Well-oiled collaboration

Neste is the world´s largest producer of renewable diesel refined of waste and residues. The renewables are produced in the Porvoo, Rotterdam and Singapore refineries. Located in Porvoo Kilpilahti, southern Finland, the Central Laboratory is conducting a wide range of R&D, and is in charge for the quality control of the products. The laboratory information management system (LIMS) is involved in every phase of research and quality control.

Manufacturing oil products for transport, industry and power production, Neste Corporation is the world´s biggest circulation economy company among bio fuels. In 2016, almost half of the results were composed from renewable products businesses. The share of waste and residues accounted for up to 80% of the renewable raw material usage. 

Neste uses majority of its annual EUR 41 million R&D investments in researching renewable raw materials. With research and development the company is aiming at growth also outside the fuel market, for instance in bio plastics.

Analysis 24/7

The Neste refinery in Porvoo Kilpilahti is one of the most modern in whole Europe, and its production is focusing in high-quality cleaner fuels for transport. The refinery´s 40 process units produce over 150 different products and components – altogether approximately 12,5 million tons a year. In the Porvoo production plants Neste has 1,900 employees, 850 of them working in research, development and technology. 

It smells fresh in the Central Laboratory. Implement Lead Ari Virokannas and LIMS main user Teresa Tastula with development groups manage the maintenance and development of the LIMS system. The Neste laboratories perform scheduled surveillance of refining process, quality control of raw materials and finished products, as well as research and development. 

”We take samples in every phase of the manufacturing: when receiving the raw materials, during the process monitoring, in product analysis, and through the delivery chain”, Virokannas summarises. The laboratories also carry out analysis of utilities and support field laboratory operations. 

The laboratory information management system is involved in every stage of quality control and research. In Neste the system includes about 800 methods for analysis of the chemical and physical properties, for example, waters, gas, bitumen, process streams and finished products. 

”LIMS is widely integrated into our production systems. When a sample arrives, it is analyzed immediately 24/7, and the results are sent to the manufacturing and process control systems right away.”

Same practices in every country

In 2016, Neste's net sales stood at EUR 11.7 billion, and the company has 5,000 employees in 15 countries. The laboratory information management system is actively used by 1,500 of them. The procedures have been harmonized also in the Rotterdam and Singapore sites. Teresa Tastula worked three years in Singapore when Neste was building the refinery and laboratory operations there. 

”All laboratories, refineries and terminals in whole corporation are using the same browser-based laboratory ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, and all communication goes through it. All analysis results are entered into LIMS and everybody can go and find them there”, Tastula describes. 

For example, in Geneva the operators who are discussing with clients, make the product cards and enter comment reviews as well as approvals into the system. The operators in the refineries and terminals do analyses themselves, and register the results into the system. The field laboratories alone accumulate over 50,000 samples a year.

”As we have a quarter million samples producing 3 million results annually, it is much easier that the operators perform the basic analysis on the field instead of sending the sample to the central laboratory”, Ari Virokannas illustrates.

”All matters are entered in the same way and with same codes in each laboratory, without local specialties. I appreciate it more and more, when I´m looking for a certain fact, that it always means the same, and you don´t need to check if there is a remark or explanation lying behind – meaning something else.”

Enormous excels and paper-chase have decreased along with the laboratory information system. Drawing up product cards and sending email reports have been moved into the LIMS, and the change history is stored in one place. “Continuity is very important: the database remains.”

The data analysis tool LIMSView gives internal customers reports and summaries about, for example, the amount of samples and internal costs. ”It is helpful when there are about 20 million results in the database. In addition to the analysis and matters related to the equipment, it supports the validation of methods.”

Two become one

Previously Neste´s quality control and research laboratories had separate information management systems which didn´t communicate with each other. A common corporate LIMS was created in 2005, bilingual in English and Finnish, and named OiLi.

The unification was prepared with a half year preliminary survey. ”Before that I had already sketched process descriptions, process charts and data flows. We are linked to the systems of the production whose operational logics were not wanted to be changed”, Ari Virokannas tells.

The actual change phase took a year and a half until May 2005. On Neste side the project group consisted of a dozen experts: full-timers were Virokannas as the project manager, ICT Lead, and a consult for a certain time; in addition six specialists from Porvoo and Naantali refineries, as well as from technology were participating. Basic data was transferred by a couple of persons at least for one year.  

”Software Point´s project manager was very good and enthusiastic about creating new. In the contract we had a precondition saying we want a capable project manager – and we actually nominated him”, Virokannas laughs. In the final spurt at the Software Point office there were four or five system specialists beavering away, plus Virokannas a couple of days a week.

”We learnt that more work should be done together, even though there are documents. When we are dealing with challenging matters, they are easily interpreted. The most important thing may become a side issue, and a small become a monster – the wholeness may blur.”

”New functionalities are often such that you know the goal is somewhere over there, but you can´t see it straight. Typically it is better than we could wish. There were also functions and ways that we didn´t know to want, but an opportunity arose.”

”The change must be managed”

Today, developing the laboratory information management system is a permanent method of operation at Neste, and five development groups are responsible for it. ”They give us the needs, approvals and ensure commitment. Once a month we go through all wishes and ideas of the business units”, Teresa Tastula describes.

”As we have so many laboratories, we have invited a representative from each to the development group. Sharing information between the system administrators and users – what is changing and how – is important. They are forwarding the information locally and bringing us end-users´ wishes: what is needed, any problems, what would be nice.”

”Rotterdam is bubbling with new ideas. There are very active people and they want everything included in OiLi”, Virokannas praises. When a new functionality is being built into the system, they tend to copy it also to other similar operations, and thus the costs are kept in control.

The LIMS system is also being extended, and equipment connected with LabVantage Connect. ”We have or we are connecting devices from which we get plenty of results, or big series. Gas chromatography produces masses of results. Also metallic analyzer has been linked with Connect.” 

”Moreover, the surrounding systems and requirements change. This means that the LIMS needs additional functionalities like those related to managing users´ know-how, or audits, quality system requirements, equipment monitoring, and statistical process control. It is very easy to stick a function of our own into the LIMS with a relatively small amount of work.”

During the last five years the system has been updated twice, and various functions have been added to it. At the moment, the version LabVantage Enterprise 7 is being updated to 8.2 which will be put into operation in the autumn. In addition to the version updates also changes with other systems connected with the LIMS bring along changes into LIMS. 

It pays to develop the system continuously. If we stay far behind with elder versions, the jump gets higher and the workload mounts up. It´s far more effective to advance by eating the elephant one bite at a time.” 

At Software Point, Neste has regular system specialists who, in general, come on the site in Porvoo Kilpilahti to do this job. ”This way the decisions and corrections get done quickly.”

”Pulling together is our way, and our collaboration goes very well.”

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Text:           Software Point
Photos:      Neste