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Enterprise Asset Management

Simplifying The Complexities Within Refining

Producing a barrel of oil – from shipping, storage, refining and finally, transport – is rife with complexities. In an environment composed of thousands of moving parts, oil refineries are no strangers to operational inefficiencies, and safety and regulatory compliance challenges abound. 

In essence, there’s a lot that can go awry during downstream operations. However, by leveraging software solutions aimed at simplifying this process, oil refineries can help to ensure their operations are safer, more reliable and fully compliant with industry regulations. 

This article will dive into some of the key challenges facing refineries throughout shipping, storage, refining and transport. Then, we’ll explore how digitalization is a step in the right direction toward solving these challenges and optimizing workflows for safer, more efficient operations.  

Common Challenges in Downstream Operations  

Four key challenges are typical in downstream operations. 

Predicting Market Demand 

Refineries adjust their production based on market demand. They may prioritize making more heating oil in the winter and more gasoline in the summer, for example. They also change the proportion of C3s and C4s – propane, propylene, butane and butylene – depending on what is most economically beneficial at the time. Different cuts are often based on different blends of crude oil and require different operating parameters to achieve the desired mix of products. 

Predicting and responding to these fluctuations accurately can be challenging. Moreover, adjusting the cut specification often requires coordinating various units within the refinery, which can become a logistical nightmare.  

Workforce Woes 

Finding and retaining skilled technicians is a common hurdle for oil refineries. Many skilled workers in the oil and gas industry are approaching retirement age. Junior workers entering the industry may lack the specialized skills and training needed to operate and maintain legacy equipment and systems. At the same time, veteran workers can find it challenging to adapt to digital transformation that is encouraged – and very often expected – by the newer generation of workers. 

Regulatory requirements 

Downstream/refining operations are subject to stringent regulatory requirements aimed at ensuring worker safety, protecting the environment and preventing accidents. Compliance with these regulations requires ongoing monitoring, reporting and auditing to ensure that facilities adhere to those standards and maintain a safe operating environment. 

Operational inefficiencies 

For LNG and other facilities that typically ship their final product via trucks or ships, loading procedures often involve complex logistics and coordination between terminal operators, vessel crews and cargo inspectors. Just a small error in paperwork or document processing can lead to substantial delays and in some cases, punitive costs. Moreover, inefficient loading procedures, including slow or inconsistent loading rates, improper handling of cargo or insufficient safety protocols can lead to errors, safety hazards and even further delays. 


Digitalization is a step in the right direction 

Despite the complexity of the issues prevalent in the oil and gas industry, tackling these four challenges head-on is possible by investing in digital solutions. Each of the four outlined challenges can be mitigated with tailored software solutions aimed at enhancing efficiencies and compliance. Let’s take a look at a few examples. 

Operations management and alarm management software  

Consider the challenge of adjusting cut specifications while dealing with fluctuating market demand. Using streamlined operations management software enables facilities to document and manage the changes required to quickly analyze and modify relevant industrial processes. Serving as a centralized data repository, these types of solution can be leveraged to communicate the desired cut to the operators with heightened visibility and accuracy.  

It’s important that operators can adjust production limits in real time as cut specifications change. This enables the alarm system to inform operators of quality concerns that might arise when processing conditions change and operators are in danger of drifting away from the desired cut specifications. 

Quality and efficiency aren’t the only considerations here – safety is also important. Dynamic alarming capabilities in an operations management solution can provide real-time monitoring and timely notifications of critical process conditions. 

Alarms are triggered when process conditions approach or exceed predetermined thresholds. However, effectively managing and maintaining an alarm solution can be a burden in itself. It’s easy to drown operators in noise rather than actionable information. Poorly performing alarm systems plagued by alarm floods, nuisance alarms and uncontrolled alarm suppression have a direct, negative impact on plant production and safety. With the right alarm management software solution, operators can reduce noise, improve alarm quality and ensure the right information gets to the right places at the right time – enhancing efficiency, safety and compliance.  

Audit trails and report generation 

Ensuring compliance with regulatory standards is made easier with solutions that can reduce silos and serve as a single source of information for a broad array of related data.  

When integrated with data historian systems, operations management software can store and analyze historical data, allowing operators to identify trends, patterns or anomalies that may impact key industrial processes. At the same time, integrating operations management software with IoT sensors provides operators with real-time data throughout the refining process – allowing them to see the day-to-day detail, as well as the bigger picture.  

Digitalized reports ensure consistent formatting and provide a clear audit trail of all activities. These reports provide insights into factors such as loading times, quantities loaded, product quality, and compliance with safety and regulatory standards. By analyzing these reports, operators can identify inefficiencies, bottlenecks or areas for improvement in the loading process.  

Asset performance management software  

Asset performance management software can be used to effectively track, manage and optimize assets throughout their lifecycle. For oil and gas companies, this capability proves especially useful as a tool for ensuring optimal performance, improving asset reliability and maintaining safe working conditions for workers on site. By enabling users to monitor the condition of assets, detect potential problems and prevent disruptions with maintenance alerts, asset performance management solutions are the key to creating better risk mitigation strategies and maintaining compliance. 


Enhancing operational efficiency, improving data accuracy and record keeping, and maintaining regulatory compliance can make all the difference for oil and gas companies in the downstream and refining subsectors. Leveraging tailored software solutions can mitigate the challenges associated with meeting these goals.  

If you’re ready to implement new solutions to age-old problems, get in touch. Operations management software like Hexagon’s j5 and asset performance management software such as Hexagon’s HxGN EAM system can empower oil and gas companies to realize the benefits of digitalization, ensuring safety and compliance while boosting operational efficiency across the board.