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Digital tech opens up plants’ future

Drones, AI, sensors help preservation of aging petrochemical plants

JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy’s Mizushima Refinery in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, recently started using a system that utilizes AI to detect anomalies in boilers. It collects time series data from many sensors installed on equipment and identifies any situation that is abnormal in relation to normal sensor information. The system was developed by NEC Corp.

JGC Holdings Corp. and NTT Docomo Inc. are working together to develop a plant equipment inspection service using drones. Blue innovation Co., a startup that helps businesses introduce drones, has entered the plant inspection business.

A worker operates a drone in a plant’s tank. There are growing moves to use digital technology to maintain and manage Japan’s aging oil refineries and petrochemical plants.

Government promoting tech

The government is also pushing for use of digital technology. Takaya Hattori, the chief technical officer at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said, “Digital technology will be a key for old Japanese plants to keep safe and improve productivity.”

In its growth strategy worked out in 2017, the government added plant and infrastructure management as areas of focus for its policy to promote internet of things technology. It has already introduced a measure that uses regulatory means to favor plants that are actively introducing digital technologies, such as AI and big data analytics.

The government has also worked out rules that allow manufacturers to use electronic devices, including drones, sensors and tablet devices, to maintain and inspect plant equipment both inside and out.

Additionally, as the use of sensors have made it possible to manage conditions of equipment at all times by means of data, the government has introduced a program to support a shift from conventional, rigid ways of maintenance that are conducted in a time-segmented manner to condition-based maintenance.


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