By Stephanie Matas & João Carlos Vitorino, Eng, MBA, Consultant
Celso Ferreira Ramos Neto is a Social Sciences graduate with a post degree in Administration & Marketing. Neto is responsible for Purchases and Buying in the region, as well as Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) and staffing in these areas. Braskem operates through its offices across the Americas, Europe and Asia, serving customers in more than 70 countries. In recent years, the company has established itself as the world’s largest producer of biopolymers, and the largest polypropylene producer in the United States.
Interestingly, Neto relayed that Braskem was formed by the emergence of different Petrochemical companies in Brazil. “Twenty years ago, there were ten to 14 petrochemical companies here in Brazil, then Braskem began to merge them. This joint venture brought together the regions’ different opinions and corporate cultures. Braskem was founded in 2002, it is a 17-year-old company,” said Neto. Neto also notes the company is proud to be the only integrated petrochemical company for the first and second generation of thermoplastic resins in the country.
Plants & Turnarounds
With headquarters in São Paulo, Braskem operates 29 industrial units in Brazil, including plants like Paulínia inSão Paulo, which focuses on the production of polypropylene(PP), Duque de Caxias in Rio de Janeiro, which focuses on producing basic chemicals and petrochemicals, as well as PP, Highdensity polyethylene (HDPE) and Low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and the world’s first Green Polyethylene plant, in Rio Grande do Sul. This unit uses sugarcane ethanol for the production the Green PE. “The Rio de Janeiro plant was elected by the Braskem CEO as the facility to work with ‘experimental technology’, because it is the company’s newest asset in Brazil,” commented Neto. The Rio plant recently celebrated its 15-year anniversary. “This is the only gas-based cracker plant in Brazil, so it is the most profitable asset of the company in the country,” said Neto. Neto mentioned that the Mexico facility was modelled the same way as the Rio plant, but double the size. “When we say double the size, we mean that we actually built a twin twice as big,” said Neto. As the Brazilian energy market becomes increasingly more demanding, Braskem needed to prepare for increased output. “We are preparing for the competition with other gas-based crackers, specifically from U.S., to meet Brazilian demand.”
São Paulo is the oldest asset Braskem holds in Brazil, which makes implementation of new technology at the facility very challenging. “What we are trying to do here in Rio de Janeiro is implement new projects, using new technology to test for success, for further implementation in other Braskem plants,” said Neto. In São Paulo, the biggest challenge the company will face in 2020 is the huge turnaround. “We have already been holding meetings and preparing purchase and repositions,” stated Neto.
Usually a turnaround shutdown in Braskem’s São Paulo has a duration of 30 days, with people working 24-hours a day, stopping only on Sundays. The staff is usually split half and half between the day and night shift. “There will be a huge turnaround for São Paulo in 2020 because we are also incorporating new technology. This technology will allow us to generate part of the energy that the plant consumes, which is really innovative and exciting,” commented Neto. This cogeneration of energy will be in collaboration with the German company Siemens, “It will be a huge challenge because it is not just innovation that we are looking for, we are looking to meet our sustainability targets for the next few years right off the bat.”
New Technology & Aging Infrastructure
In the midst of industry digitization, Braskem strives to be on top of the latest technologies and sustainable innovations. Neto and his team visit fairs and exhibitions across the country to target new and relevant technology to strengthen Braskem’s portfolio. “We visit lots of engineering and mechanical fairs and there is a huge one here in São Paulo that is one of the biggest technology events in Latin America,” said Neto. He mentioned that the adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies is not necessarily just about getting to know the technology, but learning how to best implement it. “The Petrochemical industry in Brazil is very conservative so whenever you have something new, the industry never relies on it, nor do they really trust it, unless it has been tested over, and over again,” said Neto. For this reason, new equipment in the industrial sector must be tested rigorously before Braskem is able to implement it into their equipment. “In automation companies, like Yokogawa, Emerson and Honeywell, technologies and equipment parts are continuously improving but mechanics are a little more complex and requires a different sort of attention.”
Aging infrastructure is one of the most difficult challenges Braskem must manage. “When you have old assets, it is often hard to implement new technologies because of the deteriorating state of the asset or the cost of the implementation. Sometimes you discover that you need to change the entire asset,” said Neto. Braskem has implemented an engineering program for existing engineers to study changing technologies that helps explain why they are beneficial and more efficient than past methods. “Sometimes we must build a whole engineering project in order to change the old asset. In most situations changing old assets results in higher cost which can make it difficult for us to implement.”
