In today's competitive industrial environment, asset-intensive organizations are constantly facing pressure to increase availability, throughput, and product quality. At the same time, organizations also need to look for ways to reduce costs. For asset-intensive industries, such as oil & gas, chemicals, and power, assets represent an important investment component. This makes improved asset lifecycle management and maintenance a key objective.
Routine maintenance and inspections are crucial for proper asset management. Regular maintenance and inspection works also help ensure workplace safety. Various new technologies can improve and simplify these routine tasks and thus improve asset integrity and reliability. Remote monitoring, autonomous vehicles, and drones are some of the latest technologies used in the oil and gas and other process industries to improve asset management.
Remote Monitoring Saves Time
As end user organizations across all industries continue to face a shortfall of qualified personnel, advanced Industrial IoT solutions can help fill this skills gap. Forward-looking suppliers are already investing to bring IIoT-enabled capabilities to their offerings, such as remote monitoring and remote services. These capabilities can help establish a more collaborative relationship between end users and suppliers. End users can better leverage the expertise of their subject matter experts as well as of suppliers to help manage critical assets across the entire lifecycle. While remote monitoring will not replace hands-on work performed on the plant floor or in the field, it can reduce the time to respond, analyze, and remediate asset issues.
Information is gathered from the field via mobile, handheld, wired, or wire-less monitoring instruments on a continuous or near-continuous basis. Whether collected remotely, onsite, or via a combination of the two, data can be used to create predictive maintenance programs to help prevent asset failures by scheduling maintenance activities to minimize production interruptions.
Braskem, a major global chemical company, has implemented a new visualization platform and set up an asset monitoring center as part of its digital transformation strategy. This center receives continuous input on asset health through online monitoring. In addition, data can also be entered offline. The center is staffed with a variety of specialists. This includes a mechanical rotating equipment specialist, electrical engineer, instrumentation engineer, and static equipment specialist. These specialists look at various platforms and monitor the health of the equipment. They analyze the incoming data and send their input to ERP systems so maintenance activity can be planned accordingly. In the future, Braskem plans to add analytics capability to better equip its specialists.
High-definition Cameras and Remote Services
Many suppliers now utilize high-definition cameras and augmented reality tools to help their customers maintain their assets. If something is wrong with an asset, such as a pump or a valve, suppliers can use those in-plant cameras to look at the malfunctioning asset from a remote location and send appropriate service personnel with necessary replacement parts. In some situations, end users could also fix the issue themselves with assistance from the supplier’s remote crew.
Drones Help Simplify Inspections
Drone-assisted inspection is the latest trend in the asset integrity management space. Drones have the potential to completely transform some of the inspection operations in the highly regulated, asset-intensive industries. In the US, thanks to the 2017 Unmanned Aircraft Systems Reform Act, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are now approved by law for inspections and other applications in industries such as oil & gas and refining.
In the oil & gas industry, unmanned aircraft systems (drones) can quickly and cost-effectively perform visual inspection for a variety of assets located in hard-to-reach areas such as towers, risers, pipelines, storage tanks, jackets etc., in the onshore and offshore environment. Using drones, end users can significantly reduce the time spent on visual inspections. In many situations, inspectors do not even need to travel to the site and can simply view live or recorded video taken by the drone. This enables them to inspect many more sites more effectively. Furthermore, inspection videos can be saved easily for later reference and shared with other experts anywhere in the world, if needed.
Drone inspections also help to enhance safety for workers and inspectors. Inspectors do not need to climb ladders, use ropes, or be in sky-lifts to get to hard-to-reach inspection sites. Using drones, inspectors can distance themselves from the danger zones, making it possible to safely inspect assets in high-risk areas. For example, when an active flare needs to be inspected, a drone can collect all the needed videos and images. The drone can also be equipped with thermal imaging camera to get the necessary thermographic data, while inspectors remain at a safe distance. Furthermore, with drone-assisted inspections there is no need to shut down or disturb the production process.
Remote Operated Vehicles Enhance Safety
In the oil & gas industry, infrastructure and assets are often remotely located. Performing inspections and routine maintenance tasks on these remotely located assets is a major challenge in the industry. Advanced, remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) are quickly gaining popularity to help perform routine tasks more easily and efficiently, especially for subsea operations.
At the 2018 Offshore Technology Conference, the organization awarded Oceaneering’s E-ROV system with its Spotlight on New Technology award. The E-ROV, a self-contained, battery-powered electric ROV with 4G connection, can be remotely operated for extended periods of time without having to surface. It can transmit control data and live, high definition video via satellite or high-bandwidth terrestrial network to be able to perform various tasks, including inspections, safely and more efficiently.
We are also seeing a lot of effort being made to employ autonomous vehicles for inspection and maintenance work. OneSubsea, a Schlumberger company, is developing its uROV inspection platform, which the company calls a supervised autonomous vehicle. The uROV merges Schlumberger technologies with Saab Sabertooth vehicles. It is equipped with multiple sensor devices, including LiDAR, a multibeam echosounder, and side scan sonar. The uROV can autonomously collect inspection data on subsea structures from close range and then transmit this data from the on-board computer through a gateway to the central control or monitoring station. With the necessary inspection information, maintenance personnel at the central control station can then make decisions on maintenance and repair operations on the structure. Clearly, autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles such as uROV can help expedite inspection and maintenance tasks. Technologies like this also help perform necessary maintenance activities with fewer crew members, which is a great help for the industry struggling to fill the skills gap.
Today, a variety of technology solutions are available that could help owner-operators improve the performance and reliability of assets to improve asset availability and reduce corrective maintenance costs. However, we should note that technology alone won’t solve the whole problem. For an effective asset management program, end users should start with a comprehensive plan and develop a clear strategy for the project. They should make it a priority to involve the right people and then properly train them on the new technology.
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Keywords: Oil and Gas, Inspections, Maintenance, Asset Integrity Management, Drones, Remote Monitoring, Remote Operated Vehicles (ROV).