DUNCAN BROWN OUTLINES BEST PRACTICE FOR OPERATORS ADDRESSING COST AND SAFETY EFFICIENCIES IN HAZARDOUS AREAS FOLLOWING THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS
The coronavirus crisis is adding to the uncertainties the global oil industry faces in terms of new investments. One of the key challenges for operators going forward however will be to leverage new technologies for cost-efficient development and operation, whilst maintaining and improving safety.
In recent years, the offshore industry has been consumed with declining production efficiency, lost revenues and questions over the long-term sustainability of operations as costs have climbed.
As a leading independent provider of bolted joint integrity and flange management solutions, Asset55 are an example of a company that is supporting operators to construct, maintain and operate assets, more safely, but also efficiently and cost-effectively.
Offshore industry challenges are nothing new to Asset55 and it’s what the company was founded on.
As an independent SaaS company, we don’t provide tools or technicians out in the field, instead our staff can support clients through a combination of industry-leading software called iQ and a support team of expert engineering consultants.
We work with oil and gas operators, but also with people up and down the flange management service value chain – so primary contractors, service providers, tool providers and others.
The technological advances we have seen within the oil and gas industry weren’t really being taken up within the area of flange management. This meant we were seeing increased risk across all key areas, hydrocarbon leakage, asset downtime, damage to flange components and rework. The result of this meant there was also increased risk to safety and cost.
Many bolt load calculations in industry today have been handed down, shared, revised and diluted and they now lack any traceability back to the original engineering source. It’s rare that they are in line with the latest best practice guidelines (ASME PCC-1) within the flange management area of oil and gas.
ASME PCC-1 has been around since 2013 and was updated in 2019, and is widely recognised as themost effective guideline of how to carry out flange management correctly from a bolt load calculation and technical point of view. Very few of the operators we deal with carry out bolt loads to that best practice, they use much more outdated methods.
The Asset55 IQ system provides a source of sophisticated calculations in line with PCC-1. It’s continuously updated and improved so that as developments are made within the industry, our software moves with it, so we ensure that everyone using it is kept in line with the latest best practice.
Flange Management is an area where the sophistication of the engineering approach has moved rapidly within the last three years. We ensure that the people we deal with don’t need to keep abreast of all these developments, as we keep them updated directly through our software.
All of our calculations are independently verified. We have some really smart internal engineers and part of what we do is to make sure our calculations are transparent so we get everything independently validated by the University of Strathclyde.
We aim to offer our clients a ‘single source of truth’ for bolt load calculations, across many thousands of different combinations of flange, gasket and bolt materials of various standards and we have made iQ the single go-to place for that information. As a result, we are continuously improving it, so as new gasket materials come into the market, we aim to update iQ accordingly.
Even today, the most common method for selecting a bolt-load is by referring to a printed Torque table. However in the field, these hard copies are often duplicated and revised as required as they are passed around and therefore lose any traceability back to the original source. Slide rules are another variation on the theme, but in many cases the values they provide are now out of date. Whatever the format, all of these types of tools tend to be very limited and they can only cover a very small number of components. We worked with an operator with 16 different tables for the flange, gasket and bolt materials on their assets and their Torque tables still only covered 80 per cent of components.
We understand that it’s difficult to get all of the information into a precise format if you are using static tables or spreadsheets. Version control is also a nightmare.
We find with clients that they print off a table and it gets passed down on to a platform and then it gets scribbled over, changed and they’ve lost control. Out in the field because people can’t find exactly what they need, quite often they’ll have to make an approximation. i.e. ‘this flange sort of looks like one of them, and it’s all I’ve got on my table’.
That can lead to some approximations that could potentially prove unsafe and we have seen that on a number of occasions where people just didn’t have the information to hand to be able to make those sophisticated engineering decisions.
That’s an issue with the limited type of tools that are available out there.
In contrast to that, Asset’s iQ system has the industry’s largest inventory of flange, gasket, bolts, lubricants and tools. There are thousands of combinations, which we define as a universal list.
We commit to clients that if they find a standard or material that isn’t in the system, we will endeavour to get it built into it. That’s one of the huge benefits of having such a wide user group because if we get a new gasket material from a specific asset in Asia, we update the whole system then we could have another user in North America who would benefit from that as well. We are constantly improving the system and building up huge inventories of all the different types of components.
As our SaaS is our primary commercial model, we attempt to make iQ as good a fit as it can possibly be.
However, there are some elements that you just can’t put into the software and that’s why we have our expert engineering team on hand to offer support for scenarios outside of iQ. Our expert integrity engineers will do things manually for our client base as required, picking up the stuff that could never be adequately covered by software alone. With this joint approach, the software and the consultancy service, we try and make sure all of our operator clients have everything they need.
Another area we identified as a weakness in the industry was the storage of critical joint data.
It was largely deficient so even in situations where a client had moved on from a paper-based system, very often the solutions were tied to an individual PC or an individual user. People were effectively building large spreadsheets of an infantry of all the joints, all the mechanical connections that you would find on any given oil and gas asset. However, keeping data in that format, there is an inherent risk of data security, overwriting or losing spreadsheets or that particular laptop gets lost.
It’s also very difficult to quickly share that information or share updates when it’s on a file somewhere. Only 10 years ago, all of this might have been stored in an operator’s cardboard box!
Quite often we have seen a lack of a single-consistent data set for connections on an asset. You get various service providers coming on to an asset, one company might be doing the turnaround, or a maintenance contract and every time joints are touched, broken out or retightened, it was via a different system and that data was being recorded in a different place.
This meant workers on an asset were struggling to build up an inventory of what they had, because often the contractor would take the data with them upon completion of the scope.
We have a highly secure cloud-based solution so anyone who has the authorisation can access it 24/7 and because we are independent, it also means contractors can access it too. As an online solution, it also gives us the flexibility to turn people on and off very quickly. If someone comes to work on an asset for two weeks, we’ll give them access for that period of time only which means the operator gets the benefit of everyone using a single, consistent system.
While initially operators were slow on the take-up of the system, we’re seeing traction now and I think some of that is due to a younger generation of technicians and engineers coming into the industry who have grown up with technology rather than pen and paper and therefore it’s second nature to them. It’s certainly helping in the drive to digitisation because iQ only takes a minute to use and it’s really user-friendly.
Flange management is quite a niche area and is very specialised and even for well-developed engineering teams within an operator, it will only make up a very small part of their very busy day.
That’s how we very quickly gained a global reputation for what we do. We deal with issues that engineers might only see once in their career, but we see them on a daily basis from operators working globally.
With production efficiency in decline in many areas, planned and unplanned maintenance makes up the bulk of the costs. Asset55’s technology can help offshore operators improve maintenance in what has become a very challenging year. Efficient operators will then be far more likely to save time and cost and reduce risk to people and operations.
Duncan Brown is a director at Asset55, an innovative SaaS technology company that was founded in 2012 by David Frame and Mike Rudd. Based in Sunderland in the North East of England, the business has been a key player in the oil and gas technology and services market for eight years and is a leading provider of flange management and completions enablement solutions.
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