Invensys Process Systems Global Consulting: Energy producer creates method for responding to market swings

In these energy-conscious times, SASOL finds itself in an enviable position. The 58-year-old South African company has been converting coal into gasoline since its inception. It also now converts natural gas into diesel fuel and other liquids, such as industrial chemicals—and it does it all in an environmentally friendly fashion.


In these energy-conscious times, SASOL finds itself in an enviable position. The 58-year-old South African company has been converting coal into gasoline since its inception. It also now converts natural gas into diesel fuel and other liquids, such as industrial chemicals—and it does it all in an environmentally friendly fashion.

While its ability to produce fuel from nontraditional sources positions SASOL to benefit from an expected surge in global demand for alternative energy, the ingenuity in managing its own energy use is what earned the company an MBT Innovation Award.

With help from the the global consulting practice of Invensys Process Systems , SASOL developed a set of performance and financial metrics that calculate—in real time—the exact amount and cost of energy being used in a plant. Plant personnel—both operators and managers—can constantly monitor these metrics through a series of electronic dashboards, obtaining the information they need to ensure that SASOL is optimizing its energy use from both an efficiency and a cost perspective.

This project started at a site in Sasolburg, South Africa, where SASOL generates steam for use in its own production process, and also sells excess capacity to other companies.

Chemicals and fuel supplier SASOL is using a real-time performance monitoring solution developed by Invensys that aligns the company’s manufacturing strategy with its financial goals.

In the past, demand for steam was high—especially among companies involved in coal reformation—so maximizing output was vital to profitability. As coal began to lose favor to imported natural gas, however, steam demand declined, so SASOL shifted its focus to minimizing costs. Thus came the need for a real-time method of monitoring steam production—and the associated costs.

The result, according to Hannes Mittermaier, who heads up SASOL's information management, is a real-time system that aligns the company's manufacturing strategy with its financial goals. Bringing together representatives from functional areas such as accounting, engineering, management, operations, and maintenance—and giving them real-time measurements of plant performance—promotes understanding across business functions, enables proper strategic performance measures to be developed across functions, and creates new business processes aimed at improving the bottom line.

When it first installed the performance management system at two of the five plants located at the Sasolburg site, SASOL expected it to generate the equivalent of (U.S.)$400,000 the first year. After the first month, the actual savings already had totaled (U.S.) $230,000.

That total included a 6-percent savings on energy feedstock and a 4-percent savings on electricity costs in the two plants—and the numbers showed progressive improvement in the second and third months.

The savings stem from more consistent fuel oil usage and overall tuning of the boilers. Most important, these processes—and the IT platform that SASOL uses to monitor them—put the company in a position to execute the proper business strategy regardless of market conditions.

When demand for steam on the open market is high, it can ramp up production and turn a profit by selling its excess capacity. When demand softens, it can quickly lower production to levels that simply meet its own internal needs. That's the type of flexibility every manufacturer covets.

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