec and Siemens officially launched in 2016 to promote Industrie 4.0 in the petrochemicals industry. While Sinopec is an expert in petrochemicals production and process engineering, Siemens brings extensive knowledge in automation technology and digitalization into the partnership. Siemens will support Sinopec with an integrated engineering and operation platform including its Simatic PCS 7 process control system and Simit simulation, Comos engineering and management platform, Comos Walkinside  and the Simatic IT manufacturing execution system and the XHQ operation intelligence and optimization software. Additionally, Sinopec and Siemens will work together on the development of technologies and solutions.

Refining refineries

One of the first projects within the strategic partnership is an integrated intelligent operating control system for one of Sinopec’s lubricant production plants, and several other facilities are currently being evaluated for adoption of additional digitalization projects, including the Qingdao refinery. There, Siemens has already collaborated with Sinopec for over ten years – starting with one of the largest Simatic PCS 7 installations in the refining industry in 2006. This system was operating smoothly, but in 2015, the plant operator wanted to upgrade the level of data integration. The control system was therefore updated to the latest V8.1 version of Simatic PCS 7 in order to establish an integrated, uniform architecture for data integration and communication. At the same time, Siemens also implemented a defense-in-depth industrial security solution to provide more robust system protection against potential threats and attacks from outside – a project that is still regarded highly in Qingdao for the effectiveness and efficiency with which it was executed. 

Siemens also worked with Sinopec to improve its operations by applying advanced process control (APC) methods using model-predictive control in the sulfur recovery unit, helping cut fuel gas consumption there and also helping streamline asset management and alarm handling. The results have been impressive: Daily alarm volume has been cut by 80% and the improved condition monitoring provided by PCS 7 facilitates the early detection of equipment damage and abnormal situations. This preventive maintenance approach helps Sinopec reduce maintenance costs and avoid risks as well as unplanned facility downtime.

Headed for overseas development

But the collaboration is not limited to only improving Sinopec’s performance in its home market. Following the strategic global partnership agreement, in early 2017 Sinopec Engineering and Siemens also announced an agreement on overseas project procurement service commitment as they join forces in global refining and chemical engineering. Siemens will collaborate with the Sinopec Engineering Group and its subsidiaries on various levels, including engineering consulting services and solutions for automation and drives, power generation, transmission, and distribution, as well as smart energy management products and services. This agreement strengthens collaboration between the two companies even further and will be vital in keeping both Sinopec Engineering and Siemens at the forefront of the global refinery and chemical engineering market.

Picture credits: Siemens AG