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Digital Operations Management for Industrial Facilities: Opportunities and Challenges

The process plant industry is constantly evolving and adapting to new technologies, and one of the most significant changes in recent years has been the digitalization of operations and maintenance (O&M) processes. According to ARC Advisory Group, digitalization refers to enabling or improving processes by leveraging digital technologies and digitized data. Digitalization involves using digital technologies to standardise and simplify processes and increase efficiency and productivity. This capability has become an essential tool for process plant operators looking to optimize their operations, as it helps with providing more accurate and timely information aggregated from discreet data, to make better decisions faster.

Let’s take a closer look at the process plant O&M digitalization process and explore some of the key benefits it can offer.


What is Process Plant O&M Digitalization?

Process plant O&M digitalization involves using digital technologies to support optimizing O&M business and work processes in a process plant. Typical approaches involve the use of sensors and automation to monitor and control plant operations, gather real time digital data, and the use of digital platforms to consume this data to manage operations activities, maintenance tasks and improve asset performance, improving key metrics such as availability, reliability, productivity, and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). According to EY, chemical industry leaders are increasingly implementing digitalisation to achieve business growth and sustainability goals, with the following focal areas:

  • Digitalization has become the second-most prominent capital issue for chemical businesses — with 65% expecting it to impact their businesses significantly
  • Businesses are increasing their focus on digital security as they accelerate the digitalization of their operations
  • For four out of every 10 chemical businesses, the CEO is emphasizing digitalization to fulfil the company’s sustainability goals

There are several different types of digital technologies that can be used in process plant O&M digitalization. Most organizations today are investing in technologies such:

  • Internet of Things (IoT) devices
  • Automation
  • Big Data
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning
  • Digital twins
  • Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)
  • Alarm Management
  • OT Cybersecurity

By implementing these technologies, process plant operation can gain better insights into key work processes and asset performance and make more informed decisions, leading to increased efficiency, reduced downtime and improved safety and quality.


Benefits of Process Plant O&M Digitalization

There are several key benefits to implementing process plant O&M digitalization, including:

Improved Efficiency: By using digital technologies to monitor and control plant operations, process plant operators can improve efficiency and reduce unscheduled downtime. By capturing operations experiences in real time with j5 Operator rounds, or evaluating operator performance usingPAS PlantState Integrity, the cycle time between issue and responses are dramatically reduced and the quality of information improves.

Reduced Costs: Digitalization can also help to reduce costs by automating processes currently requiring manual interventions. By automating the conversion of operator observations in j5 Operator rounds to work orders in Hexagon EAM, or converting EAM work orders, into Permit to Work in j5 control of work has causes a >3% increase in wrench time, resulting in 10% reduction in maintenance costs. Further by using Hexagon’s digital twin solution, SDx as a single source of truth for all your operational and maintenance systems of record, the ability to respond with the latest accurate information directly impacts the cost of maintenance and operations.

Increased Safety and Quality: By using digital technologies to capture and curate the experiences of field-based workers, and to increase collaboration with exchange of data digitally, process plant operators can improve safety and quality by detecting potential hazards before they become serious issues and improve responses with input from control room operators. Operations teams can collaborate in real time in the execution and management of Standard Operator Procedures with AcceleratorKMS. Additionally, by digitalising important work processes such as Management of Change and Incident Management with j5 Operations Management, this can help to reduce accidents and improve overall plant safety.

Improved Asset Management: Digitalization can also help to improve asset management by providing better visibility into asset performance and maintenance needs. By using digital platforms such as HxGN EAM from Hexagon to manage maintenance tasks and overall asset performance, process plant operators can ensure that equipment is properly maintained and that maintenance schedules are optimized.

With Hexagon’s market leading Operations management solutions, the headlines for benefits are:

  • Up to 10% improvement in Asset Availability
  • Up to 10% improvement in Training and knowledge management

· Up to 10% reduction in maintenance costs

  • 30% to 50% reduction in time to locate data and documents.
  • >50% reduction in mobilisation costs (travel to and from site for work execution)
  • Up to 10% reduction in reduced compliance, risk management and investigation costs.


Challenges of Process Plant O&M Digitalization

While there are many benefits to process plant O&M digitalization, there are also several challenges that must be addressed. Some of the key challenges include:

Data Integration: Digitalization involves collecting and integrating data from multiple sources, which can be challenging. Process plant operators must ensure that their digital platforms are able to integrate with existing systems and that data is properly collected and analyzed.

Cybersecurity: Digitalization also brings new cybersecurity risks, as plant operations become increasingly connected and reliant on digital technologies. Process plant operators must ensure that their systems are properly secure, and that data is protected from cyber threats.

Alarm Management: Effective alarm management is essential for maintaining safe and reliable operations in industrial facilities. Poorly managed alarm systems can lead to information overload, alarm floods, and operator confusion, which can increase the risk of accidents and equipment failures. Therefore, alarm management is a critical aspect of process safety and requires continuous improvement to ensure that the alarm system is operating effectively.

Workforce Training: Finally, process plant operators must ensure that their workforce is properly trained to use digital technologies and that they have the necessary skills to manage and maintain digital platforms.


Overall, process plant O&M digitalization is an essential tool for process plant operators looking to optimize their operations. According to EY, “ to invest or not to invest in digitalization for growth and efficiency is now a rhetorical question”. By implementing digital technologies, process plant operators can improve efficiency, reduce costs, increase safety and regulatory compliance, productivity and improve asset management. However, digitalization also brings new challenges that must be addressed, including data integration, cybersecurity, alarm management and workforce training.

As the process plant industry continues to evolve, it's clear that digitalization will play an increasingly important role in ensuring efficient and safe plant operations. By embracing digital technologies and addressing the challenges they bring, process plant operators can position themselves for meeting authority compliance, safer working environment and successful plant operations. A key success factor to this future is finding the right technology partner. Come speak to us at Hexagon today!


About the Author

Alex Ong is an Industry Consultant at Hexagon and has a strong technical background in construction, project tendering, planned shutdown/turnaround, #SafetyCase Study for Major Hazardous Installation API 579 FFS and analysis in #CAESAR II & #PVElite. He has experience working in Oil Refineries, Power Plant, Chemical Plants, Pharmaceutical and Food Specialty Facilities. He has managed over USD 150 million CAPEX projects including new process technology, revamp, debottlenecking, plant expansion initiatives. Achieved zero EHS recordable incidents in 1,000,000 project man-hours.

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