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Sat 1 Dec 2007 04:00 AM

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Digital assets

Use digital technology to stay in touch with valuable and essential equipment.

High value assets need to be well looked after to protect them and their productivity. Remote monitoring and diagnostics, made possible through the increasing use of digital technology, is making asset maintenance more effective and a cost-effective component in the digital oilfield.

With oil prices high, the role of these high-value assets, which are central to production capacity and companies' ability to do business, is under more scrutiny. The value of the end product has changed the economics of these assets, making the benefits of preventative technologies more attractive than in the past and adding further financial motivation to the maturation of the digital oilfield concept.

If a sensor is great but it can’t communicate effectively it’s not really worth a lot of money - Manuel Terranova.

"The oil and gas business in GE has done remote monitoring diagnostics for a while," said Manuel Terranova, general manager Integrity Services for GE PII Pipeline Solutions. "It's largely been around the ability to monitor equipment and do predictive maintenance, by watching a series of sensor inputs from anywhere in the world, either through fixed land lines or through satellite networks."

"Anywhere you go now in GE there is a sense of tying in the asset base to real-time monitoring. It's becoming big business for us, no doubt about it."

However, Terranova points out that there is a lot of work to do to make the digital oilfield a fully functioning concept.

"Step one is to get your assets represented in a digital way and that's not something that should be assumed to be complete," he said.

"In the digital oilfield you can't forget where you have to start. A lot of the infrastructure was built just at the cusp of the electronic age. Assets were designed and put into the ground - mostly pipelines, associated facilities and compressor stations - most of which went in over 20 years ago. So the idea of having a CAD based design for a pipeline just hadn't happened, whereas we take it for granted now that everyone has their asset base digitised."

Terranova explained that what GE is doing for a number of its customers is creating that data model. This makes one of the key challenges how to capture, store and maintain a customer's assets, whether static pipelines or rotating turbines.

"You want to get all the data you can and define business risks to turn that data into digestable information for the customer," said Terranova. "If a sensor is great but it can't communicate effectively it's not really worth a lot of money.

"The ultimate value proposition comes if you are able to digitise the asset and give customers data that indicates how quickly that asset is changing physically," said Terranova. "By being able to understand the state of the asset at any given moment it lets you spend your maintenance money more effectively. It's not rocket science, but it does involve risk algorithms and most importantly, defining the asset in the first place, whether rotary, static or sub sea."
Terranova believes a change in the thinking about asset management is what's needed. He pinpoints a need to move away from thinking in terms of repair and fixed-term maintenance. If this shift takes hold then the value of digital technology in the oil industry will become clearer.

"The idea that it you fix something once it breaks is extremely antiquated," he said. "There is a need to start looking at assets over their lifetime. Just think about a pipeline from the perspective of the value of the asset over its life. Look at what it means for a company to be able to extend the life of a pipeline for a few years. What is that worth?"

"There has to be a better way to take care of these assets over their lifecycle and extend their effective lives. That is the impetus for digitising all the information. It's then you get to the part that allows near-time monitoring. And obviously that's going to back into what's most valuable to a customer, which is where you will see the technology applied first. Areas such as flow assurance for sub sea applications and drilling logs too, these are areas of the oilfield that are pushing the envelope because there is real value in managing the asset on a real time basis.

"However, you can't pretend to do real time diagnostics until you've thought of the entire link to the sensor head. If you develop products in silos you're going to miss the chance to maximise the ultimate end product of the digital oil field, or the remote monitoring capability."

GE has recently extended its capabilities through the acquisition of Vetco Gray, a company that pioneered the monitoring of sub sea equipment in the North Sea. The aim was to gain expertise in controlling equipment below the waterline.

"The problem is bandwidth is very precious there, because there are very few conduits going down to the sub sea space and there are all kinds of readings you are trying to get," said Terranova.

"It is a change for us because so much software involved. Maybe people don't appreciate it, but it's a big deal for us. We're strong in software field for computational fluid dynamics. And we've been very strong in terms of data acquisition and rugged sensor experience for tough environments. But what's new for us is this kind of real time or near real time data acquisition. The good thing with the Vetco Gray acquisition was that it already had experience managing assets below the waterline.

"The key is who is going to be able to deal with the communications challenges in a mission critical failsafe environment. Although we have software packages in house, I think people who will fare well in the market will be those designing for the mission critical failsafe application.

"That is something which requires an engineer to be cognisant of the hardware, the communications protocol, the firmware that's sitting on the hardware to do the data acquisition, and the visualisation, which tends to be the easiest of the four things.

"You're bringing a lot of competencies and faculties together to create a whole system design, as opposed to traditional design where each piece is made independently. So from that point of view it's definitely forcing us to think about software from the system perspective."

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