In a field test to determine the viability of artificial intelligence (AI) to control a chemical plant, automation technology supplier Yokogawa Electric Corporation and chemical manufacturer JSR Corporation successfully operated a distillation column at the JSR plant autonomously with AI for 35 days. The test ran from January 17 to February 21, 2022, for a total of 840 hours of operation. Yokogawa and JSR say the test confirmed that reinforcement learning AI can control operations beyond automated PID and Advanced Process Control (APC) applications that typically require the judgement of plant personnel and manual operation of control valves. The specific AI technology used at the JSR plant—the Factorial Kernel Dynamic Policy Programming (FKDPP) protocol—was developed by Yokogawa and the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in 2018. IEEE recognized this technology as being the first reinforcement learning-based AI suitable for use in plant management. In addition to the FKDPP protocol’s ability to handle tasks beyond PID and APC, Yokogawa says specific strengths of this AI technology include an ability to deal with conflicting targets, such as handling the dual needs of maintaining high quality and achieving energy savings.
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