Why should process control be automated

As a process engineer, you know that many types of analyzers have not brought full automation into your process control. Oftentimes the costly, human-intensive effort of model calibration, may cause a compromise on the quality of the analysis. Despite heavy investments in new technologies, poorly maintained analyzers result in inaccurate measurements.

“Why is this process not automated?” that is one of the first questions that Dror Albo, the Software Lead Engineer at 4IR Solutions, Ltd. asked when he first visited a refinery in North America. During this visit he was introduced to the time-consuming manual process of chemometric model maintenance. At the time, the most common answer was “That’s how we’re used to doing things.” or “We’ve always done it that way.”
This approach led the refinery to suffer from:
• Slow response to changes in feedstock or processing conditions
• High dependency on qualified personnel for data collection and analysis
• Lack of integrated model validation of the analysis quality
Despite the efforts (and cost) put into data collection and analysis, process engineers were not getting the results they needed to optimize production. The analysis proved complex due to:
• A manual process, repeated separately for each property
• A compromise on a low number of properties measured
• Poor model maintenance  
In short, operators at the refinery were working for their analyzers.
Coming from the world of software development, it was clear to Dror that there is another way. By focusing on AI-driven methods, measurement and analysis could indeed be automated. This meant the analyzer would be working for the operator, and not vice versa.
This realization led to the development of the iModel/Model Gateway software, and it was introduced to the market in 2016.

The importance of automated modeling

Modeling is mandatory for any spectral analyzer, as there is no straightforward way to define the relationship between the spectrum and the corresponding direct value (e.g., octane number). Offline modeling tools are in use in this industry, but the frequency of measurement is low (one sample a day is analyzed in the lab). iModel/Model Gateway, powered by AI technologies, automates this task.
Automated modeling enables the analysis of larger quantities of data. This means input can be increased while the quality of the analysis in maintained or even improved. The quantity and complexity of the calculations that the software can perform considerably exceeds manual methods. In short, there is no way to perform the analysis manually with the increased frequency of input.
“In order to achieve efficient automated modeling, two main concerns guided the iModel/Model Gateway development team”, Dror said. Runtime and analyzer support.
The first was developing an AI algorithm that accomplished the analysis within a reasonable time frame, using small training sets. Another important consideration was to make the software analyzer agnostic. The idea was to support any type of analyzer available in the market such as: ABB, Bruker, ThermoFisher, Guidedwave, Metrohm and others.

A one stop shop for efficient process analysis

The software platform leads to new process architecture with three interfaces: Analyzer, lab and DCS.
A sample is still taken once a day to the lab and the operator loads this data into the software. But now the spectra from the analyzer is loaded into the platform automatically and with a higher frequency. The chemometric models are built automatically by the AI algorithm. Linear modeling uses known spectra and lab data in order to build a model that can predict unknown spectra. Each new spectrum is processed, predicted and reported to the DCS. Just feed the system with lab data, the rest is automatic!

Automated process control enables fast response to changes iModel/Model Gateway is:
• Compatible with any analyzer (NIR / NMR / FT-IR) and any LIMS database
• It supports any DCS, Modbus or OPC connection
• The software-only platform offers a small footprint
• It can analyze an unlimited number of predicted properties
• No user intervention is required as modeling is fully automated
Process engineers enjoy a complete infrastructure solution:  
Modeling-> prediction-> communication-> reporting.
“Process control results in real-time, enable process engineers to cope proactively and quickly with changes in temperature and feeds, adjusting the manufacturing process with a higher frequency. “ says Dror. This means that automation is key to ensuring enhanced efficiencies and cost reduction, and to keeping up with a changing environment
After dozens of installations worldwide, the iModel/ModelGateway Software has proven that high-quality models can be created without human intervention. AI-driven automation simplifies the analysis process, allowing a large number of predicted properties, and leading to enhanced optimization of production yield and cost.
Looking back, the visit to the refinery in North America proved to be a turning point in Dror’s career. “To me it was a no-brainer”, he says. “It was obvious that automation was called for to optimize data collection, model creation and the analysis process”. iModel/ModelGateway has since proven many times that with AI solutions, you can indeed get your analyzer to work for you.

