Small Sensors, Big Savings: How Sensor Networks, Inc. Saved One Refinery $4 Million


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You’ve heard the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” That’s exactly the driving force that led to the creation of Sensor Networks, Inc. (SNI), a thriving example of Industry 4.0. Bruce Pellegrino, vice president of marketing, explains how the company got its start.

“Dr. Jim Barshinger and I worked together at General Electric in 2014. We both supported a corrosion monitoring product line that used older technology. Jim had the idea to modernize it with the ability to connect directly to the internet, bringing corrosion monitoring into the 21st century. Jim had the idea for the product; I had the idea to start a business. And we put our heads together.”

Along with a team of industry experts, SNI has set about solving some of the roadblocks and challenges that come with complex asset integrity. During its six years of operation, it has developed a family of products that leverage remote visual and ultrasonic technologies to make critical Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology widely available to the energy sector. Its patented and patent-pending sensors allows customers to monitor critical equipment, with the potential to save millions of dollars, enhance regulatory compliance and improve safety.

Global Problems, a Happy Valley Solution

Corrosion is a huge issue for refineries and pipelines around the world. As Pellegrino notes, “Corrosion knows no borders. It’s like a cancer or a virus. There are roughly 450 refineries in the world, and every one of them has a corrosion problem.”

As corrosion occurs, it eats away at the steel inside pipes, thinning the walls and eventually compromising the pipe’s integrity. That’s a recipe for a potentially expensive and dangerous situation — and that’s exactly what one U.S. refinery aimed to avoid after years of manually inspecting its equipment with limited success. Years of unplanned leaks and downtime forced this refinery to consider a new and different tactic to manage its asset and take more control of corrosion.

How Sensor Networks, Inc. helped this refinery save millions

After years of struggling with its Amine Treating Unit (ATU), a complex part of the Tail Gas Treating and Sulfur Recovery Units (TGCU and SRU), this refinery decided to forego manual inspection in favor of giving remote monitoring with SNI a try. The ATU is responsible for removing hydrogen sulfide and some carbon dioxide, during which corrosion and erosion events were creating significant setbacks and making asset integrity planning tough.

The refinery had already spent approximately $12 million in maintenance and lost $200 million in unplanned downtime in the 15 years of running this ATU, after experiencing more than six unplanned outages. Additionally, the damage within the unit was intermittent, which made manual ultrasonic thickness inspections ineffective, leading to the decision to monitor the unit instead.

That’s where SNI stepped in, helping the refinery owner map out the areas most likely to cause problems. The team installed temporary ultrasonic, wireless sensors in strategic areas. The refinery owner programmed the sensors’ reading intervals for daily measurements of wall thickness and charted the results over time. In just one day, installation was complete, with the refinery’s own personnel trained on the designated monitoring locations.

$4 Million in Results

Within roughly one month, the refinery owner was able to accurately trend corrosion rates at every sensor point. This enabled the refinery’s operations and corrosion teams to tweak their processes to correct the issues and reduce corrosion. Along with the ability to track and trend the key areas of the unit, SNI’s technology extended the life of the unit by more than 4.5 years. Even better, it saved the refinery around $4.8 million in maintenance.

Since, the refinery has added sensors across its whole facility, enabling key personnel to monitor its critical assets. The refinery expects this will allow it to get more years out of its assets in addition to saving millions of dollars in maintenance every year.

A Happy Valley Success Story

SNI has grown from a startup with no product, just an idea – to a thriving contributor to Industry 4.0 serving a global customer base.

At the heart of what SNI offers is a low-cost, easy-to-install product designed to put data right into the hands of its customers, with daily updates on the thickness of their pipes and other critical data points needed to keep equipment running smoothly. For less than $20,000, customers can start with a four-channel system, which has four sensor points. Each sensor point takes readings and sends that data to a website, which plant engineers can access at any time and from anywhere, including a mobile phone.

Savings varies depending on the issues that customers face and the purpose they have for using the sensors. In some cases, customers may use the system for regulatory reasons with little-to-no cost savings. In others, the system has the potential to save millions.

Beyond its product, Pellegrino partially credits SNI’s location as a factor in the company’s success, saying, “Happy Valley’s unique ecosystem is partially driven by the University, but also by the companies that have built themselves up around Penn State, including our contractors and suppliers.”

He also praises the region’s business-friendly atmosphere. “We’ve had incredible local support from Ben Franklin Technology Partners, the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County (CBICC) and Kish Bank.”

As for the future, the company is looking forward to continuing to grow, bringing its smart, seamless solutions to its customers, no matter where they’re located. Corrosion can happen anywhere, but SNI enables its customers to better monitor its assets to potentially save significant time and money, while helping to enhance safety and regulatory compliance.

Sensor Networks, Inc. is headquartered in Happy Valley, with satellite offices in Osaka, Hong Kong, Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City. Learn more here.


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