Published May 2, 2013

Combining simplicity and advanced technology to power up the Asian energy market

Since the growth in demand for energy in Asia is predicted to outpace other parts of the world in the next decade, oil and gas producers in this region are under intense pressure to get the competitive edge. When it comes to equipment selection, paying attention to both simplicity and technological sophistication may prove key to shaping success.

“There is little time or margin for error in deploying systems that do not operate efficiently or conform to the highest standards of safety.” Markus Hauhia, Site Manager, South Korea, and Vesa Lempinen, Product Center Manager, Metso.

Since the growth in demand for energy in Asia is predicted to outpace other areas of the world in the next decade, oil and gas producers in this region are under particularly intense pressure and scrutiny on several fronts. Upstream, the competition to find and develop new energy sources is making it essential to improve exploration and recovery effectiveness by deploying advanced systems quickly and making sure they operate safely, often under unique adverse environmental conditions. On the production side, the pressure is on to improve throughputs and uptime, again without posing safety and environmental risks. It’s a small world with competition on every side. There is little time or margin for error in deploying systems that do not operate efficiently or conform to the highest standards of safety. To complicate matters further, rapid growth of production sites and processing facilities coupled with a shortage of qualified manpower is diluting the quantity and quality of MRO skills available throughout the region. More educational opportunities and training will provide some help, but nowhere near enough to make up for the shortfall in skilled workers. One approach to achieving efficient and trouble-free control operations is to make them as simple as they can be by choosing control elements with fewer components while minimizing the complexity of controllers and simplifying control schemes. The other relies on embracing proprietary material technologies, advanced intelligent control element designs, and monitoring and software to take manufacturing processes to new levels of safety, productivity and uptime. Which of these approaches will work best in the Asian marketplace under the prevailing conditions? We believe it will be a combination of both. Keeping it simple is a proven approach for avoiding problems, particularly as new plants and operations come on stream. However for the long haul, as the competition and qualified manpower shortages become a bigger problem, we believe that oil and gas producers would do well to become familiar with best-in-class technologies and develop closer alliances with expert suppliers who can help them balance and optimize the sometimes conflicting objectives of uptime, safety, environmental compliancy and profitability. Many of the control element and loop performance issues that plants face can be eliminated in advance.

Since the growth in demand for energy in Asia is predicted to outpace other areas of the world in the next decade, oil and gas producers in this region are under particularly intense pressure and scrutiny on several fronts. Upstream, the competition to find and develop new energy sources is making it essential to improve exploration and recovery effectiveness by deploying advanced systems quickly and making sure they operate safely, often under unique adverse environmental conditions. On the production side, the pressure is on to improve throughputs and uptime, again without posing safety and environmental risks. It’s a small world with competition on every side. There is little time or margin for error in deploying systems that do not operate efficiently or conform to the highest standards of safety. To complicate matters further, rapid growth of production sites and processing facilities coupled with a shortage of qualified manpower is diluting the quantity and quality of MRO skills available throughout the region. More educational opportunities and training will provide some help, but nowhere near enough to make up for the shortfall in skilled workers. One approach to achieving efficient and trouble-free control operations is to make them as simple as they can be by choosing control elements with fewer components while minimizing the complexity of controllers and simplifying control schemes. The other relies on embracing proprietary material technologies, advanced intelligent control element designs, and monitoring and software to take manufacturing processes to new levels of safety, productivity and uptime. Which of these approaches will work best in the Asian marketplace under the prevailing conditions? We believe it will be a combination of both. Keeping it simple is a proven approach for avoiding problems, particularly as new plants and operations come on stream. However for the long haul, as the competition and qualified manpower shortages become a bigger problem, we believe that oil and gas producers would do well to become familiar with best-in-class technologies and develop closer alliances with expert suppliers who can help them balance and optimize the sometimes conflicting objectives of uptime, safety, environmental compliancy and profitability. 

Customer challenges:
· The strong competition among oil and gas producers in Asia requires advanced technology to take manufacturing processes to the top-of-the-line level.
· The shortage of qualified manpower and lack sufficient experience require technological simplicity to streamline the operations and avoid problems.
Our solutions:
· Metso’s solution for efficient and trouble-free operations includes minimizing the complexity of controllers and simplifying control schemes, while embracing technologies with advanced intelligent control element designs and monitoring software.
Key customer benefits:
· The benefits for the customers include improved uptime, safety and profitability, along with environmental compliance.

Technology possibilities
Many of the control element and loop performance issues that plants face can be eliminated through advance consulting with control valve experts. These include accurate control element sizing and selection, materials performance in severe service, minimization of fugitive emissions and performance control optimization. Vendors with a full portfolio of solutions and extensive project management experience can help to get processing plants running at high levels of productivity and uptime faster. To attain these advantages does not require investment in all of these technologies. However, he or she would be well served to understand what technologies are available in a supplier’s portfolio and understand the conditions under which they could be exceptionally useful. Some examples are provided below.

