Staying ahead of downtime

Luis Gamboa, Rockwell Automation

July 1, 2016

Improved visibility and predictive maintenance can help keep operations running, says Rockwell Automation’s Luis Gamboa.

Image from iStock.

Minimizing downtime is a goal for every offshore oil and gas operation. But, a number of modern challenges can make it especially difficult to achieve.

For starters, the advanced control systems used in offshore operations can require operators to interface with hundreds or thousands of data tags and resulting alarms. For many oil and gas producers, the approach used to deliver this data to operators involves populating as much of it as possible on a single HMI (human machine interface) screen. This can overwhelm operators and result in them missing important data or alarms before a downtime event occurs.

At the same time, oil and gas producers are experiencing challenges resulting from a generational turnover in their workforce. Their most experienced employees are moving toward retirement, and the pool of qualified workers to take their place is limited.

These skills challenges are being felt today in the industry. In its “Oil and Gas Global Salary Guide 2016,” recruiting firm Hays surveyed oil and gas employers. It found that the two areas most affected by the skills gap are engineering and design (41%), and operations, maintenance and production (37%).

Lastly, many of the legacy systems in place today are unconnected. And, yet, it’s this exact capability – connecting operations and capitalizing on previously inaccessible data – that can help offshore oil and gas operations reduce their downtime and overcome the many challenges they face.

Connecting offshore operations

By connecting people, processes and technology into a connected enterprise, offshore oil and gas producers can leverage the wealth of information existing in their equipment, processes and databases today to turn it into production intelligence, creating new opportunities for optimizing operations and improving the bottom line.

One of the key ways a connected enterprise can help offshore producers is in making equipment maintenance more predictive and proactive.

For instance, operations-management solutions can help streamline and simplify the information displayed for operators on HMI screens. Device and alarm data can be contextualized into information that is relevant to the individual operator, helping them be more successful in their role.

In place of displaying an overwhelming amount of data, operations-management solutions use multidimensional graphics, trends and gauges. These capabilities can show operational conditions in an easy to understand, contextualized way, to help operators more quickly spot issues before they evolve into downtime events.

Remote monitoring is another key capability in the connected enterprise. By leveraging hardware, software, sensors and wireless connectivity in real-time, subject matter experts working from a central, onshore location can access critical production intelligence from offshore production facilities that are hundreds or even thousands of miles away. This enables them to have full access to real-time operating conditions, predict changes, troubleshoot issues and determine process adjustments all from their workstations.

Remote monitoring can be especially valuable given today’s skills-gap challenges. The ability to monitor systems and troubleshoot problems from a central location can help reduce the number of employees who need to be stationed on or dispatched to offshore production sites and more efficiently leverage the limited number of available experts in today’s operations.

Remote services

Oil and gas producers can also use remote-monitoring capabilities to better utilize third-party support, such as virtual-support engineering services.

For example, a large privately-held oil and natural gas exploration and production company is taking advantage of such capabilities. The company has oil-drilling platforms and operations off Alaska’s rugged Kenai Peninsula, where downtime can cost US$100,000 to $300,000 per day.

When the company upgraded its pumping equipment from gas-lift compressors to more efficient and reliable electrical submersible pumps, it used a third-party, virtual-support engineering service to monitor the pumps. The service uses cloud-computing technology to collect real-time data from the equipment and alert the third-party support engineers the moment an issue is detected.

It’s these capabilities that make predictive analysis possible. Data is sent and stored with a local cloud agent that sends data directly to the company’s central facility. Over time, the increased volume of data and system history collected allows for preventive maintenance and makes the pumping system more efficient and productive.

“The service gives my support staff comfort offshore. The last time we had one of our wells trip offline, within five minutes they had someone on the phone telling them what broke and what to test,” said one of the company’s facilities engineers. “The staff was able to verify the issue, replace the part and get it back online immediately. I am convinced it saved six or more hours of troubleshooting.”

A business imperative

The wealth of production intelligence and unprecedented connectivity available in the connected enterprise are too valuable to ignore. By making these capabilities a business imperative, offshore oil and gas producers can convert their oilfield data into streams of actionable information, keep staff informed about critical predictive maintenance needs, and take action before production is disrupted.


Luis Gamboa
is the oil and gas market development lead of Rockwell Automation. Luis has more than 30 years of combined engineering, operations, and marketing experience in the oil and gas manufacturing and automation industry. He is currently responsible for the strategic and commercial development for Rockwell Automation’s oil and gas development and growth initiatives, including digital oilfield technologies, operations and asset management, remote monitoring, subsea, process and motor control, hazardous location technology, marine solutions and integrated control, power and safety solutions.