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Expert systems, computer programs designed to solve problems using artificial intelligence (AI), have various applications in industry. A recent article (Human Factors Society Bulletin 32 (12) 1-4) states that expert systems are best suited to certain types of problems, including: 1) those which involve deductive problem solving or finding solutions based on a general collection of knowledge, 2) those with a narrow knowledge domain as opposed to those requiring common sense, and 3) those that have a well-documented history of past problems and solutions.

Determining causes of shutdowns in units that have many automatic shutdown systems (i.e. cat-crackers, hydrocrackers and hydrotreaters), determining causes of equipment malfunctions, and troubleshooting unit upsets are all problems which meet the above requirements. Expert systems are currently in use in the nuclear industry to determine causes of reactor trips (Nuclear News 33(1) 51-52). Several programs evaluate data points obtained during a reactor trip and flag off-normal points. Operators examine the points and are better able to determine the cause of the trip. The expert system has greatly improved both the accuracy of solutions and the speed with which solutions can be obtained. Not all problems are appropriate for implementation into expert systems. However, used correctly, expert systems can provide a useful aid for problem solving, thus enhancing refinery operations.

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