About the company

Introducing 4IR Solutions, a 2020 spin-off from Aspect Imaging LTD. (a medical MRI company). 4IR Solutions provides entirely exclusive data for Advanced Process Control Optimization measuring parameters and properties that have been – until now – entirely untapped. These parameters help drive further profitability in both traditional and renewable energy sectors. 4IR Solutions introduces its unique non-optical correlative OP-NMR (Online Process NMR) analyzer and its innovative AI-based auto calibration software suite: Model Gateway. 4IR Solutions line of analyzers are fully mature and operational since 2018, and has already gathered acclaim from multinationals for its “game-changer” role in boosting profit as well as being the “enabler” in the transition from fossil to renewable energy.
4IR technology is deployed in oil and gas, petrochemical and chemical plants around the world. Its CTO and CEO Mr. Tal Cohen is the architect and developer of the technology since its inception, and continues to be the main shareholder along with reputable investors from USA and Australia.
Dr. Paul Giammatteo is its Chief Scientist and President of 4IR solutions inc. North America.  Mr. Nir Dranov is an investment banker that joined the board of directors to support 4IR’s growth.


About the key management

Mr. Tal Cohen CTO and CEO (left): “4IR has over 6 technological patents and is finalizing its M&A acquisition of iModel Software LTD”

Mr. Nir Dranov, Director  “Since the spin-off, 4IR’s technology has been validated by multi-national top tier petrochemical companies and refineries in North America and Europe. Today, we have begun pilots with leading global process optimization players”.
“A joint venture between 4IR and a strategic partner focused on process optimization, will unleash an untapped multibillion ‘Blue Ocean’ market. The right collaboration can increase profitable sales by $400-$500M for both companies. “

Dr. Paul J. Giammatteo, Chief Scientist and President of 4IR North America
One of our customers, a large refinery in North America that installed our OP-NMR in 2018 shared with me, quote  “OP-NMR is mission critical to the operation of the refinery. Without it, we reduce capacity from 103mbpd to 96mbpd. According to our calculation, each OP-NMR unlocks an additional $50M profit every year. Its ROI is less than 3 months.” This testimony plus their booking of additional 3-5 OP-NMR units is the best testimony of our economical benefit to our customers.

About Net Zero

Accelerating the Transition to Net Zero: From Fossil Fuels to Renewable Sources

The oil and gas industry faces ever growing regulatory challenges, as current standards limit eCO2 thresholds and this requirement will only continue to increase.
Further regulation demands that 5-15% of total fuel to be comprised of renewable fuels. Achieving this requirement is made more complex by the significant variable characteristics of large range of raw materials.  For example with Biodiesel (B100), the production of diesel-based fuels includes sources such as plant-based oils (soy, corn, coconut, palm, canola, etc.), animal-based oils (chicken, beef, etc.), aquatic based oils (fish, krill, algae) and recyclable resources (used cooking oils, food processing, etc.).  
With 4IR’s OP-NMR online analyzer, the multi-step conversion processes are uniquely monitored and controlled in real time, leading to production efficiency, process optimization and product quality gains. With optimized production due to advanced measurement and analysis technologies, emission reduction can be supported through the entire refinery.
Furthermore, blending traditional fuels with renewable resources can be efficiently conducted due to real-time measurement and analysis throughout the production process. This high level of continuous manufacturing control ensures high efficiency as well as both the desired quality of the final fuel and the required CO2 emission targets.



Increasing Efficiency, Safety, and Controllability in Refineries with Real-Time Crude Feedstock Analysis Understanding the Hidden Loss: The Impact of Crude Oil Variability on Profit Margins

The refining process of crude oil, a complex and intricate operation, hinges significantly on the detailed understanding of the oil’s properties and composition. Each refinery process unit’s efficiency, output quality, energy usage, and safety are directly linked to the fundamental quality of the crude oil feeds including the distillation profile, cut points, API gravity, aromatic content, asphaltenes, Total Acid Number (TAN), sulfur content, etc., which define the operational parameters and constraints of the refinery units.

