In-House or Cloud Computing?
The manufacturing sector is in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, which is set to revolutionize every industry including refining, petrochemicals, chemicals, food processing, as well as most public utilities. The core of Industry 4.0 revolves around computing, often cloud computing, and lots of it. This comes with its own set of challenges as companies are faced with increasing costs in digital infrastructure and application support. Many companies are faced with a choice of spending big money on developing technologies in-house or leveraging outside services.
While some “big oil companies were early adapters of supercomputers, some have poured hundreds of millions into upgrades,” not everycompany is able to allocate the resources for such endeavors. Other chemical manufacturers rely on cloud computing and services, allowing them to leverage the necessary computational capacity with marginal cost increases. This is part of energy and chemical companies’ drive to leverage cyber-physical systems to operate safer and efficiently while reducing operating costs.
Cost Prohibitive Computing
Oil and gas companies boast some of the most powerful commercial supercomputers in the world, but that comes at a price. BP is currently in the middle of a five-year, $100 million investment in its Houston supercomputer. This includes building a separate three-story, 15,000-square-foot, flood-proof building. Currently, BP’s supercomputer only occupies 50 percent of the building, leaving plenty of space for the company to expand. But the high price tag makes this a cost prohibitive approach to anyone that is not a global enterprise with robust resources.
The lack of resources is not an acceptable excuse to forgo the benefits of big data analytics, as mechanical advances in oil and gas technology, as well as lower fuel prices, have added pressure on companies to work smarter. In-house supercomputing may be the domain of the world’s biggest companies, but that does not mean that smaller players are not finding a way to take advantage of virtual computing.
Chemicals and Cloud Computing
Just because a company possesses a supercomputer in-house does not necessarily mean that they will use it for every task, as even BP admits to using outside computers for regular analysis, while reserving their Houston giant for cutting-edge research. Using cloud computing, BP was able to analyze 40 years of operational, weather, and corrosion data from a plant in Alaska to find ways to reduce maintenance costs of its 1,300-mile pipeline. Cloud-based solutions for chemical plants and refineries can help in many areas from operations to chemical process safety.
Chemical plants can leverage cloud-based systems to improve chemical safety by integrating facility gas and meteorological sensors into a single platform. Cloud-based applications increase data accessibility and durability, which, in turn, improve compliance reporting, risk analysis, and collaboration amongst cross-functional teams. Cloud-computing allows companies to scale their digital resources as needed without the hassle of scaling the required digital infrastructure. You can read our blog about A Scalable Approach to Chemical Safety to learn more about the benefits of the cloud.