Terminal utilization: Bypassing bottlenecks, and going with the (optimal) flow

Analytics project aims to deliver more Canadian crude to market (System Optimization Series, Part 3 of 3)

Pumps. Valves. Manifolds. Tankage. Facility piping that connects it all.

Traditionally, determining the best flow path through a crude oil tank terminal, notes Tony Khoo, is “more art than science.”

Khoo’s advanced analytics team at Enbridge is currently shining a spotlight on the science—and, with it, aiming for a data-driven solution that can benefit the Canadian energy industry.

Terminal utilization is one of several ways that Enbridge is optimizing the world’s longest and most complex crude oil and liquids network—supporting the energy sector by getting Canadian crude oil to market, and helping Canadians reap the benefits of a natural resources economy.

“There are literally thousands of flow paths through a terminal. And every terminal is designed and operated differently. Our terminals are our areas of opportunity,” says Khoo, Manager of Advanced Analytics with Enbridge’s Technology and Information Services (TIS) unit.

“Because all terminals are not designed the same, there are bottlenecks on our system,” he adds. “This project will create a global view of how our terminals work in unison—a decision support tool that can recommend the best flow paths, resolve the bottlenecks, maximize throughput and make our system more efficient.”

TIS is working closely with infrastructure planning and capacity management in Enbridge’s Liquids Pipelines unit to understand the complexities of the issue and create a solution.

This is one of several projects that Enbridge’s Advanced Analytics team has undertaken that accentuate data as an organizational asset, with an eye to improving asset performance, asset health and monitoring, and workforce productivity. Others include:

  • An analytics-based solution to optimize turbine servicing, avoid downtime, and predict mechanical issues at wind energy farms; and
  • An augmented/mixed reality solution that displays pipeline segments in 3-D, for more effective monitoring and maintenance.

For this terminal utilization project, which began in summer 2017, the team has made use of Enbridge’s newly unveiled Technology and Innovation Lab to create a “proof-of-concept” 3-D digital representation of our Kerrobert Terminal in Saskatchewan. Scheduled to be deployed in April, it will offer real-time depiction of asset utilization, commodity movement, and other salient features.

Khoo’s team hopes to replicate this tool for more of Enbridge’s 20-plus crude oil terminals by the end of 2019.

“You can apply machine learning or AI (Artificial Intelligence). You can apply simulation techniques. You can apply optimization techniques. And you can eventually apply automation, to auto-create the internal flow paths of any terminal,” says Khoo.

“We’re bringing in real-time information that encourages more data-driven decisions,” he adds. “This means our subject-matter experts, like our schedulers, would spend more time on the important things—and make decisions with confidence.”