Engineering Focus: Under Pressure?
We look at the latest fully integrated compressor solutions and how those can benefit and improve downstream operations as the GCC continues to feel the strain from lower oil prices
Compressors constitute an increasingly important part of the mechanical equipment in oil and gas refineries and petrochemical plants.
With refining capacity increasing worldwide to meet rising energy demands, it is absolutely essential to ensure the smooth running of operations and state of the art compressors can play an instrumental role in achieving this.
“Over its 170 years Burckhardt Compression has always designed, developed and manufactured reciprocating compressors with lowest life cycle costs,” said Beat Jäggi, managing director of Burckhardt Compression in the Middle East.
“Our API618 designs are such that they facilitate ease of service and maintenance and now coupled with the use of our own design of Redura Sealing Technologies provide extended mean time between overhauls (MTBO) compared to our competition.”
With the focus in today’s industry often being that of initial purchase cost, Jäggi says some end-users are already falling fowl of machines that operate through the first few years and then begin to fail. This has led Burckhardt to focus on providing aftermarket custom solutions for revamps and upgrades which are also compatible with any make of reciprocating compressor.
“Our compressors are typically designed for the application and a key factor in their reliability is the wear parts. We’ve been moving away from relying on third party suppliers of these items and its dedicated design and manufacturing process for the piston, rider and packing rings along with packing (stuffing) cases and also for a full range of valves is housed at our head office facility,” said Jäggi.
“The Redura sealing systems are proving to be popular upgrades to existing machines in the fleet replacing and upgrading older technologies and the Burckhardt poppet valves are fully field serviceable again reducing end users costs,” he added.
In the product development and suppliers industries, adding value to your customers through constant research and innovation is an absolute must. As leading supplier in the sector, Burckhardt appears fully aware of this and has been investing heavily in R&D.
“Our Research and Development (R&D) team is always looking at the requirements of the existing and future markets through client feedback across the industries we are involved in. Not only looking at compressors but also the individual components, the goal is to develop improvements across the whole package,” Jäggi explained.
A great example of developing a system even as the market itself is still in a nascent stage is Burckhardt’s Laby-GI line of compressors. They utilise a mixture of API618 and Labyrinth cylinders and are designed as fully balanced reciprocating compressors for use within specific marine applications. The compressors are also able to accept suction gas temperatures down to -170°C.
Thanks to its massive installation base throughout the globe, Burckhardt is currently applying the technologies and techniques developed to other brand compressors in the field. But this comes with a host of challenges, as Jäggi explains.
“Educating the end users that the initial purchase price should not always be a key decision factor is key as when implementing products that provide the lowest life cycle cost, longevity of service and extended MTBO should be a major contributing factor,” he said.
Surprisingly enough, the oil price slump has had a positive impact on the compressors market overall. According to Frost & Sullivan, the sector is set to reach over $8bn in the next five years, having earned over $6bn in 2014. Reductions in capital spending and an increased focus on asset optimisation at a low cost has generated more work for suppliers, particularly on the maintenance and service side.
“With some new build projects on hold we have all seen a change in the market place, capital expenditure (capex) has switched to operational expenditure (opex) in some cases and with that our full suite of offerings for upgrades and revamps has become a primary focus for the end users. Burckhardt Compressions’ GCC located Field Service Team has also seen an increase in demand due to some clients reducing their own maintenance teams and we are being asked to provide complete turn-key overhaul solutions more frequently on non-Burckhardt machines. Our repair facility in Dubai is always busy and our soon to be opened facility in Saudi Arabia, which already has work scheduled, is a clear sign that our approach to high quality repairs and refurbishments is fulfilling the demands of our ever growing customer base,” Jäggi added.
“We have seen a slowdown in terms of the ‘number of new enquiries’ and also the conversion rates,” said Aniket Kulkarni, area sales manager for industry at Bauer Kompressoren. “[However], companies are buying more spare parts and requesting service to maintain existing units instead of replacing them,” Kulkarni added.
With oil and gas plants operating in some of the harshest conditions, resilience and longevity of equipment is absolutely paramount. As a result, compressor are increasingly being designed to withstand harsh conditions with high ambient temperatures and high humidity. Space is another important concern, explains Kulkarni.
According to a recent survey by Market Watch, the development of application specific compressors is an important emerging trend in the market that is expected to continue in the mid to long term. Another major trend driving the industry forward is automation, says Kulkarni.
“Everyone talks about automation today and Bauer is absolutely on top of it with the latest PLC control panels used in our compressors.” PLC, or programmable controller, is a digital computer used for automation of typically industrial electromechanical processes, such as control of machinery on plants. An increasing number of compressors and supporting plant equipment are being equipped with PLCs as a result of operators’ growing automation requirements.
“Our control systems allow you to get information through message and through the Ethernet,” said Kulkarni.
Other rapidly developing trends in the field include growing requirements for low pressure oil free air. In remote locations where maintenance of desiccant dryers tends to be extremely difficult, equipment that’s designed to overcome this challenge can prove particularly useful.
“Our Instru-Air system is all set to deliver low pressure air without the use of desiccant dryer. This is the future for low pressure oil free air requirements,” Kulkarni says.
The compressors market will continue to be supported by the industry’s drive for improved efficiency and asset optimisation. Without doubt, those to reap the rewards will be the suppliers who help operators meet current challenges at a lower cost and for an extended period of time.