Will We Ever Learn?

Any fool can add, the genius eliminates, substitutes, minimises or simplifies.

Doctor Jane Goodall, famed conservationist, describes the COVID-19 pandemic as inevitable given human disregard for nature.

HIV, SARS and MERS were warning signs, yet we made no major effort to address the danger of virus jumps between species and were unprepared when the pandemic hit.

Politicians will try and apportion blame away from themselves, but blame does not address our collective responsibility for each other and our companion species.

For the first time in the age of technology, we have a major impact that is not limited to non OECD countries or another species. We are forced to take notice of the consequence of our collective activities.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of digital technology is increased enlightenment. It is no longer possible to hide from the impact the human species has on the planet. Jane Goodall is perfectly correct as she points to the pandemic as an example of our impact.

Subsequent global calls for an inquiry seem a little late, when the opportunity to decrease the chances of inter species transmission was missed.

The highlight of the response to the pandemic has been the collective action to change  behaviour in order to protect the vulnerable.

Yes, there has been an entitled minority that believe their self interest trumps the interests of the vulnerable, but that is a comment on those people not humanity in general.

For once, the common refrain was ‘we are all in this together’.

Warning Signs

Rather than add to the media noise about the pandemic; what other warning signs should we be responding to?

Climate change is the obvious candidate.

Whilst many people would say we are not responding fast enough, we are responding. Growth in renewable energy continues and we are increasingly efficient in the way we use energy.

However, growth in demand for energy means the growth in renewable energy and increasing efficiency is insufficient to reverse the trend of increasing global emissions.

It is naïve to expect to limit growth, even if the truth of the matter is that the growth of the human race is the greatest existential threat of all. Similarly, there is an alternative path that grows nuclear power alongside renewable power to decarbonise power generation, but that path is not socially acceptable either.

The infinite consumption of finite resources is not sustainable. We have to transition our sources of energy and we have to increase efficiency.

We must therefore do all we can to accelerate renewable energy and increased efficiency. Electric cars and autonomous driving are a part of this efficiency drive.

Renewable energy growth is in hand, and despite resistance from self interest will only accelerate in coming years as there is now a corporate and increasing political imperative to transition our energy sources whilst reducing emissions.

Reading the annual statements of energy companies demonstrates they are alive to the challenge of decarbonising our consumption of energy. Self interest in heavy fossil fuels without emissions reduction is in rapid decline, whilst interest in electrification, carbon sequestration and transition is in the ascendency.

Increased Efficiency

We can decouple our growth from finite resources if we transition enough of our energy consumption to renewable sources and above all we improve our efficiency. We learn to use less as we do more.

Efficiency is an attitude. It is a state of mind. The infinite consumption of finite resources is not a political problem, it is a problem that each of us is responsible for.

How much do you recycle today compared to earlier years of your life? Which bin has the most waste in it? So, we can make a personal difference.

If we apply the same approach to our use of resources in general the world will be a more efficient place. An efficient world is a cleaner world. A cleaner world is a healthier world.

There are four key words that help us be more efficient in everything we do. They are the four key words that are involved in doing more with less. We first came across the key words in the realm of safety. The concept was that wasn’t isn’t there can’t hurt you. R.I.P. Trevor Kletz.


Another way of saying the same thing is ‘Any fool can add, the genius eliminates, substitutes, minimises or simplifies’.

Life, and our impact on the planet, will only get more complicated if we continue to add. If our solution to every problem is to add something we will inevitably run out of resources to do everything we want to do.

If we respond to problems by eliminating, substituting, minimising or simplifying we won’t run out of resources because our demands will reduce even though we are achieving more.

These principles apply in all aspects of life. They apply at a domestic level and they apply in the work environment. You can’t be two people. If you are wasteful at home you will be wasteful at work. Every improvement and self development credo in the world is based on the principles of efficiency. Getting more by doing less.

There will be times when we have to add. If we have to add it usually indicates opportunity. Other people who want the same thing will also need the answer if there is no other way (eliminate, substitute, minimise or simplify) to achieve it.

Doing more with less footprint must become our credo as a species.

Krska Chronicles Part 3: Balance the Mass Balance

Late design change is always problematic, so test them thoroughly. Poor modelling can obscure the consequences. Read the bold highlights if you are not technical.

Unfortunately, a lot of our revenue comes from investigating and fixing poor designs. In this case the impact of a late design change was masked by the manner in which the process simulations were constructed.  The process was in fact inoperable with no clean solution.

Like any offshore platform the aim was to produce a stabilised oil.  Disposal of the condensate was initially recognised as a potential problem.  It was part of the original design to re-inject the condensate into the reservoir. In order to cut costs this idea was revisited during the infamous ‘value engineering’ phase and removed.

On start-up the gas compression KO drums flooded due to the accumulation of condensate recycling around the compressors.  John was asked to review the design and suggest possible ways forward.

Sample analysis confirmed the well stream compositions corresponded to those used in the design.  However, the steady state process simulation model provided was very slow and difficult to converge. This is generally a warning sign.

