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Enhancing operational safety

Oilfield Technology,

Many of the world’s oil and gas processing facilities are upwards of 40 years old. They need to remain safely operational well into the future, but their technical systems and equipment have finite service lives, so capabilities must exist to assess whether to repair or replace them. This prerequisite to plant safety relies on information, so one’s information management system must accurately reflect not only the facility’s true as operating status but also its design history.

Within most organisations, however, operational data is continually transferred between different, often incompatible, systems. Its quality and trustworthiness deteriorate at every step, so asset management policies can be based on information of uncertain reliability. In contrast, the ability to aggregate all the many disparate types of information into a single ‘Digital Asset’ of information that fully and correctly reflects the physical asset’s true current status enables the plant operator to create and manage their asset maintenance policy from a single location and on a foundation of reliable information.

Dr Sam Mannan, Director of The Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center, explained that, historically, a barrier to the adoption of enterprise asset management (EAM) systems has been the perception that they increase complexity in a time pressured environment in which downtime is costly and engineers have to get the job done.

“Absence of a safety culture can be self perpetuating; without an effective EAM infrastructure, establishing and sustaining safety oriented procedures can be very difficult”, he warned. ‘The cost of EAM implementation also remains a major consideration. It is difficult to compile a business case in a situation where the benefits in risk avoidance are unquantifiable; you have to look at the potential economic benefits across all aspects of the business.”

However, Dr Mannan also noted that such systems will pay for themselves through more efficient operation and a reduction in lost time incidents, but that greater awareness of this is needed. “If you consider an incident’s potential impact on a business – and it can be on more than just profitability – the industry must recognise that a lack of information management systems is going to cost them a lot more money in the long run”, he concluded.

Ensuring the as built status

A key issue for many operators of aging assets in the downstream market is that the original engineering and design data probably did not accurately represent the physical asset even when it was commissioned, and its accuracy and completeness will have further deteriorated as decades of in plant modifications were not adequately documented. If an asset’s design basis is not fully documented and maintained, a significant safety risk, as well as a threat to uptime, quickly builds up because in plant engineering can be based on unreliable or incomplete information. Once the design basis becomes untrustworthy, downtime, maintenance costs and the risk of incidents increase dramatically.

A UK Government study examined 502 incidents during maintenance and concluded that over 25% occurred while work was being carried out on pipes, pumps and valves. Workers simply did not have the information to enable them to spot the dangers.

Unreliable information can arise in various ways, often as a result of well intentioned actions. Asset Data Integrity is Serious Business describes a situation when, in the absence of a reliable centralised data management system, an engineer created his own database: “An engineer had created a database of critical flanges (flanges that were part of dangerous piping configurations) and the specific technical and work processes required when working with these joints. The maintenance planners believed that the database was still accurate. Unbeknownst to them, the engineer who had created it had moved on to another job. He was no longer maintaining the database. Furthermore, the procedure for working safely with these joints had changed to a more stringent process. Fortunately for everyone, the problem was detected before the work was executed. It is easy to imagine the potential damage and risk to the plant and its personnel had this use of the secondary database and its incorrect data not been uncovered.”

Accurate and complete documentation of a processing facility’s design is the foundation for its maintenance management, the development of operating procedures, and deriving and maintaining equipment level relationships. But updating the design records of a massively complex facility can be prohibitively costly. Fortunately, it is now possible to ‘as build’ brownfield assets quickly, accurately and affordably using 3D laser scanning technology. AVEVA laser scanning technologies have enabled customers to overcome many legacy plant information challenges. For example, AVEVA Laser Modeller™ has enabled engineers to efficiently convert the point cloud data generated by laser scanning into highly accurate, intelligent 3D models.

Many assets currently in operation were designed and constructed before 3D design and information management systems existed; in a world that has become increasingly digital, many facilities still rely on paper documentation. After decades of modifications, a comprehensive survey by traditional methods would be laborious, inefficient and expensive. Affordable, accurate and detailed laser scanning now enables even the most elderly and complex brownfield assets to be brought into the digital world of information management, supporting safe and efficient operations for the rest of their working lives. Thanks to cutting edge technology, a once herculean task has now become practical and affordable.

[1] Asset Data Integrity is Serious Business. DiStefano, Robert S. and Thomas, Stephen J., Industrial Press Inc., New York (2011), p. 50.

Written by Gary Farrow.

Edited by Emma McAleavey.

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