Chemical production plants operate around the clock, engaging in continuous processes 24/7. The factory never sleeps. However, maintenance activities on the equipment are concentrated during periodic ‘turnarounds’, which involve halting production for a duration of 3 to 8 weeks, every 3 to 6 years. During such a period all invasive maintenance, replacements, and checks are performed. A multitude of activities are meticulously planned in advance, and many maintenance personnel are present on-site during the shutdown. It’s a massive logistical operation that often requires the creation of a dedicated ‘turnaround village’. Anywhere from 10 to sometimes hundreds of containers are deployed for several months to accommodate supporting contractors, project personnel, turnaround coordination, logistics, facilities, safety shops and other essential functions.

A new environment changes old habits into more efficient services

To facilitate the various activities carried out by the supporting personnel during the turnaround activities, the general practice was to outfit each container with cable trays, LAN cabling, patch panels, fibre uplinks, switches, and wired Wi-Fi access points. However, setting up these infrastructure components for temporary use (only a few months) is both labour-intensive and costly. While 4G public provider networks have been used for non-critical mobile applications with low-capacity requirements for several years, they have not been able to address the capacity and reliability needs for temporary buildings, such as containers during these turnarounds.

In a previous blog, we explained the highly reliable setup of all elements within the BASF private mobile network, including spectrum, RAN equipment, transport network and core infrastructure. With the implementation of 5G FWA, we have shifted from utilising fixed cabling to reliable and high-capacity mobile services. This has led to the development of a Network-in-a-Box concept, which can be easily and rapidly deployed. It comprises a high-quality telescopic clamp-on outdoor antenna, a 5G modem uplink with a downstream controller and meshed network of wireless access points.

Contractors can connect to the public internet while BASF employees connect to the private BASF network. A Cisco Meraki box provides permanent VPN access for network printers. The Network-in-a-Box solution has been designed as a self-install kit and is available as an internal rental, ensuring a swift deployment.

As connectivity is vital for the success of operations during turnarounds, the availability, capacity and performance of the Network-in-a-Box solution are closely monitored. This includes monitoring of all components within the box and the network as a whole. In case of any malfunctions, a repair service is available, and spare equipment can be provided as needed.

Business case

The business case for the Network-in-a-Box solution is compelling, as fixed infrastructure can be prohibitively expensive. The cost per connection point for an average size container installation, which typically accommodates 20 to 50 users, ranges from € 300 to € 500 per piece. A Network-in-a-Box solution has a payback period of approximately 3-4 months (the typical duration of one turnaround). The product can be reused multiple times, offering significant potential for reducing operating expenses. Deploying the solution for 10 medium-sized turnarounds (with approximately 20 users) could result in savings of up to € 75k. Such a situation would certainly require us to scale-up. Considering that there are more than 50 production plants on the BASF site, and each plant has multiple turnaround containers that could benefit from this solution, the potential gains are substantial. In the first year of deployment, we expect to have up to 10 Network-in-a-Box kits available.

Beyond the 5G JUMP project

These challenging times require us to adapt and meet the growing demand from the BASF business units on our site, which have been triggered by the availability of the private mobile network. Within the BASF 5G JUMP project*, we have already made significant progress by deploying four use cases in collaboration with Citymesh and the FOD Economy.

*The BASF project 5G JUMP stands for Journey to Use case implementation in a Mobile Private industrial 5G network. Click here for more information.