Earned 4 Patents: Distinguished Research at KFUPM is Being Commercialized to Reduce Maintenance Costs in Plants

June 7, 2020  |   Innovation

A research team at King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, in cooperation with Yokogawa, has innovated a new technology that reduces the maintenance costs in plants and improves residual life-cycle of equipments used in control systems (control loops). A memorandum of understanding was signed with Yokogawa and Saudi Aramco to commercialize the four-patents technology and turn it into an industrial product.

The research team, led by the associate professor in the Systems Engineering Department, Dr. Sami El-Ferik, developed a technique that treats control valves in factories and solve problems related to friction and accumulation of raw materials, which affect the production quality, cause instability in industrial processes, lead to an increase in the cost of maintenance and damage control devices.

The innovated technology can be used in process industries in Saudi Aramco, Sabic, Maadin, and many others local as well as international companies worldwide today which are vital in many economies. These plants are made up of chemical processes and are controlled by thousands of control loops working together to achieve several objectives including quality, volume, safety and low cost operation. Each of these control loops is maintaining a vital process condition such as pressure and temperature, and flow according to a desired dynamic or set point that will allow successful achievement of the economic as well as safety goals. The controller loops shields the process from active disturbances and uncertainties.

In industrial operations, some problems, such as delay response and instability (oscillation) in control loops, are due to several factors related to valves, including friction, accumulation of materials on valves or failure to install the valves correctly. These factors lead to various problems such as system stoppages, hardware damage, poor production quality and a huge loss of money in maintenance operations.

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Research Team Leader Prof. Sami Elferik.

Prof.Elferik said that the importance of this problem triggered a research effort KFUPM. The objective was to build an experimental setup to demonstrate the effect of friction and implement some strategies of compensation that could show the utility of the test bench in checking and calibrating valves.

He stated that the involvement of Yokogawa YKSA brought the project to a new and higher level. The company was interested in the work and provided us with support and state-of-the-art control loop equipment. Our undergraduate student, involved in this research as part of their senior project, teamed up now with graduate students. They had the occasion to do practical research and manipulate industrial grade equipment like smart valve and fieldbus. Students have been offered coop or summer training within the company. The outcomes are advanced technology for valve friction quantification and smart compensation techniques. The approach can deal with high-level detection, quantification and compensation at any friction level.

The research project won 4 patents. Saudi Aramco signed a memorandum of understanding with Yokogawa to develop the technology, and to explore the possible ways to integrate it into a commercial product. The result of this collaboration is a tool called Control Performance Advisory Tool (CPA). The tool is capable of data visualization and analysis using data clustering techniques, friction quantification using optimization and smart techniques, and (5) compensation methods that can be explored by the end user to see which fits the operation’s needs. The tool can also predict the effect of the compensation on improving the residual life-cycle and hence increase the availability of the plant and reduce the maintenance cost. The tool is now under testing and if approved may be part of Yokogawa product list.

Dr. Mustafa Al-Nasser, Senior Research & Development. Engineer at Yokogawa, praised the University for its commitment to cooperate with local and international companies in the development of modern technologies. Yokogawa is one of the first companies to establish research relations and has several research projects with KFUPM. He said.