A Global Petrochemical Company Optimizes Its Technological Infrastructure to Efficiently Find and Deliver Energy to the World
What began as a simple network patching project became an all-encompassing network solution that helped a major petrochemical facility solidify its spot at the forefront of the industry by integrating state-of-the-art technological advancements and futureproofing its network to optimize operations.
This leading petrochemical facility, located in a remote area of Canada, is home to one of the world’s largest independent exploration and production (E&P) companies, which serves 13 countries and is committed to responsibly producing the oil and gas resources that power civilization.
To streamline processes, reduce operational emissions, lower costs and improve safety, the company prioritizes automation and digitalization initiatives, leveraging IoT to produce a steady stream of information for data analytics engines, underpinned by advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning models across its facilities.
By connecting data company-wide and putting the right information in front of the right people at the right time, its 9,700+ employees are empowered to make fast yet well-informed decisions.
The project began as a seemingly straightforward one: The E&P facility wasn’t satisfied with the performance of some of the devices on its mixed-vendor network. Factors like dust ingress and heat and electrical issues were causing some switches to fail prematurely. This poor performance created network inadequacies that compromised the facility’s operational efficiency. The response was to replace these inferior devices with something better suited to the harsh operating environment.
Site personnel liked the Hirschmann network equipment that was in place, so the OT network lead included it in a list of devices available on the market.
After a thorough evaluation, it was determined that Hirschmann’s products were best suited for the environment, so the network lead provided a list of devices to be replaced and requested a list of Hirschmann products and pricing that would be comparable.
The Belden team immediately recognized the disparity between the hardware in use and the demands of the desired end-state for the network. As Belden dug deeper, hidden beneath this simple network patching project was an opportunity for the company to solidify its spot at the forefront of the industry by integrating state-of-the-art technological advancements and futureproofing its network to optimize operations.
Through collaboration and engagement, Belden partnered with the E&P company on an evolutionary journey to redefine what network performance means to them.
To help site personnel think through operational-efficiency issues so they could make clear decisions, Belden asked questions about the network improvements the team wanted to make:
- Why is the company pursuing this project now?
- How large is the operation today? What are the targets for growth?
- What is unsatisfactory about the current system?
- What do they like about Hirschmann’s equipment?
As E&P employees answered these questions, they realized that merely addressing network performance gaps would only get them so far. As a result, the project became something much bigger. Aside from merely fixing faulty performance, the company was also interested in upgrading its facility network to be better positioned for the new initiatives they were implementing. It also wanted to consolidate switch vendors and shift away from the complexities of the mixed-vendor network it had managed for so long. However, the company felt that these goals were too ambitious to achieve in a condensed timeframe and would require significant resources and costs. Fortunately, Belden offered the right mix of products, services and support to be the solutions provider the company didn’t even know it needed.
Belden brought in a solutions consultant from its Customer Innovation Centers (CICs) to lead technical discussions among site personnel about project goals, preparation for future expansion and possible switch consolidation in certain points of the network. CICs are led by experts who possess the knowledge and flexibility to address specific company challenges head-on.
Through these discussions, it was revealed that the company lacked an inventory of switches in current operation. The facility’s network architecture was also found to rely on known device host names and addresses based on potentially outdated information. In addition, the company fell back on common IT network design elements because personnel didn’t understand typical OT network design best practices.
After recognizing the scale and depth of Belden’s networking expertise, the E&P company wanted to learn more about a possible Hirschmann-centric network solution and how it could improve network architecture.
To develop these recommendations, Belden first needed to establish an accurate network baseline. After completing required training to make sure all safety protocols would be followed onsite, Belden’s Solution Services Team went onsite to the remote facility to conduct a week-long network assessment.
Using Hirschmann Industrial HiVision network management software, Belden gently scanned the E&P facility’s network to identify devices and monitor conditions without overwhelming sensitive legacy components, which could lead to unexpected downtime. While Belden’s team members conducted the assessment, they were also able to detect and correct misconfigurations that threatened uptime under certain conditions.
In addition, the assessment helped Belden discover network hardware that was declared to be end-of-life (EOL). Because the equipment could no longer be updated, it was subject to security vulnerabilities, software compatibility problems and performance issues. Belden was able to include these hardware upgrades in the bill of materials so the EOL assets could be replaced in line with internal cybersecurity policies.
