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Driving economics of efficiency offshore in light of coronavirus crisis

21 July 2020

The coronavirus crisis is adding to the uncertainties the global oil industry faces in terms of new investments. One of the key challenges for operators going forward however will be to leverage new technologies for cost-efficient development and operation, whilst maintaining and improving safety.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

In this article, Duncan Brown, a Director at oil and gas technology company Asset55, outlines best practice for operators addressing cost and safety efficiencies in hazardous areas following the coronavirus crisis.

In recent years, the offshore industry has been consumed with declining production efficiency, lost revenues and questions over the long-term sustainability of operations as costs have climbed. 

As an independent SaaS company, we don’t provide tools or technicians out in the field, instead our staff support clients through a combination of software and a support team of expert engineering consultants. The technological advances we have seen within the oil and gas industry weren’t really being taken up within the area of flange management. This meant we were seeing increased risk across all key areas, including hydrocarbon leakage, asset downtime, damage to flange components and rework. The result of this meant there was also increased risk to safety and cost.

Many bolt load calculations in industry today have been handed down, shared, revised and diluted and they now lack any traceability back to the original engineering source. It’s rare that they are in line with the latest best practice guidelines (ASME PCC-1) within the flange management area of oil and gas.

ASME PCC-1 has been around since 2013 and was updated in 2019, and is widely recognised as the most effective guideline of how to carry out flange management correctly from a bolt load calculation and technical point of view. Very few of the operators we deal with carry out bolt loads to that best practice, they use much more outdated methods. 

Software can be a source of sophisticated calculations in line with PCC-1 and can be continuously updated and improved so that as developments are made within the industry, the software moves with it. This way, everyone using the software is kept in line with the latest best practice. Flange Management is an area where the sophistication of the engineering approach has moved rapidly within the last three years. Software helps ensure that engineers don’t need to keep abreast of all these developments, as they can keep updated directly through technology.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Even today, the most common method for selecting a bolt-load is by referring to a printed Torque table. However in the field, these hard copies are often duplicated and revised as required since they are passed around and therefore lose any traceability back to the original source. Slide rules are another variation on the theme, but in many cases the values they provide are now out of date. Whatever the format, all of these types of tools tend to be very limited and they can only cover a very small number of components. We worked with an operator with 16 different tables for the flange, gasket and bolt materials on their assets and their Torque tables still only covered 80 per cent of components.

We understand that it’s difficult to get all of the information into a precise format if you are using static tables or spreadsheets. Version control is also a nightmare. We find with clients that they print off a table and it gets passed down on to a platform and then it gets scribbled over, changed and all control is lost.

When out in the field, people may not be able to find exactly what they need which often means they’ll have to make an approximation i.e. "this flange sort of looks like one of them, and it’s all I’ve got on my table." This can lead to some approximations that could potentially prove unsafe and we have seen that on a number of occasions where people just didn’t have the information to hand to be able to make those sophisticated engineering decisions.

That’s an issue with the limited type of tools that are available out there. 

In contrast to that, flange management software can offer an inventory of flange, gasket, bolts, lubricants and tools. If a user of flange management software is unable to find a standard or material that isn’t in the system, it can be added into the technology.

Another area we identified as a weakness in the industry was the storage of critical joint data. It was largely deficient so even in situations where a client had moved on from a paper-based system, very often the solutions were tied to an individual PC or an individual user. People were effectively building large spreadsheets of an inventory of all the joints, all the mechanical connections that you would find on any given oil and gas asset. However, when keeping data in that format, there is an inherent risk of data security, overwriting or losing spreadsheets or that particular laptop gets lost.

Duncan Brown, ASSET55
Duncan Brown, ASSET55

It’s also very difficult to quickly share that information or share updates when it’s on a file somewhere. Only 10 years ago, all of this might have been stored in an operator’s cardboard box! 

Quite often we have seen a lack of a single-consistent data set for connections on an asset. You get various service providers coming on to an asset, one company might be doing the turnaround, or a maintenance contract and every time joints are touched, broken out or retightened, it was via a different system and that data was being recorded in a different place. This meant workers on an asset were struggling to build up an inventory of what they had, because often the contractor would take the data with them upon completion of the scope.

Management software can be highly secure and cloud-based so anyone who has the authorisation can access it 24/7 and by using independent software, even contractors can access it too. Online solutions offer the flexibility to turn people on and off very quickly. If someone comes to work on an asset for two weeks, they can be given access for that period of time only which means the operator gets the benefit of everyone using a single, consistent system.

While initially operators were slow on the take-up of software, we’re seeing traction now and I think some of that is due to a younger generation of technicians and engineers coming into the industry who have grown up with technology rather than pen and paper and therefore it’s second nature to them. It’s certainly helping in the drive to digitisation. 

Flange management is quite a niche area and is very specialised and even for well-developed engineering teams within an operator, it will only make up a very small part of their very busy day. 

With production efficiency in decline in many areas, planned and unplanned maintenance makes up the bulk of the costs. Flange management software can help offshore operators improve maintenance in what has become a very challenging year. Efficient operators will then be far more likely to save time and cost and reduce risk to people and operations.

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