Process Automation systems adopted upstream

Process Automation is becoming the norm in the upstream energy sector

Process Automation has become a norm throughout the upstream energy industry.
Process Automation has become a norm throughout the upstream energy industry.

Oil & Gas Middle East looks at how the industrial sector has become more automated and what that means for the energy industry

One of the key changes between the Middle East workplace of 2013 against that of the region pre-global slowdown, is an increasing emphasis on optimisation; to push for more efficiency and greater productivity.

Capital may be flowing back into the financial systems of the region once again, but that doesn’t mean the various industrial sectors, from oil & gas to manufacturing, to infrastructure aren’t exploring every avenue to get the maximum return on any investment.

Associated factors such as tighter project timelines are also playing a part, and forcing firms to look at numerous automation technologies, of which a number have been rolled-out recently. As a result, the deployment of such techniques are being seen away from the more tradition upstream sectors.

‘We are seeing continued positive signs in the Middle East market,’ said Maurizio Rovaglio, Vice President – Software Business, Middle East & North Africa at Invensys Operations Management.

‘There obviously is some impact felt as a result of the prevailing economic conditions in the west, which are causing delays in certain projects. Overall the market is growing and we are following suit.’

Rovaglio also alludes to a growing importance in the sector, away from the niche, but dominant petrochemicals. ‘The process automation market in general has in many ways become a ‘commodity’ of sorts and price is quickly becoming a very important factor in decision making. We are also seeing a lot of diversification in investment with sectors like manufacturing, infrastructure and power attracting a lot of interest.

‘The focus areas in process automation are availability of real time data to enable real time decision making, optimisation of production processes, cyber security and ensuring safe and reliable operation,’ he adds.

In fact, security, or more specifically safety, is cited as a key driver of process automation. Ensuring the safety of plant, equipment and people, as well as meeting environmental standards.

The other main driver includes real time availability that allows decision makers to make real time decisions based on market conditions and prices. Today, explains Rovaglio, the plant is not viewed as a closed loop, there is a distinct need for information exchange between the plant and the enterprise/business layers that will allow quick decisions to be made.

‘Uncertainty in the market means one has to be agile to make quick changes according to market conditions,’ he adds.

However, this isn’t to say the oil & gas sector isn’t looking to employ the latest techniques. As mentioned, projects times are contracting, forcing firms to adapt and evolve accordingly.

‘We see that new oil discoveries will become smaller, and will tender to have a shorter production life,’ said Pieter Krynauw, regional manager, Projects & Automation Solutions, Honeywell Process Solutions.

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‘Often they will be more remote with less staff available. To be more commercially viable it becomes important to be able to move quickly to the commercial production phase by rapidly installing pre-built solutions that are remotely operable and robust, with a small energy footprint.

Ultimately, when the resource is depleted, the same equipment should be re-deployed at another similar location. So, rather than operating the asset for 20, 30 or 40 years, now the aim could be five years or 10.’

Some of the technologies that enable this approach are, according to Honeywell, its Remote IO Modules that can be installed and commissioned at the module maker’s factory, now with its compact Universal IO to reduce footprint and wiring. Also, virtualisation and blade technology is finding its way as a control system, and Honeywell’s systems are already certified for that technology.

As Krynauw explains, previously the equipment module would need a large mix of different types of controllers from different manufacturers – hybridisation of the process controller to do the job of the high-speed compressor controls, electrical controls with IEC 61850, flow computers, service information letter (SIL) rates safety, programmable logic controller (PLC) logic.

RTU functions etc. Nowadays, with control systems such as those from Honeywell, the one controller can perform all these functions in one simple to maintain, homogenised control technology.

One technology trend that seems to be generating great interest in the Middle East, says Krynauw is the use of wireless rather than wired, connections for sensing instruments back to the remote controller (RTU) through wireless uplink back to the head office.

Honeywell is working with some progressive operators to deploy its RC500 Remote Controller with wireless instruments. ‘Certainly we are finding more and more applications for both fixed location use and to support mobile staff. This enables oil companies to reduce the costs and impact of owning upstream assets as well as making them safer,’ he adds.

Invensys notably has a number of training and workforce enablement solutions including the latest EYESIM immersive virtual reality solution. This type of technology enables operators to receive 80% to 90% of their training in a virtual environment, which can significantly reduce cost and risk.

