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Tying back to the future - part two

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Oilfield Technology,

In the second part of this two-part article, Svein Strømberg, Baker Hughes, considers the role of new digital technologies in the development of tie-back technology.

Manufacturing and digital

With new designs and material specifications in place, manufacturing the product becomes easier and quicker – and the cost savings start to ripple out through the value chain. Logistics and transport consume less budget as smaller and lighter pipe can be transported by smaller and lighter vessels. Deployment and installation are quicker and easier which then makes it possible to identify and address any quality issues that arise much earlier in the process.

Of course, digital developments also come into play. The advantages of Industrial IoT, digitalisation and automation are already understood. It is certainly true that smart sensors on a subsea tree can deliver data that transforms our understanding of platform operations, maintenance and integrity.

Robotics in fabrication plants have long automated several processes, but with machine learning capabilities they can improve their own performance over time. Each iteration of the manufacture becomes an opportunity to improve for suppliers and operators, and embeds quality consistency, productivity and on-time delivery into the process. Again, there are cost and productivity benefits to be gained.

Other seemingly straightforward changes can cause profound shifts in attitude and approach. If, as Baker Hughes believes, early and consistent engagement with operators is a critical part of improving equipment design and manufacture, then that engagement needs to be enabled.

Digital publishing technologies give operators real time information on where their specific product is in the manufacturing stage. It enables them to view their equipment as it goes through production, view testing results and assess ongoing plans for bringing it onsite and installing it.

Fifty-fifty thinking

The company's goal is to ensure its tie-back initiatives are 50% lighter than traditional alternatives, with shorter lead times and sufficiently flexible technologies so that they can evolve to suit the changing needs of a field over its lifetime. The ultimate goal is another 50%, by which the company plans to cut the total cost of ownership associated with its products.

Of course, current developments raise questions about where to go next. With tie-back technology becoming more robust and critically more cost effective, does it really need an existing platform to tie-back to? That is just one of the questions posed by the new technology and the capabilities it introduces. Could it be possible to use a vehicle to inspect, manipulate and control the field and then use tie-backs to transmit power locally? Can data produced by smart subsea sensors be used to challenge field design still further and produce something that is genuinely transformative?

Those questions are best answered in close collaboration with operators rather than being considered in theoretical isolation by suppliers and designers. It is another indication that the relationship between suppliers and operators is moving away from the straightforwardly transactional – and that this can only result in improved outcomes for all parties.

The fundamental truth is that, so far, the energy industry has not needed to innovate at the rate seen in other industrial sectors. But the productivity curve is changing. Staying ahead of it is going to require a combination of big changes, ‘Eureka!’ moments, incremental shifts and 0.1% adjustments at the edges. Simply accepting existing working practices and cost centres just because they have always been there is less sustainable than ever. And as we have seen recently, price stability has not returned and Baker Hughes are focused on delivering economic projects in uncertain markets.

This is the opportunity to move forward, establish more sustainable ways of doing business, bringing in the technologies and changes to create sleeker businesses.

Part one of this article is available to read here:

Read the article online at:

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Subsea news Digital oilfield news