Digital Transformation

Inside Yanbu’ Refinery’s digital transformation journey

How Aramco’s 40-year-old refinery achieved the World Economic Forum’s prestigious Global Lighthouse status.

Inside Yanbu’ Refinery’s digital transformation journey

Aramco’s Yanbu’ Refinery is an integral part of our refining, chemicals, and marketing portfolio, one responsible for providing critical feedstock and essential fuels to meet the Kingdom’s energy needs. Commissioned in 1983 along Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, Yanbu’ Refinery is equipped to convert 230,000 barrels of crude oil per day with daily fuel production enough to drive an average car around the world more than 3,000 times.

To maintain a competitive edge as one of the leading suppliers of fuels in the Kingdom, the 40-year-old refinery decided to undertake a strategic Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) transformation, leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), advanced analytics, and robotics.


Our consistent efforts in modernizing decades-old legacy systems and transitioning to digitally-based operations paid off, and in 2023, the facility went on to become the world’s second refinery to be awarded with the World Economic Forum (WEF) Lighthouse status, which is granted to a select group of the most innovative facilities across the world.


Powered by cutting-edge technology

Yanbu’ Refinery is Aramco’s fourth facility to be added to the WEF’s Global Lighthouse Network, which now includes 153 manufacturing facilities around the globe. Aramco is the only international energy company to be represented by more than two facilities.


Companies looking to qualify for the Lighthouse recognition must demonstrate leadership in implementing 4IR technologies at scale while making financial, operational and, sustainability improvements.


Like Aramco’s previous WEF Global Lighthouse designees, which include the 'Uthmaniyah Gas Plant, Abqaiq Oil Processing and Crude Stabilization facility, and the Khurais oil complex, Yanbu’ Refinery’s journey to achieving Global Lighthouse status shows our sustained focus on the deployment of state-of-the-art 4IR technologies, which, in turn, contributes to enhancing the company’s operations and sustainability ambitions.

At Yanbu’ Refinery, we have successfully harnessed 4IR use cases to improve profits, increase production, and expand processing capacity, while simultaneously reducing energy consumption, waste generation, and emissions. Such achievements reinforce our position as a technology leader in our industry and highlight the benefits for our industry of adopting cutting-edge solutions.
Ibrahim Al-Bauinain, executive vice president of Global Manufacturing


The roadmap to digitalization

Yanbu’ Refinery’s digital transformation did not happen overnight but was the result of a focused vision, meticulous planning, and then, the execution of a strategic five-year digital transformation plan spanning 2018 to 2023. The refinery’s plan was closely aligned with Aramco’s companywide Digital Transformation Program, which enables us to deploy the latest breakthroughs in technology so we can deliver tomorrow’s energy more safely, efficiently, and sustainably.


Upgrading the four-decade-old refinery by utilizing advanced technologies yielded substantial improvements in the facility’s operational efficiency. Through its digital transformation, Yanbu Refinery improved its production capacity by 18% and increased profitability by 35%.


One of these upgrades included the digital integration of new technologies with legacy systems, which called for a complete overhaul of the refinery’s IIoT systems. IIoT sensors are used in the oil and gas industry to gather real-time data from a facility, which can be combined with digital analytics and self-diagnostic tools to automatically monitor and enhance asset performance.

Harnessing the power of AI

Each day, the refinery churns out massive amounts of data that must be compiled and analyzed to optimize production. The refinery deployed sensors to collect data from thousands of equipment pieces, which was then analyzed using an AI-powered application to enhance production efficiency. 


To further optimize performance, the facility integrated AI with digital twin technology — a digital replica that combines various models and millions of data points to simulate an existing operating facility.


The refinery also deployed an advanced AI-driven application designed to reduce the fuel gas consumption of the refinery’s processing units. 


This technology not only increased the efficiency of our processes but also helped reduce the facility’s Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 14%, directly contributing toward the Company’s attainment of GHG emission reduction ambitions.

Embracing new technologies

Transforming legacy systems involves more than just technological upgrades; it requires a cultural shift within the organization to embrace new technologies and methodologies. Foundational training played a pivotal role in the project’s success, ensuring that the refinery workers were well-versed in Industry 4.0 concepts, which can be defined as the integration of intelligent digital technologies such as IIoT networks, AI, and cloud computing into manufacturing and industrial processes. 


The training also paved way for upskilling and reskilling of the current staff, allowing them to contribute effectively to the project’s roadmap.


To help the refinery’s workers embrace the use of new technology, the team used a virtual reality (VR)-based training hub, which offers certified courses that can be accessed remotely by employees at any time. VR training has proven very useful to learners by giving them the ability to interact with 3D models that simulate real work scenarios and challenges. 


Along with reducing the training turnaround time, the refinery’s VR hub has helped improve safety and process skills of the workers.


In addition to the use of VR, Yanbu’ Refinery bridged the gap between legacy and innovation by scaling up the utilization of drones and robotics. 


For example, the facility began using caged drones, a special class of drones for inspection of confined spaces like oil storage tanks and drums, eliminating the need for manned entry and scaffolding. This greatly reduced the facility’s downtime and improved workplace safety.


Continuing to innovate

Digital transformation lies at the heart of Aramco’s success as we continue using 4IR cutting-edge technologies to optimize every area of our operations. This is further evidenced by the fact that more Aramco facilities continue achieving the Global Lighthouse status by integrating digitalization into their operations.


Yanbu’ Refinery is our first downstream facility to achieve the Lighthouse recognition, which is not only a remarkable milestone for us but also illuminates the path for other downstream units worldwide, showcasing how embracing technology and innovation can lead to exceptional performance.


Caption for top photo: Aramco’s Yanbu’ Refinery on the Red Sea Coast is Aramco’s first downstream facility to be granted the "Global Lighthouse" network status.


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