Neto mentioned that digital technologies are usually a little easier to implement due to the exponential advancements in electronic personal devices like smartphones and tablets. Usage of these personal devices, however, can pose a real safety hazard in the workplace. To mitigate this potential issue, Braskem invested in explosion-proof cell phones for some of their maintenance employees. “The phones are boxed inside an anti-explosion case that prevent them from having contact with the atmosphere, so you can take them into industrial areas. For example, when dealing with fugitive emissions and gas emissions, they will not catch fire so operators can work with digital testing applications while on the scene,” said Neto.
Braskem conducts several different types of valve testing including sealing, shell integrity, high pressure gas and high-pressure liquid tests. “Testing depends on the valve application. We often work with high pressure fluid, high temperature and cryogenic media here,” said Neto. “For hydrocarbon cracking, we change the temperature and test at extremes. Also, depending on size of the valve, we perform the tests while they are still in the manufacturer’s plant, and then again when we bring the valve back here to our plant, to assure the quality is consistent throughout.” Today, Braskem is the only company in Brazil that requires Standard MSS SP 134 valve for cryogenic tests, which require extremely low temperature pressurization.
In terms of suppliers, Neto weighs three important aspects when considering a new manufacturer: Cost, Performance and Market Availability. “Market Availability in Brazil is a very important aspect because sometimes a part arriving from Germany will take four months to arrive, and depending on the urgency of the application, we may need it faster. If this is the case, for the non-specific valves we need, we may purchase a different model, or a cheaper one, so that we can solve whatever problem we are having right now rather than waiting for the imported one,” explained Neto. In the same respect however, Braskem is more than willing to purchase the more expensive component, so long as it will provide the best performance. “Optimal performance is always our primary concern,” said Neto.
Approved Manufacturers & Vendors List
Due to the company’s diligence in finding high quality products and optimizing performance, Braskem deals with a very particular Approved Manufacturer’s List (AML). “We have a very extensive list of things we have to check before a company is included on our approved vendor list. First, the vendor must have high quality products, particularly dependent on the criticality of the equipment,” said Neto. “If you have a very specific and important piece of equipment, the standard for inclusion on the vendor list is very high.”
With equipment such as valves, if a company is already considered a highly reputable company, Braskem would not hesitate to enroll the company on their vendor list. To determine the reputability of a company, “We always go to the vendor manufacturer and to the factories to see what sort of inspections take place in the fabrication process. We want to ensure the vendor’s inspection criteria align with what we think is important to our company,” he said. Quality products, the safety of employees, maintaining competitive pricing and market reputation are always in front-of-mind when selecting companies for Braskem’s AML. Sometimes the company will go so far as to speak with technical and engineering associations, or relevant publications to determine if the company is in fact, well known, has a good reputation and their products appear in benchmark factories.
Neto notes however, that Braskem does not usually have to approach new vendors, interested vendors generally come to them. “When companies come to me and say, ‘I am a new vendor and I would like to sell you a valve’, the first thing I do is pass the lead onto an inspector, so they can determine what the valve is made of, its material chemistry, its quality, etc. If the product quality is there, the company has a strong reputation and the need for the product is evident, we visit the vendor to review the factory fabrication process, sometimes even the raw materials that they are buying, in order to make the valve or other material. This is how Braskem qualifies a vendor,” explained Neto.
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is another important concern for Neto’s department. Considerations Neto examines are the price of the good versus the material and of the freight, as well as how much it will cost to bring it to the factory. “It often depends on the project and the amount of money that we are willing to spend. We evaluate all the details in order to lower the costs,” commented Neto. Neto said the split between local and international suppliers is about 50-50, “Depending on the complexity of the material, we usually buy here in Brazil. For more complex components, machinery and mechanical parts usually come from abroad, from Germany, the U.S. and Japan.”
As Brazil leans toward a more dominant position in international industrial markets, Braskem is diligently preparing for the recognized increased need for energy in the country. “With the adoption of new industry 4.0 technologies, it will be even more challenging for companies moving forward to keep up with the changing demand,” said Neto.