Despite the importance of these properties, refineries often operate on approximate estimations or outdated analyses, due to several challenging factors:
1. Time-Induced Variability: Properties of crude oil, even from consistent sources, vary and fluctuate over time due to natural changes and also due to slow degradation.
2. Alteration During Transportation: The process of transporting crude oil via pipelines, tankers, and storage tanks often leads to the mixing of various crude types, altering the original properties.
3. Uncertainty with Opportunity Crudes: These economically attractive crude types often lack detailed and reliable assays to accurately determine their properties.
The prevalent method to counter these challenges is manual laboratory testing. However, this method falls short due to its infrequent nature, time delays in obtaining results (the time lag between the sample grabbing and its analysis completion), incomplete data, data reliability and cost.
This lack of real-time, comprehensive analysis significantly hampers the effectiveness of refinery planning, control, and optimization software, leading to underperformance in efficiency and on-spec product quality. This, in turn, results in substantial revenue and profit losses, and forces the refinery to operate far away from its operation constraint to ensure acceptable safety and reliability levels within the refining process.


The Transformative Power of Real-Time Crude Analysis in Refinery Operations

Adopting real-time analysis of crude oil provides multiple operational and strategic benefits: revolutionizing refinery practices:
a. Crude Custody Transfer Verification: With real-time, on-line crude analysis, refineries can immediately confirm the quality and properties of incoming crude, ensuring compliance with purchase agreements and effective execution of production plans made months in advance. Continuously monitoring critical quality enhances refinery unit reliability and reduces operational costs. Continuous real-time incoming crude analysis enables the refinery to safely expand the range
of usable crude sources, including Opportunity Crudes, without introducing operational risk, leveraging performance economic benefits.
b. Enhanced Safety and Utilization Through Proactive Upset Prevention: Continuous, real-time monitoring of crude feedstock allows for proactive prevention of operational disruptions in Crude Distillation Units (CDUs). By identifying composition deviations that could cause upsets such as tray flooding, refineries can proactively mitigate these risks. Furthermore, real-time analysis allows for the fine-tuning of unit operational and Advance Process Control variables (heat, pressure, flow, mix ratios) according to true, real-time composition of the crude feed, leading to enhanced process efficiency and improved sustainability, resulting in reduced material waste, enhanced throughput, reduced re-runs from off-spec rundown streams, and lower carbon emissions.
c. Enhanced Product Quality and Efficiency Through Real-time Feed Blend Alignment: Real-time monitoring at the discharge pumps of the crude feed tanks after the crude blending point enables refineries to optimize the actual feed to the first distillation unit. Real-time adjustment of the actual feed to the first distillation unit. Real-time adjustment of the actual crude feed to more consistently align to LP targets stabilizes CDUs and upgrading units, and improves rundown and product blending quality.  
d. Comprehensive Operational Stabilization: Consistent crude feed control at the beginning of the refining process leads to stabilization throughout the entire refinery operation, enhancing overall efficiency and product consistency.
e. Dynamic, Plant-Wide Optimization: Continuous, real-time, feed forward crude feed analyses empowers refineries to adjust their production slate almost instantly in response to market opportunities, thus leveraging economic benefits and staying competitive.
Conservatively, real-time crude feed forward analyses will achieve up to 5% gains in operational efficiency and throughput with minimal off-spec product quality and re-work.


OP-NMR: The Optimal Technology for In-Depth Crude Oil Analysis

Given crude oil’s opacity, traditional optical analysis technologies (like NIR, FT-IR) face significant limitations. In contrast, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) technology, based on magnetic excitation of atomic nuclei, effectively bypasses these issues. On-line Process NMR (OP-NMR), a specialized variant of NMR, is tailor-made for continuous, on-line fluid analysis and stands out as a superior solution for comprehensive crude oil characterization.
The benefit of OP-NMR spectrometry lies in its linear correlation between hydrogen atoms of the molecules present in the crude oil, and the distinguished chemical shifts representing the chemical nature of its components. Chemometrics transforms the spectrometric measurements into the critical crude oil and crude oil blend property measurements required for real-time control and optimization of a refinery.