Once complete, assessment results were assembled into a comprehensive network assessment report for the company. The information inside not only gave Belden the baseline architecture necessary to design upgrade recommendations, but also helped site personnel determine how to update their network map and provided recommendations on network enhancements, along with details about criticality and ease of deployment. The report acts as a roadmap that outlines the activities that need to happen—and in what order—to develop an appropriate solution.
It also provided an asset inventory that served as the basis for the project’s bill of materials and included a list of recommended configuration changes to yield better network performance, reliability and stability.
As Belden’s solution consultants walked the E&P team through the report, they helped site personnel recognize existing knowledge gaps when it comes to OT network setup. To reduce these disparities and better understand proposed network solutions, Belden enrolled two E&P engineers into Hirschmann’s industrial Ethernet certification training courses.
Through this transformational experience, the company knew Belden would stand tall as a beacon of reliability and innovation, delivering tailored solutions to ensure success and growth by helping the facility redefine its operational landscape.
Belden’s proposed solutions were more than network upgrades—they redefine what the company’s optimized network can achieve today, tomorrow and beyond.
Belden designed multiple solution options for the team to review, each enabling desired outcomes in a slightly different way:
- Achieving outcomes with minimal network changes, reusing existing components when possible
- Upgrading the backbone network speed to 1Gb/s
- Upgrading the backbone network speed to 2.5Gb/s
- Maximizing switch consolidation
Together, Belden and site personnel worked through the costs and benefits of each option so that everyone understood the return on investment. After some collaborative proposal revisions, the client’s team felt confident in their determination of which upgrade path was best for them. The solution included hardware and services.
Complementary products, including BRS and GRS switches and accessories like dust caps and SFP transceivers support robust network performance. During the process, Belden helped the company consolidate and streamline the procurement process by:
- Moving from three vendors to one
- Replacing five generations of mixed-vendor legacy hardware with one modern hardware system
- Bringing 24+ device model configurations down to four
To implement the remedial actions outlined in the network assessment report, Belden’s solution also included a network design service that mapped each recommended new device to the one being replaced and pre-scripted switch configurations to manage the migration to HiOS firmware.
To demonstrate the reliability of this new network architecture and ensure that the facility was comfortable with it, Belden established a practical test environment so the architecture could be validated using simulated real-world conditions. This provided the company with accurate results and a sense of security about the chosen solution before it was brought into the live facility, where downtime costs can easily reach millions of dollars per day.
To help the team deploy 200 switches as part of this upgrade, Belden sent Solution Services Team members to the facility to make sure the upgrade went smoothly. The deployment needed to coincide with the company’s turnaround (i.e. its once-in-a-decade window to enact broad changes as parts of the facility rotate through outages for maintenance). This meant coordinating material deliveries and labor schedules to align with the planned scope of work for other contractors in the space.
Because the company found so much value in the network assessment report, an annual health check for the new connectivity solution will also be provided. Every year, Belden will remotely connect to the network through the client’s VPN and conduct an assessment similar to the initial evaluation. This will also ensure that the E&P company can keep up with industry standards and the evolution of best practices without needing to commit internal resources to do so.
Given the facility’s remote location, Belden also offered to stock spare parts onsite on a consignment basis to make sure the E&P facility has immediate access to replacement components to minimize downtime if failure occurs.
While site personnel will retain ownership of the new network solution, they’ll also have response time guarantees from Belden’s support team, as well as access to the Belden resources they need if a problem ever extends beyond their in-house knowledge and practical experience.
By turning a piecemeal network patching project into a holistic network upgrade that supports automation and digital transformation, this E&P facility was able to experience a fast payback in less than 18 months, see double-digit returns on its investment and bring its over-the-horizon goals into realistic reach.
Working alongside the company as its partner, Belden developed a solution that redefines the benchmark for industry-grade networking optimization and reliability. The solution kept in mind the complexities of the facility’s location, the pressing demands of E&P operations and the need for maximum uptime—all while guaranteeing a seamless transition and deployment.
Belden’s commitment to managing backend complexities ensures that the facility’s leadership can concentrate on what they do best: steering the business.
With the new level of capabilities that this network solution enables, the E&P company now has complete confidence that its technological infrastructure will run efficiently in the background while it safely finds energy for and delivers energy to the world.