Artificial eyes and ears. These devices are extremely useful in industrial environments that need to be safe, clean and cost-effective. Together with TNO, Royal Vopak N.V. is currently exploring the options for combining sensing and IT. There is enormous potential in this area.
With a track record in international storage stretching back 400 years, Royal Vopak has placed digital transformation high on its agenda. Sensing is part and parcel of this process. TNO has extensive expertise in the area of sensor technology. These two organizations encountered one another on 19 May, at the iTanks Innovation Pavilion XL trade fair. This was the start of a fascinating partnership.
Innovation through technology
Over the course of the next few years, Royal Vopak’s focus will be on renewing tank storage facilities. Leo Brand, Chief Information Officer at Royal Vopak, explains that technology plays a hugely important part here. The company is looking into modern ways of collecting, interpreting and sharing data. This will ensure that we always have a detailed picture of the current situation, and the data generated will enable us to take decisions in real time. It will also help us to optimize our activities, in the workplace, in the ports where Royal Vopak operates, and throughout the entire supply chain.
Sensing technology is completely in line with the digital transformation that Royal Vopak has in mind. It is an advanced, safe and relatively inexpensive way of collecting data, and it has enormous potential. The latter consideration is of particular interest to TNO. Fred Hartendorf, business developer at Environment & Sustainability explains that “For the past 40 years, we have been developing new sensors and improving existing ones, in addition to developing models and processing algorithms. But what is the business community aiming to achieve here? Ultimately, we and our customers are interested in the applicability of this technology.”
Sensing based on light
Sensors come in all shapes and sizes. Current sensors have a long service life, are energy efficient and are easily incorporated into an IT environment. When combined with IT, they can offer tank terminals a wide range of potential benefits, such as detecting corrosion, measuring the composition of a mixture in a tank, or monitoring soil and air quality in the immediate area. Fibre optic sensors, which operate by means of light, are of particular interest in this regard. They are explosion-safe, lightning fast, and seldom break down. In addition, they can be used to measure numerous parameters, such as temperature, concentration, deformation, viscosity, and so on. Royal Vopak and TNO are combining their efforts to formulate new applications for fibre optic sensors.
Royal Vopak’s innovation team has great expectations when it comes to sensing. This technology makes inspection and maintenance much safer, and more efficient. In the near future, sensors may be able to take over some tasks in these areas that have traditionally been carried out by human workers. Yet the very idea of technology taking over tasks that were previously carried out by people does take some getting used to. Nevertheless, it does offer a great many advantages. Leo is convinced that those workers who are directly affected by this will find that their job becomes “more enjoyable, and much more fun”. There will be less unplanned downtime, for example, and it will be possible to schedule their work more effectively. What is really great is that, by drastically upgrading the storage and transportation of your customers’ products, you can offer them even better service. Leo points out that “What you have to remember is that we can link all that data together, and share it in the cloud. If this is done properly, it will improve our ability to anticipate whether a ship, for example, will be entering a port earlier or later than planned. That will save an awful lot of time. But that’s only the beginning, of course. By analysing the data collected, it will be possible to coordinate supply and demand much more effectively than ever before. It is not just Royal Vopak, but the sector as a whole that stands to benefit.”
About Royal Vopak
Royal Vopak N.V. is the world’s largest independent tank storage service provider, specializing in the storage and handling of bulk liquid chemicals, edible oils, LNG, biofuels, gas and oil products. Royal Vopak has a worldwide network of tank terminals. These terminals are located along the major shipping routes, at sites that have been strategically selected to serve our users’ needs. Royal Vopak stores a wide variety of products for many branches of industry, but our main customers are companies operating in the chemical industry and in the oil and gas industry.