Pros and cons of OP-NMR Spectroscopy:
•    Non-optical spectroscopy
      No dependency on transparency
•    Linear and quantitative spectral response to the hydrogen content and molecular bonding environment of the sample.
•    Robust Chemometric performance
•    No spectral temperature dependency
•    Water content does not interfere with spectral quality and is measurable and quantifiable
•    Simplified sample preparation and handling
•    Solids can’t be observed
•    Low sensitivity to impurities
•    Sensitive to ferro-magnetic substances
•    Non-Hydrogen containing molecules are not not observed



In summary, the implementation of real-time crude analysis, especially through advanced technologies like OP-NMR, marks a significant leap in refining operations. By addressing the challenges posed by the variability of crude oil, refineries can achieve optimal efficiency, heightened safety, and increased profitability, ensuring high-quality on-specification products and a strong market position. The analyser’s unique capability to measure new untapped properties and measurements  help drive further profitability in both traditional and renewable energy sectors.

About the Author

Paul J. Giammatteo, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer and Vice President of Western Hemisphere Operations for 4IR Solutions, Ltd., brings 37+ years of industrial, technical, and business experience in applying analytical, at-line, and, on-line NMR Solutions to petroleum, petrochemical, chemical, pharmaceutical, biochemical, biotechnology R&D and manufacturing.

Biodiesel (B100):  The production of diesel-based fuels from plant-based oils (soy, corn, coconut, palm, canola, etc.), animal-based oils (chicken, beef, etc.), aquatic based oils (fish, krill, algae) and recyclable sources (used cooking oils, food processing, etc.).  Regardless of oil source, the manufacturing processes for conversion to fuel grade biodiesel are consistent from small scale oil recovery plants to refinery scale production.  The multi-step conversion processes are uniquely monitored and controlled by OP-NMR leading to production efficiency , production, and product quality gains.

Example Companies:  Northeast Biodiesel, Marathon, ADM

Biodiesel Blending:  The process of quantitative blending of various B100 levels in conventional crude oil road, off-road, heating and fuel oils to meet manufacturer and regulatory specifications.  OP-NMR accurately and rapidly quantifies B100 blend levels independent of both B100 and conventional fuel sources.

Example Companies:  Terminal Operations and Distributors, U.S. State and Federal Regulators, EU Regulators.

Ethanol Based Fuels:  OP-NMR quantitively measures ethanol content in conventional gasoline blends from 0% to 100% ethanol as well as measuring key Ethanol Fuel certification parameters (i.e. octane, density, distillation, etc.).  Further, OP-NMR is directly applicable for measurement and control of ethanol fuels biomass waste conversion to renewable fuels (gasoline, Sustainable Aviation Fuel, Diesel, lubricant base stocks).

Example Companies:  CHS, ADM, EPA.

Renewable Fuels:  A wide range of process technologies integral in conversion of waste sources (gases, landfill organics, waste plastics, biomass, used tires, coal) to useable fuels such as gasoline, kero/jet, diesel and gas oils.  OP-NMR is uniquely optimal for process control and product quality regardless of feed source and/or processes (gasification, thermal cracking, Fisher-Tropsch, hydrocracking/treating, reforming and isomerization.

Example Companies:  Lummus Technologies, Diamond Green, Emerging Fuels Technology.

Hydro-diesel: Creating clean, low emission fuel technologies that reduce operating costs and improve thermal efficiency.

Additional opportunity – Li Extraction: New processes for direct lithium extraction enable environmentally clean recovery and concentration of lithium (ppm to 90+%) from numerous aqueous sources (subterranean, lakes, aquifers, oceans).  The increased NMR sensitivity gained with the 😯 MHz system will increase the detection accuracy and speed of analysis at low starting initial starting concentrations (< 8 ppm) as well as improve overall Li concentration measurement performance across all concentration stages in the extraction.

Most of the applications of OP-NMR will be an expansion of the OP-NMR product line to include products that will be integrated into “skid-based” processes.

These process industries thus have insufficient data leading to a lack of operational visibility like driving with a blind.

Coupled with a turbulent business environment, feedstock inconsistency, demand variability, and an increase in regulatory demands, they continuously fail to improve their sustainability, and face shrinking margins.

There is tremendous profit margin to be earned by monitoring dark/opaque materials. Preventative maintenance is too restrictive.  The idea is not to limit process control from lack of primary data availability, accuracy and proper measurement. True “End to End Process Control”.   

