BASF: Digitalization of Automated Valves is Progressing!

FEATURED STORY BASF: Digitalization of Automated Valves is Progressing!

As a member of the Technical Expertise Team at Ludwigshafen, Alexander Hein deals with automated valves in various production plants across BASF’s oldest and largest Verbund site. “From the naphtha crackers to the units that produce specialized chemicals, our team has an impact as valves and actuators are indispensable for a safe and efficient production. There is still progression possible, especially in the domain of digitalization making more use of the positioners, the valves’ interface to the automation system.”

By KCI Editorial

Alexander Hein (28) joined BASF a year ago, making a switch from aca­demia to the private sector. Hein has also joined the Steering Committee for the Valve World Conference 2022, replacing his colleague Matko Dijk­man. But first, a step back into Hein’s career before BASF.

“My background is in technical phys­ics which I studied at the University in Kaiserslautern. I also took courses in electrical and mechanical engineering. Through my university education and experience as an intern with Bosch I became more and more attracted to business challenges such as product development and actual production. My last research project at university aimed at commercializing a new tech­nology of tunable optical filters for which I worked together with several industrial partners to optimize material supply, their performance, and the de­vice production workflow. This project management experience and the tech­nical understanding I gained were help­ful for my career start at BASF. I now work in interdisciplinary teams and con­tribute with technical expertise to find the most suitable valve for the given process conditions.”

BASF’s IPM module on the left. Clearly visible is the simpler set-up, which according to BASF will prevent unnecessary mistakes.

Powerhouse

Although Hein thoroughly enjoyed his tenure at the University of Kaiserslaut­ern, he decided to switch from academia to the private sector in 2021. “I came into contact with BASF through my alumni-network. During one of the regular alum­ni-meetings where BASF employees also made presentations about their work and shared their experiences at the company, I became interested in making a switch. The BASF brand stands for innovation and state-of-the-art technology. We are one of the largest chemical producers in the world and active in all the major countries (80-plus) around the globe. Who would not want to work for such a powerhouse?”

True, a brief look at BASF’s company pro­file and product portfolio shows the broad scope of base and specialty chemicals, ad­vanced plastics, surface technologies, nu­trition & care, and agricultural solutions.

Within this huge company, with its Ver­bund-structure and various joint-ventures, Hein and his team provide technical sup­port for valve technologies in various aspects of global projects, from specifi­cation, engineering, procurement, and commissioning, up to advice during the overall life cycle of the valves.

BASF’s First Verbund Site

Since Friedrich Engelhorn founded BASF in 1865, the Ludwigshafen-site has developed into one of the largest integrated chemical complex in the world. A good third of BASF’s global workforce works here, and the site in Ludwigshafen is home to most of BASF’s operating divisions and numerous corporate units. The BASF headquarters is also the origin of the Verbund-principle, which has been developed and continuously improved here. Ludwigshafen was, therefore, the model for BASF’s five other Verbund-sites in Europe, the US and Asia.  Many innovations started life in Ludwigshafen, from the pioneering work in dye production in the nineteenth century to the Haber-Bosch process for the production of ammonia and the high-pressure syntheses in the first half of the twentieth century, to today’s extremely versatile high-performance plastics or active ingredients for crop protection products.

Shared Insights

The Verbund-site in Ludwigshafen also harbors a valve workshop where valves can be tested and refurbished/ repaired. Insights from these activities add value to the technical support and advice the unit provides to the plants in Ludwigshafen. However, the team also shares these insights with their colleagues abroad. “It is important that we reach out and communicate for the benefit of the company and its employ­ees. Critical valves are essential ele­ments in assuring a safe and efficient production process.”

When asked about his first year at BASF, Hein mentioned that one of his work’s focuses is to improve the inter­changeability of pneumatic actuators. “If we want to change an actuator, the modularity is important, i.e., such changes shall not involve time-con­suming adaptions of the valve stem and coupling. We also would prefer having the flexibility of selecting a valve we have on stock for replace­ment and not being dependent on spe­cific models from specific suppliers.”

IPM

The Integrated Pneumatic Module (IPM) is another example of harmoni­zation and standardization within the multinational’s flow control portfolio. The IPM (see Valve World April 2020) has been co-developed and introduced by BASF mainly to simplify the con­figuration for linear and quarter-turn actuators, both in standard and more complex configurations.

“The IPM has been designed to pre­vent unnecessary mistakes in the in­stallation and maintenance process. The IPM also has potential in plant availability – safety and savings, for example, in stock keeping.”

Hein stated that the IPM has led to a reduction in complexity for service personnel on the ground that has to deal with these valve/actuator config­urations and experience at first-hand the complexity of these systems.

At the moment, the IPM is in use with­in BASF after years of development, testing and taking other companies along, both end users and suppliers, in the necessary standardization effort in the Namur- and VDI/VDE-committees.

Alexander Helm.

“If we want to change an actuator, the modularity is important, i.e., such changes shall not involve timeconsuming adaptions of the valve stem and coupling. We also would prefer having the flexibility of selecting a valve we have on stock for replacement and not being dependent on specific models from specific suppliers.”

Close Cooperation

Hein stressed that in his current project, BASF has opted for a cooperative mod­el with valve suppliers. “We are inter­ested in long-term cooperation with our suppliers. We are talking about assets that are in operation for decades. Just focusing on investment costs might not be favorable since lower-quality prod­ucts may lead to higher operating costs due to maintenance and subsequent product loss. When we work together with our suppliers in such a way, we can reach their commitment to support our long-term developments leading to more value in the end.”

Critical in the valve life cycle is the monitoring of the valve’s condition during its operating life. Hein said that easily accessible static data such as device configuration is helpful for documentation purposes, but also sees a high future potential in mak­ing use of time-dependent dynamic data. “We are able to extract dynamic data such as the current supply pres­sure or the percentage of stroke from the positioner, which combined with other production parameters, indicate if the valve operates within an accept­able range. Together with our valves and DCS-partners, we are developing this further to incorporate this practice into our monitoring and predictive maintenance program. In essence, we would be able to zoom in on potential problematic valves earlier and easier. For example, we would be able to cor­relate valve data with other process parameters and gain deeper insights from data recorded during partial stroke tests.”

Valve Digitalization

With the aforementioned topic, digita­lization comes into the picture. BASF is active in this field to streamline its op­erations, including flow control equip­ment. “We are working on a digital platform in the cloud which contains technical data regarding our assets out in the field. This data is stored in a particular, uniform format so that there are no supplier-specific deviations. Our colleagues in the field are then able to tap into the data by scanning QR or RFID codes that are attached to related equipment. This modus ope­randi greatly reduces time spent in the field and potential confusion due to inadequate access to documenta­tion. Similarly, we are working on a procurement platform that standard­izes and harmonizes our procurement processes, irrespective of the vendor or product type.”

Digitalization is a big topic within BASF. The company is working on a digital platform in the cloud which contains (technical) data regarding its assets.
Previous articleNew Wolseley Canada Distribution Center Coming to the Greater Toronto Area
Next articlePipeline Specifications: The Challenges of Navigating the Supply Chain
Sara Mathov is a feature editor contributing to Valve World Americas, Stainless steel World Americas and other related print & online media.