Interview with the PCK refinery in Schwedt/Oder
“Digitization only works across structures”
Industrial Analytics supports PCK with machine monitoring and process simulation.
Digitization remains a challenge. – This applies to small and medium-sized companies as well as to large corporations. With the PCK refinery in Schwedt, Industrial Analytics has gained a cooperation partner that wants to drive digital innovation on a company site three by four kilometers in size. Frank Stargardt, section manager for contractor support and services, along with process engineer Jana Voss, report on how the company is mastering this mammoth task and what contribution Industrial Analytics is making.
Mr. Stargardt, as the initiator of the cooperation with Industrial Analytics, how did you become aware of the Berlin startup?
Frank Stargardt: I am pretty well networked in the field of technical diagnostics as far as Germany and Europe are concerned. Industrial Analytics was recommended to us by one of the companies we have been in contact with for some time. After the initial discussions, I quickly realized that Industrial Analytics’ system could provide a lot of useful input not only for monitoring our pumps and compressors, but also for process engineering.
What added value does the support of Industrial Analytics provide to both of you in monitoring your processes and equipment?
Jana Voss: As a process engineer, I check whether the plant is running properly and try to optimize processes. In energy generation, we use a fuel containing sulfur, among other things. To comply with emission limits, we have to desulfurize the flue gas again. Large compressors are used in the corresponding regeneration plant, and we can now simulate their operation on the computer with the help of Industrial Analytics.
Frank Stargardt: My focus is on maintenance and the early detection of irregularities. Virtual monitoring plays a crucial role in monitoring our machine trains. After all, it happens from time to time that the machines do what they want – but not what they should! If I can test certain states in the virtual simulation instead of having to intervene in the real process, that can save us a lot of trouble.
What does that mean in more detail?
Frank Stargardt: If I have virtually mapped the machine in such a way that I can change individual parameters in a very targeted manner – for example, suction pressures, end pressures or temperatures – I can find out more easily and more quickly what is causing certain fault conditions. Thanks to industrial analytics, we have the chance to make even more detailed diagnoses than was previously possible with our own monitoring system. With the help of the Fraunhofer Institute, we would like to display the data from one of the monitored compressors in 3D in the future in order to gain further knowledge.
Jana Voss: The process simulation helps us to avoid damage to our compressors. This can happen, for example, due to liquid ingress when the machines are under heavy load. By working with Industrial Analytics, we have already been able to gain interesting knowledge for our work and optimize processes.
How does digitization work in general at PCK?
Frank Stargardt: We have 80 companies on our premises that support PCK. In a sample project, it became clear how many interfaces there are across companies. To handle these in such a way that everyone can work optimally, our digitization working group was formed with over 20 people from different companies and departments. We try to take a holistic view of digitization and drive it forward.
Many companies have now introduced their own innovation departments. What do you think of that?
Frank Stargardt: I believe that real innovation must emerge from practical work – from people who are faced with concrete problems. In this respect, I don’t think much of innovation departments that just make things up as they go along. However, I would need a digitization officer on my right to drive the issue forward when I don’t have time to do so, to bring people together and put their finger on the problem. In other words, we recognize the problems and see possible solutions, but someone who has the time must be able to pursue them.
Why do you deliberately seek support from startups like Industrial Analytics?
Jana Voss: For us, it was primarily about the Industrial Analytics team bringing in new ways of thinking and new perspectives. I think that is also precisely the strength of young startups.
Frank Stargardt: Due to the general intensification of tasks in industry, it is important to use all the data that machines give us in order to avoid negative conditions. I really appreciate the fact that the Industrial Analytics team thinks creatively around corners.
And what do you hope to gain from the cooperation in the future?
Jana Voss: We are already looking forward to the simulation being expanded further. We have also considered that the software could also be interesting for training courses. After all, it helps newcomers as well as experienced employees to better understand our system. Whether I read something on paper or test it out myself in a simulation makes a big difference.
Frank Stargardt: I’m in favor of involving startups like Industrial Analytics in digitization. But it’s also important to me that they are closely tied to us, because the effects come about primarily through long-term collaboration. The companies belong here on the premises. We need to get to know our partners – and they us – better. That alone is a task in a plant three by four kilometers in size. The experts need to be known by face in our departments and recognized for their expertise, as someone who is always available and brings added value. For me, a driver in terms of digitization belongs in the plant.
The interview was conducted by Anne Schwerin in December 2019.