5 Reasons Why Rugged Industrial Computers Are Best For Oil Refineries
An oil refinery is a manufacturing plant that takes crude oil and converts it into useful petroleum products: gasoline, lubricating and motor oils, petroleum gas, tar, etc. Because of the time-consuming and intense nature of the process, refineries present unique challenges to electronics like computers.
Crude oil is not an easy substance to work with. Many processes are involved. One of the main concerns is the use of many chemicals which, unsurprisingly, are dangerous to humans. Hydrofluoric acid, petroleum coke, and benzene, are just a few examples. Naphtha or ligroin, which is extracted from crude oil and used in the production of gasoline, is another. Injuries can range from skin and lung irritation to chemical burns. Explosions and fires caused by flammable vapors are a major fear at any refinery.
Electronics used in oil refineries thus must be able to withstand these chemicals, whether they be liquid, vapor, or even particulate (i.e., dust). The bezel, or the front of a computer, should be sealed to prevent an accidental splash from getting inside. A rating of IP65 is perfect. A fanless design helps stop chemical gasses and particulates from damaging the machine’s interior. They also have the added advantage in preventing the circulation of such hazardous substances in the air. These PCs should also be built with industrial grade parts to minimize the damaging effects from chemicals like corrosion.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of heavy machinery is found in an oil refinery. Some major pieces include:
Fired up heaters.
Storage tanks (lot!).
Pumps and compressors.
All this equipment generates a tremendous amount of noise and vibration. Typical off-the-shelf computers, with moving parts like fans and hard discs, become quickly unusable as they’re literally shaken apart. In order for PCs to function in this environment, they should be IEC60068 certified. This means they have been tested by an official government body to deal with the jolts, shocks, and vibrations typically found in many manufacturing plants. The PC’s cooling system should be fanless, and come with a solid-state hard disk. Neither has moving parts and cannot be shaken into failure. Features like chemically hardened touch glass should also be considered on such machines to lessen chances for breakage.
Oil refineries, in addition to chemicals, use pressure and heat in their various refining processes. Some of the latter can reach temperatures up to 1,600F.
Computers on refineries should be built with industrial parts in order to withstand the widely fluctuating temperatures. And it’s not just the temperatures and pressure from the processes they must contend with. Water (and lots of it!) is used by many refineries to generate steam as well as act as a coolant. Thus many are found near large bodies of water with some, in the case of off-shore refineries, surrounded by it. Both facilities experience great temperature changes due to weather conditions like storms or snow. Devices like rugged industrial tablets should be rated to protect them in such saturated conditions (see Chemical Resistance above).
Operating a 24 hour, 7 day, 365 days shift
Oil refineries are large-scale operations. They can process a hundred thousand barrels to several hundred thousand of crude oil in a day depending on the plant. Virtually all run continuously day and night for months, if not years. They do so partially because of the time-consuming process to create their many products, and partially because of demand for them.
All equipment on a refinery must be built to withstand such use. Consumer-grade computers, especially those designed for casual use in homes, would fail within months if not sooner. Any electronics from computers to tablets should be designed with industrial-grade components at a minimum with a low failure rate.
Expense of Legacy
A new oil refinery is an expensive undertaking. At this time, it’s estimated that it costs between $5 to $15 billion to build one in the US, taking 5 to 8 years from breaking ground to switching the first system on. Moreover, once a plant closes, the owner(s) is responsible to restore the property to its original condition. Since this can cost an additional tens of billions of dollars, few refineries are built in the US: the Marathon refinery in Garyville, Louisiana, is the last major US-based refinery, processing its first barrel of crude back in 1977.
This expense also means many pre-1977 oil refineries are still in operation. Instead, their owners find it more cost-effective to upgrade and/or retrofit existing equipment than shutting the refinery down and building a modern facility elsewhere. Such industrial equipment is called legacy. Modern electronics like a custom mini PC will need legacy ports to work with such older devices. This is especially true if the refinery is looking to move into Industry 4.0.