[V9N2] – Evolution of HW, SW, and OS for Fuel Blending

In the last article, we discussed the evolution of fuel blending from manual to evolving analyzer-less systems. The story will not be complete if we don’t review the evolution of many components, such as hardware, software, and operation systems.

The story is fascinating personally for our Academy Director and CEO, Dr. Suresh Agrawal, as he was involved in executing blending automation projects from the early 1980s and implemented blending automation systems on mainframe, work systems like IBM-PS2 and Windows NT with software like IBM’s ACS-RTPMIS, OS, DCS, servers and PC’s alike. He has seen and worked on all systems.

Let us walk through together how the blending system has evolved in all aspects of its development and implementation in refineries worldwide.

🟧 1950’s

  • Hardware: The majority of the equipment used in refineries was mechanically operated. This included simple mechanical pumps, valves, and basic flow meters, which were used to control the volume of components entering a blend. Instrumentation technology was rudimentary, often involving manual gauges and sight glasses.
  • Software: There was no digital software in use at this time. Instead, calculations for blending were done manually or with the help of slide rules and paper charts. These calculations were based on empirical data and laboratory test results to estimate the properties of blended products.
  • Pre-Operating Systems Era: Most computing systems were not equipped with what we now recognize as an operating system. Computers like the IBM 701 and later IBM 704 used rudimentary batch processing systems where programs and tasks were manually loaded and executed one at a time without an interactive interface.
  • Specific Use and Programming: Computers were mainly used for specific mathematical calculations and programmed directly in machine or assembly language. These systems required significant manual intervention and were not involved in process control or automation, which remained primarily mechanical.

🟧 1960’s

  • Hardware: This era introduced more advanced mechanical and early electronic devices. For example, automatic tank gauging systems began to replace manual dipsticks for measuring the volume of liquid in tanks, providing more accuracy and consistency.
  • Software: The late 1960s marked the beginning of computers in some of the larger refineries, although these were primarily mainframe computers used for data processing rather than real-time control. The software was fundamental, often custom-written by refinery engineers to handle specific tasks such as inventory management or batch processing calculations.
  • Early Operating Systems: By the mid to late 1960s, the concept of an operating system started to emerge. Systems like the IBM System/360, introduced in 1964, came with OS/360, one of the first accurate operating systems designed to manage various software programs and hardware resources effectively. OS/360 was revolutionary because it provided a software platform for running various applications on the same hardware.
  • Other Early Systems: Other early operating systems of note during the 1960s included the General Electric Comprehensive Operating Supervisor (GECOS) and the first versions of the UNIX operating system, developed at AT&T’s Bell Labs in 1969. Although not initially widely adopted, UNIX would eventually become highly influential in various industries, including oil and gas refining.

Industrial Adoption

Late 1960s Industrial Integration: It wasn’t until the late 1960s and 1970s that refineries started integrating digital computers and operating systems more significantly, primarily for process monitoring and control tasks. Before this, refineries relied heavily on analog instruments and manual control.

🟧 1970’s

  • Hardware: Using robust analog instruments, such as flow and density meters, became common. These tools were critical for manual control of the blending process.
  • Software: The mainframe computers of the era were employed primarily for batch processing. Refineries began using these computers for linear programming models to optimize blend recipes based on crude oil feedstock properties and product specifications.
  • Early Operating Systems: Mainframe computers and minicomputers using proprietary operating systems. These systems were generally custom-built or used in early versions of commercially available systems like IBM’s OS/360 or OS/370.

🟧 1980’s

  • Hardware: Transition from analog to digital instrumentation, such as microprocessor-based controllers. These provided more accurate control over the flow rates and mixing of blend components.
  • Software: Software systems started to integrate more complex algorithms that could handle multi-variable optimization tasks. The introduction of Distributed Control Systems (DCS) enabled refineries to automate many blending processes that were manually controlled before.
  • Fuel Blending system were implemented using IBM’s ACSRTPMIS system, which languages like Fortran and JCL’s, etc. The graphics were pre-drawn and used interactive input and action buttons. The blend models ran in the background and outputted to the DCS system.
  • Transition Era: Continued use of proprietary systems on minicomputers. Introduction of more standardized operating systems as computing hardware became more affordable and accessible. UNIX began to gain popularity in industrial applications due to its multitasking and multi-user capabilities.

