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Shell pilots virtual-plant technology at Singapore refinery

Shell - Pulau Bukom manufacturing site - Singapore refinery - SHELL SINGAPORE.jpg
The Pulau Bukom manufacturing site, home to Singapore's first refinery, is Shell's largest petrochemical and export centre in the Asia-Pacific.

ROYAL Dutch Shell has selected its Pulau Bukom site in Singapore as the first site globally to pilot its virtual-manufacturing technology.

Named Digital Twin, the new technology is set to be completed in 2024 and will be a "complete virtual representation" of the physical elements on site, the oil major said in a press statement on Thursday.

Digital Twin will also be able to respond "dynamically" to conditions based on data from over 20 different technology platforms.

With its visual, data and analytics capabilities, the new technology will make the manufacturing site safer, more competitive and more efficient, Shell said.

Engineers will be able to receive live information on the plant operations via augmented reality and virtual reality, thus reducing the need for them to step into the plant.

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For troubleshooting issues, the virtual platform allows various options to be tested in real time before a solution is chosen.

This improves operational efficiency, prevents downtime, reduces maintenance costs, and allows real-time collaboration between experts and operators, Shell said.

By 2025, all critical field operations at Bukom will be performed through tablets.

"With the setup of a virtual plant through Digital Twin, and by equipping staff on site with a tablet, we are creating a new culture of allowing work to be done remotely with the provision of complex data at their fingertips," said projects and engineering manager Narayanan Valayaputtur.

The Bukom manufacturing site, home to Singapore's first refinery, is Shell's largest petrochemical and export centre in the Asia-Pacific. The facility can process up to 500,000 barrels of oil per day.

"Large amounts of data from the 59-year-old site will be mapped into Digital Twin's processor for stronger machine-learning," Shell said.

A full rollout of the technology across the island is expected in four years, which will bring about 25 per cent improvement in productivity, reliability and safety, according to the company.

Hugues Bourgogne, vice-president of manufacturing for Singapore and Philippines, and general manager of the Bukom site, noted that the technology's launch is an example of the oil giant implementing potentially groundbreaking solutions in a traditional environment to improve productivity and efficiency safely.

Shell is also grooming a pool of technical talent to support this digital transformation. Since late-2019, about 140 employees from different teams on Bukom have participated in hackathons and digital bootcamps. In the next two years, all employees at the manufacturing site - including management, engineers and technicians - will be trained to operate the asset.

"The site is committed to investing over 6,000 training hours annually from 2021, on this digital drive," said Shell.

The move is in line with the Singapore government's focus on Industry 4.0, a new trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies.

The Economic Development Board's executive vice-president Damian Chan said Shell is "setting a strong example of how the energy and chemicals sector can adopt technology to move towards Industry 4.0 standards".

Bukom supplies products to Shell businesses in Singapore, including retail, commercial and chemicals. About 90 per cent of Bukom's products are exported to Asia-Pacific markets and beyond.

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