Access to data in subsea environments on the increase

Subsea and offshore systems are receiving more accurate data from improvements in technology, but maintenance and monitoring needs to continue to bridge the gap.
By Oil & Gas Engineering March 25, 2016

Per Erik Holsten, managing director of BU oil, gas and chemicals for ABB in Oslo, Norway. Courtesy: ABBWhile technology is helping improve the accuracy of data and the access to information on subsea and offshore systems, the evolution of maintenance and monitoring still but bridge a gap in training and data management. Per Erik Holsten, managing director of bottom up (BU) oil, gas and chemicals for ABB in Oslo, Norway, talked with Oil & Gas Engineering about the shift in technology and culture needed to take advantage of the data.

Oil & Gas Engineering: What are the unique and often overlooked challenges in oil and gas monitoring of subsea and unmanned platforms?

Holsten: There are some unique challenges when monitoring unmanned platforms and remote assets. When there is no on-site manning, this can potentially lead to a longer response time to resolve issues. This makes providing early warning on emerging faults and prompt advice on actionable insights even more important.

As well as providing timely input, the advice that monitoring systems give, for example on suggested actions, needs to be adapted to an unmanned facility. In this situation, putting monitoring data into context and ensuring it is structured is critical, as accurate and early diagnostics from a remote location requires more data than if on-site resources are able to assist.

One area that may be underestimated is the cultural shift required to move away from traditional "run to failure" maintenance regimes to preventive maintenance and a step further to predictive maintenance regimes. Predictive maintenance is designed to assess the condition of in-service equipment and therefore to be able to predict when maintenance should be performed. This can result in savings over routine or time-based preventive maintenance as tasks are performed only when warranted.

Another area is ensuring that preventive maintenance plans are already considered in the design and engineering phase to enable the implementation of modern condition monitoring systems, supported by risk assessments and operational changes to utilize the full potential of the technology.

OGE: In an era of sharply lower oil prices at the wellhead, how are your customers adapting their processes to be more efficient?

Holsten: Already we see our customers adapting their processes and deploying technologies in ways that are dramatically improving safety, uptime and their return on investment.

The target is Lean operations where integrated systems, a collaborative environment and insights from real-time data allow for automation of routine tasks and fewer operators at a facility, with more remote support and operation. This leads to higher safety and productivity with lower manning, reduced travel and exposure to hazardous environments while at the same time optimizing production, facilitating decision-making and improving planning for our customers.

We see a trend toward higher levels of standardization in our customers’ processes and operations. This improves their capital productivity by making it easier for companies in the value chain to collaborate and eliminate wasteful practices. It requires that customers, contractors and suppliers work closely together as an integrated team and learn from each other. Industrialized delivery of a supplier’s standard solution and early involvement (in the process) have the potential to save cost and time in projects, thereby further increasing their competitiveness.

OGE: Is there a greater emphasis on preventive maintenance today than even two years ago, or is there simply more importance on the topic given the price issues?

Holsten: The emphasis on preventive maintenance and predictive maintenance has been growing for the last few years. This is in response to three main challenges in the industry: an aging workforce; availability and retention of skilled workers; and the pressure to cut operating costs.

It has been recognized for several years that the oil and gas industry is facing a steep demographic challenge with an aging workforce. This can lead to knowledge and skills gaps that can threaten operations. Automation can help mitigate the effects of what is referred to as the "great crew change."

The oil and gas industry may not have felt the full effect of this phenomenon but a shortage of qualified operators, and the cost of deploying operators in the field, is increasing the demand for services like remote operations, predictive maintenance, cloud computing, concurrent engineering and others that can be addressed by automation. With the oil price development placing renewed focus on operational effectiveness and cost reduction, attracting and retaining a highly skilled talent pool will be central to unlocking the sector’s ability to deliver sustainable value.

OGE: What’s changing on the technology side that allows for better and more accurate remote monitoring than before?

Holsten: The oil and gas industry is being transformed by the emerging digital ecosystem of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Here, the drivers are the increased availability of data, ubiquitous connectivity between and among machines and people, and the exponential growth in processing power.

Thanks to these developments, machines can be fitted with low-cost sensors, which track and monitor their performance, health, and behavior through every stage of their life cycle. Software allows us to combine data from instruments and sensors, connecting real-time information on an industrial process in a user-friendly way so that routine tasks can be automated.

Having access to this information is already boosting productivity and efficiency of operations and assets, for instance by enabling automated interventions before a service interruption.

The convergence of information technology and operational technology has also played an important role in the transition towards fully integrated and collaborative operations.

This brings a holistic and collaborative view on all aspects of operations—so that it is possible to optimize systems of systems, rather than focusing on individual pieces of equipment. Having a big picture overview is very important. Standard interfaces such as IEC 61850 are also providing improved integration opportunities.

OGE: How are customers taking advantage of the new technology around IIoT, and what technologies should they be looking to adopt in the near future?

Holsten: When it comes to customers and IIoT, our customers’ focus is on being able to work safer, smarter and more efficiently.

For example, ABB is supporting our customers are working with smart maintenance schedules and predictive maintenance to get the most out of their assets. Oil and gas operators are aiming to be more competitive by automating routine tasks and facilitating decision-making so that workers can focus on the highest value work for their skills.

They want to easily be able to integrate intelligence, workflows and people by embedding knowledge in systems so that they can collaborate cross-domain and centralize experts on-land instead of offshore. In the future, we expect Services to become more advanced through use of data analytics. Analytics solutions in the IIoT are providing new opportunities to optimize operations.

As mentioned earlier, this will support a shift from periodic maintenance to predictive maintenance and asset programs based on total cost of ownership (TCO) evaluations. We also see opportunities for fleet management solutions to reduce maintenance costs without higher risk exposure.