The EYESIM immersive virtual solution links control room operators to field and maintenance operators by means of high fidelity process simulation and virtual plant environment. The EYESIM simulator has also been extended to iPhone and iPad users. It is very efficient in the big processing plants like refineries, chemical plants and LNG plants.

This technology is increasingly relevant for a workforce, which, contrary to some views, is attracting more skilled engineers than previously. ‘Given the demography of the region with a very large population in the sub-30 age group, there is a large number joining the workforce every year, and training them in order to bring them up to speed in the shortest possible time is a new challenge, says Rovaglio.

An example of Invensys recent project success is the ‘Integrated Refinery Information Systems projects with Saudi Aramco Total Refining & Petrochemical Company. It is working on a system that encompasses total supply chain management, refinery planning and scheduling, operations management including health and safety, safety and environment management, quality control and assurance, and performance control management.

The project aims at delivering a robust, scalable and easy-to-maintain system that will improve real-time decision making, analysis and performance control and management.

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Tighter project scheduling and a shrinking workforce are obvious drivers to process automation, concedes Krynauw, but, like Rivaglio, the key to implementing new technology is to address critical macro themes of safety, security and efficiency, and in general doing more with less, which includes aspects such as the workforce, ease of maintenance, smarter and more effective integration, improved end-to-end user experience and total cost of ownership especially around open systems.

In February, Honeywell announced it had been awarded four major contracts worth a combined $40 million over an 18-month duration for the Borouge petrochemicals complex in Ruwais, Abu Dhabi.

The installation of Honeywell Process Solutions’ control and safety systems, Experion Process Knowledge Systems C300, Safety Manager, and Advanced Process Control will allow for operational integration, improved production, increased safety and reliability and maximum operability and profit.

Experion Mobile Access provides secure remote access to the process control network through mobile computing devices via the OneWireless Network. It enables plant personnel to view and respond to live information from an Experion system even while they are on operator rounds or inspecting the plant.

Honeywell effectively allows an operator to take the control room to the field. The same OneWireless network can protect the operator in the field through the integration of a personal wireless gas detector, which will immediately alert both the individual and the appropriate teams of a potential gas release and the location so that safety precautions can be taken

In addition, Honeywell’s new range of SmartLine pressure transmitters help customers across entire project lifecycle by reducing costs and start-up time, avoiding unplanned downtime, improving product quality, reducing spare parts inventory and reducing maintenance time in the field.

In the oil & gas sector, major oil companies are looking at ways to improve the overall recovery of their reservoirs and some are beginning to look at exploiting their heavy oil reserves.

Digital Oil Fields (DOF) strategies are being implemented in the Middle East and with most oil in onshore or shallow water fields, the DOF technology focus in the region has been different from the focus internationally, which has been more on offshore and deepwater technologies.

In the Middle East, Honeywell is helping oil companies to streamline and accelerate their DOF strategies which involve installing instrumentation, intelligent controls and wireless communications in the field, and integrating with sophisticated “Integrated Asset Models (IAM)”; which mathematically models each segment of the producing field from reservoir to well-bore, wells, gathering systems and the oil production systems.

New wireless instruments from Honeywell and low power devices help oil companies to roll out DOF strategies into remote locations where conditions are harsh and lack adequate utilities like power, water etc.

Oman is one of the first Middle Eastern countries to turn to new processes to exploit their heavy-oil and bitumen reserves; with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait following closely. Although an emerging trend in the Middle East, Honeywell has already gained heavy oil experience around the globe including implementing automation on much of the Canadian and Venezuelan capacity.
Heavy oil production can be controversial for oil companies because of the large energy consumption footprint.

To address this, Honeywell provides advanced control applications to reduce the energy input into heavy oil production and upgrading to enable oil companies to claim greener credentials.

‘The challenge is to be innovative and bring new offerings to the market which unlocks significant value while still protecting historical investment in automation technology and at the same time does not add additional complexity of integration and increase maintenance and other operational costs,’ says Krynauw ‘In addition, new technology innovation needs to provide a platform for scalability and future opportunities to unlock value and not just provide the platform for what is available and possible today.

Honeywell addresses all these critical aspects through our core Experion Control system and Safety solutions, Advanced Solutions and through solutions such as Virtualization and Wireless infrastructure.’


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