With 4IR Solutions’ proprietary Petroleum Analyser you can finally monitor dark or opaque materials. Go beyond traditional lab or conventional on-line analysers with magnetic based technology located on your production floor. Increase profits by taking your process control and production optimisation to the next level of the 4.0 revolution.
Leaders in the oil and gas/petrochemical industries have defined two major objectives for continued growth: optimising production for maximised profits; and secondly, disrupting the conservative ecosystem of the industry in order to revitalise and attract new technologies and dynamic new thinking.
In the digital 4.0 industrial era, adopting innovative process control and process automation technologies can help achieve both goals.  
Every refinery and petrochemical plant strives to optimise production through innovative process control and automation, thus increasing yields and profit margins and meeting stringent product regulations and safety requirements. Even the smallest detail can yield considerable savings. This calls for intensive monitoring of the manufacturing process at every turn.
Although the oil and gas/petrochemical industries have begun to embrace cutting-edge 4.0 technologies, they have identified limited projects, such as predictive analytics for preventive maintenance with AI capabilities based on machine learning. “Preventive maintenance is only one step in improving the manufacturing process”, as Nir Dranov, Director at 4IR Solutions explains. “Taking the 4.0 revolution all the way will enable leading oil and gas companies to stretch the margin of each refined barrel of oil significantly and increase refining capacity.”
Don’t stop at half-mast. Go all the way when adopting 4.0 technology.
The limitation of optical technologies (NIR, FT-IR, IR and Raman) is their inability to effectively and productively measure dark and opaque materials. This means the data availability for process control is effectively blind. Blind spots, from which data are not received, are located on more than half of the production floor.
The following diagram of a generic refinery shows the limitation of optic-based analysers (black stars) for effective data availability.
Currently, half the locations in the plant are blind spots, which are not monitored (red stars). By placing 4IR Petroleum Analysers in the red star locations, process engineers in the control room will receive online real-time data for crude oil and other opaque materials and achieve 100% coverage of all production. The red stars are unique locations where only Process NMR Analysers can provide reliable, accurate and timely measurements.
Information is power. What you cannot measure you cannot manage/control.  
“Imagine you could cover the blind spots. What if you could get online, real-time measurements for dark and opaque materials from the production floor directly to your control room”, says Tal Cohen 4IR Solutions CEO. “For crude oil feed and its opaque distillates such as diesel, gas oil or residuals the accuracy of the results from our AI-60 analyzer is comparable to those from the standard lab-testing methods used in the industry today. The difference is – you receive our results every 5 minutes! This means you can optimise and control your production process seamlessly. You no longer have to wait a whole day for lab results! “
 In the most advanced oil and gas or petrochemical plants, a control room includes a digital command center that collects real-time information from all business units. Using smart analytical models, AI and big data, operational insights and recommendations are generated. However, if data is received only from 50% of the production floor, the process control cannot be optimal. This affects efficiencies for the entire company.
The AI-60 automatically sends online real-time production data, which is analyzed with 4IR’s AI (Artificial Intelligences) chemometrics software. The iModel/Model Gateway software enhances predictive model performance and provides predictive measurements, ‘automates’ validation and updates procedures while minimizing model development, model support and maintenance. iModel/Model Gateway facilitates the integration of LIMS, DCS, APC (Advanced Process Control) software.  
4IR’s AI-60 analyzer and its iModel/Model Gateway assures maximum efficiency and accuracy in real-time, so you can maintain and control your process at all time.
The bottom line: no giveaways, no re-processing – means, maximum efficiency.

About 4IR Solutions

4IR Solutions disrupts process control with its Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)-based petroleum analyser, the AI-60. It is the only online real-time process analyser for opaque/dark material including crude oil. 4IR solutions takes the 4.0 revolution all the way. We implement digitisation, Big Data, automation, Internet of Things (IoT) and AI analytics in our products. 4IR Solutions is based in Israel, a country renowned for its leading position in Industry 4.0 technologies. 4IR offers its process control analyser with its proprietary iModel/Model Gateway.  

Main learnings:

• Optic sensors cannot monitor dark/opaque materials, including crude, therefore leaving many parts of the production process unmonitored.
• By alleviating these blind spots, production optimisation can occur through process control that looks into the entire production processes, creating significant increase in profits.
• 4IR Solutions offers magnetic analysers placed on your production floor, the only on-line analyser able to measure and analyse dark/opaque substances.
• With 4IR Solutions you take your process control and production optimisation to the next level for significant increase of profit

Want to know more?
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