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Sun 28 Sep 2008 04:00 AM

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Cat power

Oil and Gas Middle East looks at the CM32 range of Caterpillar engines, designed for deep sea offshore drilling.

Oil and Gas Middle East looks at the CM32 range of Caterpillar engines, designed for deep sea offshore drilling.

The deployment of ultra deep sea semi-submersible drillships, rigs, and to reach deeper offshore oil and gas reserves, is becoming a more viable option to oil companies as new discoveries become harder to find.

Looking at the US' current situation in the Gulf of Mexico, there is a willingness to move into waters as deep as 10 000 feet to get access to the estimated 18 billion barrels of oil and 76.5 trillion ft3 of natural gas found in the region.

One thing that is crucial for the rigs, drillships and FPSOs is the provision of reliable drilling power.  In such remote locations and depths, you need to ensure that your engine provides constant and efficient output to supply this.

"Once the bit starts turning, power failure is not an option," declares Steven Percy, regional territory manager for Caterpillar Middle East.

And this is exactly what the company strives for in providing their engines. The CM32 is the company's range of medium speed diesel engines designed for offshore drilling in deep locations.

They come in varying sizes - the 6CM32 measuring in at nine metres long and weighing 52 metric tonnes, compared with the 16CM32, which measures 12 metres in length and weighs-in at around 110 metric tonnes.

"There is a trend in the drilling industry for deeper offshore wells because most of the easy fields have been found, so we are seeing a lot of demand for semisubmersibles and drillship engines. Caterpillar is continuing to invest in large engine technology, with new engines currently in development, and we are seeing more enquires coming in every day for these types of product," says Percy.

Percy explains that for engines in remote locations, reliability and durability are absolutely vital. Caterpillar attempts to ensure this through stringent quality control at every stage of the manufacturing process, and through ongoing preventative maintenance.

"It's a multiple stage process, right from component manufacture, engine assembly, engine testing at factory, installation on the vessel, and then very thorough testing and commissioning once installed on the vessel, in order to make sure it meets all of our criteria, as well as the customers criteria," he says.With service teams spread around the world providing for local clients, there should always be back-up for Caterpillar's customers. But, according to Percy, as long as they carry out a good preventative maintenance regime the reliability of the engine should be guaranteed.

The company also offers its own specialist oil sampling and analysis programme which enables customers to have engines continuously analysed.

"We offer a Schedule Oil Sampling (SOS) service programme, where the customer collects samples of fluid, oil and coolant from the engine at regular intervals. This is sent of to a Caterpillar laboratory where detailed analysis is carried out. Depending on the percentages of certain particles within the sample, you can detect wear in certain components, allowing them to carry out maintenance before a shutdown is needed," Percy explains.

The life of the engine should be over 30 years - depending on the quality of maintenance carried out. Customers normally replace an engine, not because it has failed, but because they are updating their rig and want a more power.

He also points out that by the time the engine has been in operation for three decades, technology will have advanced, providing higher power output with lower emissions and greater efficiency.

"One of the big new features in the CM range is the waterless block, where there is no water in contact with the block at all for cooling, meaning corrosion is reduced in the engine. In fact, the waterless block is one of the reasons we can confidently predict these engines will operate for 30-40 years," says Percy.

"It also has very flexible fuel operation, so it can operate on normal petroleum as well as crude or diesel, and fuel efficiency is also extremely good - it is probably the best in class."

One challenge faced by the company is the increase in material costs, particularly for copper and steel, which has obviously had an impact on engine prices.  Caterpillar has tried to absorb price increases, but ultimately has had to react to rising costs.

Caterpillar, of course, will argue that if a customer wants the most reliable, efficient and durable engines, sometimes paying that little bit extra is worth every penny.

The deepwater boom needs deep reserves of power, it seems the next generation os meeting that challenge head on.

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