Intelligent safety systems
Safety is a primary example of where technology may ultimately come to the rescue by making plants simultaneously safer and more productive. Asian process manufacturers have long held that simpler is better and safer because the fewer electronic and physical components in safety devices, the less things that could possibly go wrong. However, all safety systems must be tested regularly to insure their availability in the event of an emergency. The reliance on people to do this testing manually is costly, may interrupt manufacturing, and also introduces the potential for human error in the testing process. A number of major petroleum processing plants in the world have turned to automated electronic ESD valve monitoring and partial stroke testing (PST) to reduce costs and improve the ongoing verification of safety device availability. Asian oil and gas producers, looking to improve productivity while operating under more demanding process conditions and for longer intervals between shutdowns for maintenance, should understand how monitoring and PST technology can help meet these objectives.

Expert sizing & selection software
When valves misbehave and the result is poor process control, reduced output, component degradation due to noise, vibration and cavitation, and unscheduled downtime, the very root cause of the problem is likely to be an inadequate selection process due to the over-reliance on generalized rules of thumb. Many of these potential problems can be eliminated in advance if the vendor can simulate in-line performance of the valve using expert sizing software. Expert sizing software has evolved through many generations and has been continuously improved by comparing results to a growing knowledge base derived from field data. Modern expert sizing software such as Metso’s Nelprof 6 allow for expanded analyses that encompass even intelligent automated on-off valves and SIL level.

Seats and packing
Just as there is a wide variety of control valve types within each category of valves, there are a great many choices available in sub-components like packing that prevent fugitive emissions and seat geometries and materials that can simultaneously improve shut-off and reduce torque requirements and thereby extend valve life, improve Being aware of available choices in control valve sub-components can improve control performance, reduce safety risks and extend valve life.control performance and/or reduce actuator size to for a smaller control element footprint. Having access to some of these technologies can solve control performance issues, reduce safety risks and extend valve life.

Smart valve controllers
Intelligent valve controllers have advanced microprocessor-based intelligence that improves response to signal for better process control while collecting data that is used for self and remote diagnostics. Some intelligent controllers collect and save historical data on key parameters for the life of the controller. Trends based on this data are invaluable for identifying valves that are beginning to underperform and will require maintenance.

Diagnostics software
Intelligent devices installed throughout many process loops can overwhelm MRO technicians with a sea of data. The latest generation of monitoring and analysis software has dramatically reduced the complexity of data interpretation with The latest generation of monitoring and analysis software has dramatically reduced the complexity of data interpretation such that problems can be quickly flagged.sophisticated algorithms that identify problems and used advance GUI to flag problems, their cause and recommend corrective action. These advanced solutions, which may be applied to populations of control valves or even multiple process loops, allow for easier, faster and better informed maintenance decisions so that the valves and loops in the greatest need of immediate attention will actually receive it.

Retrofit packages
Many types of valve bodies are sturdy and last a long time. Other components such as controllers or trim may need to be replaced more frequently. When these valve package components must be replaced, it is time to investigate whether or not something better might be available. Some controller manufacturers have engineered linkages that allow their advanced controllers to be retrofitted to almost any manufacturer’s valve. Expensive older globe valve bodies can be retrofitted with special labyrinth trim designs that progressively reduce pressure drop to minimize the potential for cavitation in high pressure applications. Knowing about the availability of these kinds of retrofits can lead to substantial improvements in control valve longevity and maintenance costs.

Expert services
Intelligent devices and advanced control valve and loop monitoring and analysis software can, if used properly, make a substantial contribution to process optimization and maintenance cost reduction. Many lean MRO operations do not have available manpower or the requisite training to use these tools effectively. Yet the ROI on deploying these tools can be exceptional. These services can be contracted to a control valve vendor with service capabilities and the cost recovered within months of their deployment based on improved process uptime and better utilization of manpower and materials during planned shutdowns.

Going in the right direction
Keeping control technology as simple as reasonably possible is always a good idea. But this philosophy does not preclude the introduction of proven sophisticated technologies to make up for lean operating staff and to allow for plants to operate at high pressures for optimized productivity. In Asia’s rapidly growing oil & gas industry, both of these, simplicity and technological sophistication, will give some producers a competitive edge. It is important to choose technologies wisely and introduce them with care. The burgeoning but relatively young Asian market will benefit greatly from worldwide experience with technologies that have advanced greatly over the last two decades. Based on these experiences, potential users can evaluate the technology and their potential to create better results and obtain an accurate reading on their economic benefit. This experience can be an accurate compass that will point potential Asian adopters in right direction.

Text by Markus Hauhia and Vesa Lempinen. Markus Hauhia is currently working as Site Manager for Metso Valstone in South-Korea, and Vesa Lempinen is Product Center Manager for Neles control valves and actuators at Metso.

Published in CONTROL ENGINEERING ASIA • May 2013 as 'Making control choices'

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