Optimizing the potential of advanced process controls

June 2021 - Think about the shower in your home. If someone flushes a toilet or starts the dishwasher while the shower is running, you may suddenly have a change in water temperature or pressure. In this scenario, the effects may be a minor annoyance. But for our operations, a sudden fluctuation in temperature or pressure could impact an entire process.

Over the past four years, we have been using a technology called advanced process control (APC) to prevent this type of unexpected change and maintain optimal operating conditions at our Foster Creek and Christina Lake oil sands facilities.

“APC systems are able to make intelligent, split-second modifications to ensure a system or process maintains optimal production and continues to operate within designated limits,” says Thiago Avila, Optimization Engineer at Cenovus Energy. “The speed at which this technology operates allows a quick response and quick adaptation to changing conditions, which improves the safety and stability of our operations.”

APC systems use automation technology and machine learning to measure and understand key aspects of our operational processes, such as temperature and pressure, and how they interact with one another. The systems then use this knowledge to identify abnormal variations and make the necessary adjustments.

“Aside from the safety aspect, the use of APC technology also positively impacts our environmental and financial performance,” explains Paul Nayyar, Optimization Engineer at Cenovus Energy. “For example, the application of an APC which optimizes our heat exchanger systems at Foster Creek has reduced our greenhouse gas intensity and unlocked our production capacity.”

Since 2017, our optimization engineers have been working to implement and improve this technology at our oil sands operations.

“The successes we have seen are the result of ongoing collaboration between multiple groups from across the organization who have taken ideas from the drawing board to implementation within our oil sands facilities,” says Nayyar. “Automation systems are driving our business and industry forward, and we will continue to optimize their potential.”

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