The model convergence appeared to be due to excessive use of ‘recycle convergence blocks’.  Each recycle was independently configured a dedicated convergence block.

Checking the overall component mass balance also showed the cumulative effect of each recycle blocks convergence criteria produced small but significant discrepancies in the mass balance of some key components.  Rationalising the convergence blocks significantly reduced their numbers and scope for errors.

The revised model was still difficult to converge, requiring manual intervention, it did however now show a substantial increase in the condensate recycles sufficient to overwhelm the compressor KO drum condensate level control valves and drain lines.  After start up it wasn’t practical to increase the valve and drain line sizes to the required values.

Reconfiguring the scrubber drains and purging some light condensate to flare, whilst relaxing the crude TVP and export gas specifications provided a less than ideal solution. In other words an offshore process had been built that simply didn’t work.

The problem arose due to not recognising a potential issue when a model is difficult to converge.  Each use of a convergence block introduces convergence criteria that either compounds the error in mass balance or stops the model from converging.  In this case, the errors were sufficient to mask the problem of removing the condensate injection.

Models that don’t converge easily can usually be put down to one or more of four causes:

  • Convergence blocks are incorrectly or inefficiently placed.
  • The model contains ‘Adjusts’ that iterate some operating conditions to provide a solution to some desired criteria. ‘Adjusts’ are unreliable, especially when nested.
  • The process has significant issues that must be resolved. These may be manifest by slow convergence and relative large changes in the flow rate of some streams when relatively small changes to temperature and pressure specifications are made.
  • The simulation package contains an error.

We expect the process simulator to provide a perfect mass balance (Input = Output), they don’t. There are usually some small insignificant imbalances.  In models that have several recycle convergence blocks and/or high recycle flow rates the imbalances may become significant.

If a steady state model is indicating convergence problems, investigate the cause.


Avoiding the Kodak Moment

When Sir Bob Geldof toured Australia in 2015, the Irish rocker and social activist spoke about how global “flashpoints” of conflict were ultimately caused by great change and poverty, and he spoke about the rise of internet mega giants Facebook and Google and the distractions of the 24-hour news cycle for political leaders.

In doing so he made a connection between the industrial revolution and the technology and information revolution we are experiencing and the resulting disruption of the status quo that is already underway.

It is estimated that 40% of the current jobs will disappear, traditional employment models will slowly be eroded and people will be paid on the basis of the value they deliver, rather than the hours worked.

Harnessing disruption and creating value

Rachel Botsman, a global authority on the power of collaboration and sharing to change the way we live, work, bank and consume, states that this is not a technology trend, but is rather a transformational lens.

Rachel describes three reactions to the disruption of the collaborative economy:

  • Ostrich – hope it will all go away (head in the sand)
  • Fight – (Try to bring new idea down with legal action)
  • Pioneer – or you can embrace change as an opportunity and pioneer.

Now you might be thinking this is about consumer goods and services, it doesn’t apply to my industry. This is the Ostrich reaction.

Eastman Kodak experienced the consequence of behaving like an Ostrich. Perversely they were the company that developed much of the digital technology that today’s digital cameras are based on, but feared the technology would damage their film manufacturing business and delayed developing products. When it became obvious a digital world was developing (great pun), they began to divest the traditional chemical industry aspects of their business to concentrate on their digital technology only to find they could not compete as technology hardware manufacturers.

At TAM we have coined the term ‘Contagion of Complexity’ to describe the complexity resulting from unthinking pursuit of growth above the organic, the consequent cyclical growth in management and IT, and the subsequent cyclical battle with the law of diminishing returns.

diagram_complexity contagion_v3

There is a point of inflexion where the pursuit of scale is limited by the law of diminishing returns. Entire societies have collapsed this way, let alone major companies.

At TAM we see this downward cyclical trend as the opposite of our upward spiral of excellence. In other words, our collaboration is focussed around ensuring growth results in improved productivity through the intelligent application of technology, business process, technical excellence and people development.

Can the transformational lens of collaboration be applied across all industry sectors to understand the opportunities to become leaner and more efficient? Boom and bust may be a reality, but nothing stops us taking the opportunity to position for boom whilst gaining efficiency in a bust.

In fact it seems to us that the macro economic cycles are driven by the changes that if embraced allow us to profit during bust and grow during boom. Technology driving changes in oil prices would be a classic.

You only have to look to collaborative companies such as Uber and Airbnb to understand that reimagining your business model can unlock a hidden wealth of productivity, capacity, innovation and value.

This is what we have done at TAM. We have chosen to apply the sharing economy model to professional services. The same drivers for the establishment of cooperatives during the industrial revolution are just as valid in the technology revolution of today. The technology enables specialisation, creating the opportunity for knowledge workers to deliver value as individuals rather than employees.

Rewarding individuals in proportion to the value delivered means people work fewer hours. This creates a constructive culture more suited to today’s age of automation and achieves a better work life balance for the individual.

By cooperating, exchanging combined knowledge for value and embracing disruptive technologies industry as a whole has an opportunity to achieve a step change in efficiency, capacity, performance and innovation.