🟧 1990’s

  • Hardware: Further advancement in distributed control systems and the introduction of more sophisticated online analyzers (like near-infrared (NIR) analyzers) could provide immediate feedback on blend properties.
  • Software: Advanced Process Control (APC) systems have become more common. These systems used real-time data from DCS and online analyzers to adjust operational parameters dynamically, ensuring optimal blend quality and consistency.
  • Rise of UNIX and Windows NT: UNIX became the dominant OS in many industrial settings, including refineries, due to its robustness and reliability. Windows NT emerged as a serious contender, offering a graphical user interface (GUI) and easier integration with office environments.

🟧 2000’s

  • Hardware: Expansion in using online analyzers, including gas chromatographs and mass spectrometers, provided detailed chemical properties of blend components in real-time.
  • Software: The growth of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems helped integrate blending operations with broader supply chain, inventory management, and financial systems. This allowed for better overall planning and resource allocation.
  • Windows and Linux: By this time, Windows had established a significant presence in industrial applications, particularly with Windows XP and later Windows 7, known for their stability and support for industrial applications. Linux also started gaining traction due to its open-source nature and customizability.

🟧 2010’s

  • Hardware: Introduction of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, enabling more sensors and data points within the blending process, leading to highly detailed monitoring systems.
  • Software: Implementing cloud computing and big data analytics allowed refineries to process vast amounts of data for decision-making. Machine learning began to be applied to predict outcomes and optimize processes based on historical data.
  • Modernization with Real-Time OS and Linux: More advanced real-time operating systems (RTOS) and modern Linux distributions began to be utilized to handle real-time data processing and better support the integration of IoT devices.

🟧 2020’s

  • Hardware: Advanced robotics and automated systems for physically handling materials and precision blending. AI-driven systems began to oversee the blending, maintenance, and monitoring processes.
  • Software: Deep learning and artificial intelligence technologies have been increasingly adopted. These systems can adapt to real-time changes in market demand and feedstock properties, allowing for dynamic adjustment of blend formulas to maximize profitability and efficiency.
  • Advanced Operating Systems and IoT Integration: Use highly specialized RTOS, continued use of Linux, and increasingly IoT-specific operating systems that can handle vast amounts of data from connected devices across the refinery.

🟧 The Future


  • Advanced Sensors and IoT Devices: The use of more sophisticated sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) technology will continue to grow. These devices will provide real-time data with greater accuracy and granularity, enabling more precise control over the blending process.
  • Automation and Robotics: Increased automation and robotics will enhance efficiency, reduce human error, and potentially lower operational costs by automating routine and complex tasks.
  • Integrated Analytical Instruments: The integration of advanced analytical instruments, such as real-time spectrometers, will allow for instant feedback on product quality and composition, facilitating immediate adjustments.


  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: AI and machine learning will increasingly optimize blending operations, predict maintenance needs, and improve safety by analyzing historical and real-time data to make predictive adjustments.
  • Blockchain for Traceability and Security: Blockchain technology could be implemented to improve the traceability of feedstock sources and product batches, enhancing security and compliance with regulations.
  • Advanced Simulation and Modeling: Enhanced simulation tools will allow for better risk management and scenario planning, enabling refineries to test and optimize blending strategies under various conditions without physical trials.

Operating Systems

  • Specialized Real-Time Operating Systems (RTOS): The need for real-time data processing and decision-making in fuel blending will drive the adoption of more specialized real-time operating systems designed to handle precise timing and multitasking efficiently.
  • Cloud-Based Platforms: Operating systems might increasingly move towards cloud-based platforms, allowing greater scalability, flexibility, and integration with other data systems across the global supply chain.
  • Enhanced Security Features: As cyber threats evolve, operating systems must incorporate more advanced security protocols to protect sensitive operational data and infrastructure from attacks.

Integration and Regulatory Compliance

  • Sustainability and Carbon Management: To meet stricter environmental regulations and carbon reduction goals, software and hardware will need to increasingly focus on sustainability, including blending biofuels and other alternative fuels.
  • Integrated Supply Chain Management: Integration of supply chain management tools with blending operations will be crucial for optimizing inventory, procurement, and distribution strategies in response to market demands and price fluctuations.


Overall, the future of fuel blending in refineries is expected to be characterized by a higher degree of automation, enhanced real-time monitoring and control, and deeper integration of digital technologies to improve efficiency, product quality, and environmental compliance.

Disclaimer: OMS eLearning Academy and ChatGPT collaborated as Humans and AI to generate this article for you.

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