A New Approach to Asset Optimization through Cloud Technology

Feb. 20, 2015
Operations management offers an alternative to the data deluge. It creates collaborative environments where remotely located subject matter experts drive real-time decisions and trained operators apply their recommendations. News release brought to you by Rockwell Automation. Visit The Connected Enterprise for more.

Our increasingly digital world – and all of the texting, emailing, tweeting, posting, downloading and streaming that’s become commonplace – is creating infinitely greater amounts of data than ever before. Oil and gas operators are faced with a similar phenomenon when it comes to information overload.  

Intelligent devices for safety, fire and gas, instrumentation, intelligent motor control and condition-based monitoring offer many individual types of information, each with related alarms.  Both effectively managing time spent in an individual role and assuring that each device is correctly configured are challenges in this new digital era of field operations.

As the amount of asset related information swells, operations personnel find themselves overwhelmed.  The result? Maintenance needs are overlooked and equipment continues to malfunction, leading to increased downtime and rising production costs. In a worst-case scenario, unheeded alarms can escalate to full-scale emergencies.

The alarms and updates operators are presented is seldom prioritized, and the pool of people with the training and experience to interpret it is quickly drying up. Operators are overwhelmed with information and, as a result, they must make decisions they are often under-prepared to handle.

Operations Management offers a credible and well documented alternative to this data deluge. It creates real time, secure and standards-based collaborative environments where remotely located subject matter experts drive real-time decisions and trained operators apply their recommendations. Automating work flows and leveraging the available-anywhere environment of the cloud further enhances this scenario and drives down costs and focuses subject matter experts on the most crucial tasks from any location around the globe.

Moving the Supervisory Horizon

To more effectively leverage this flurry of data and address global skills gaps, leading operating companies are seeking to locate their engineering staff in regional hubs. From these central locations, subject matter experts, such as those responsible for process operations and rotating assets, can be easily accessed and dispatched to deal with warnings and alarms from intelligent devices.

With this shift, the supervisory horizon is moved to seasoned engineering staff members who use live data to focus on identifying optimization opportunities. The people in these hubs understand how to translate asset-management data into less unplanned maintenance, optimized production and reduced down time. Instead of trying to decipher dozens of alarms, operations can focus on answering those most critical to the operator.

Automating Work Flow

Moving the supervisory horizon by presenting centrally located subject matter experts with live data utilizing cloud computing technology can certainly make life easier for operators and engineers alike. However, the data still can be overwhelming for these individuals. Two factors contribute to this: time in search of “the truth,” and the manual processing required to manipulate “the truth” into a meaningful format that facilities and maintenance engineers can act upon.

The search for the truth is a labor-intensive process that often requires spending long hours searching historians and databases to extract data around a specific production challenge, such as reviewing large rotating asset performance to predict when preventative maintenance actions should be undertaken.

Engineers often find themselves relying on a combination of databases to find the answer they’re seeking. In many cases, however, these sources of information aren’t accessible from a single computer, so gathering all the requisite data can be time consuming.  Looking at the large rotating asset example, subject matter expertise would need to access CMMS packages, production data, motor performance data and process data to truly understand how the device was performing against design standards.  Typically, the engineer would access these databases, extract the data and build a spreadsheet requiring large amounts of non-productive time.

Work flow automation helps eliminate these manual processes. Well-test automation, production allocation and pump efficiencies are all examples of work flows often accomplished today in many organizations by subject matter experts mining multiple databases, manually running calculations or manually driving data into a spreadsheet. Implementing tools that automate non-productive processes saves time by allowing experts to focus efforts on the challenge they’re solving instead of getting muddled in data.

Beyond basic workflow automation, advanced process control technology can take operations to the next level – providing both data mining and comparisons against plant model and ideal production specifications so subject matter experts can identify and solve the operation’s most pressing problems.  

Dashboarding technology - when paired with historian functionality and, most importantly the ability to contextualize and organize all that data - can automatically aggregate production data, present key performance indicators (KPI’s), and present it in easy-to-understand dashboards and role-based displays via secure web-browser. These Operations Management solutions may be delivered in the form of traditional software packages provided on the operating company’s server infrastructure or in the form of Software as a Service (SaaS) taking advantage of secure data management but via cloud computing technology.  By combining centralized domain expertise and knowledge with the cloud’s capabilities, oil and gas companies can gain real-time control over processes and untangle the web of intersecting information their operations produce every day.

A First-of-Its-Kind Cloud Computing Asset Performance Management System

M.G. Bryan Equipment Co., a leading heavy equipment and machinery OEM for the oil and gas industry, took this combined path to streamline its operations.  The company’s hydraulic fracturing trucks are constantly exposed to harsh conditions, including onslaughts of dirt and debris, and temperatures ranging from -30 or -40° F to over 120°F.

Such extremes can take a costly toll on the trucks. Maintenance is constant – air filters have to be changed every eight hours, oil filters every 200 hours, and complete engine rebuilds after 4,000 to 5,000 hours of service. This maintenance often requires production to halt and potentially many thousands of dollars to walk out the door, a frustrating prospect for any pump owner.

But as troublesome as a stop in production is, the alternative is even more distressing. Forgoing these measures could cause the engine to fail prematurely and cause cascading problems:  more unforeseen downtime, millions of dollars in lost productivity, not to mention about $1.1 million for a new truck.  Minimally, an overhaul of the pumping system on the truck is a large expense.

With all these risks, it’s critical for M.G. Bryan and its customers to constantly and accurately monitor the status of equipment and keep maintenance as streamlined as possible. So M.G. Bryan turned to Rockwell Automation. Using mobile technology and the seamless transfer of business information over the cloud, M.G. Bryan offsite personnel, and ultimately its customers, the owner-operators of fracturing trucks, receive automated maintenance alerts that allow employees to track the conditions of each vehicle and take action before problems arise.

With the new system, data can be pulled from the cloud via mobile devices and web browsers to produce reports and dashboards on the condition of individual vehicles’ drive train and fracking performance, as well as process performance and maintenance trends related to entire fleets. The flexibility and scalability of cloud computing will help M.G. Bryan offer holistic Operations Management to its rapidly expanding fleet of vehicles.

Getting Back to Production with Version Control

Implementing Operations Management as a cloud solution means that operators are no longer the only ones that can view and act upon asset data. An effective Operations Management solution enables sharing of information to anyone in an organization with the permission to access it, effectively empowering key stakeholders at every level in the organization. However, moving the supervisory horizon and creating an environment where more people are collaborating around assets requires assurance of data integrity. Assurance comes in the form of a versioning system, but the complexity of the environments in which oil and gas operating companies operate means that manual version tracking is simple not a viable option.

Automated change management functionality helps prevent unauthorized changes and provides assurance that everyone is working from the same version of the truth. It independently archives the newest version using incremental version numbering, and saves the entire stream of changes, resulting in improved clarity and accuracy in version selection. For oil and gas companies, this means an accelerated return to production.  

Open Access Uncovers Solutions

The operations management with cloud approach utilized by Rockwell Automation allows real-time information to be accessed remotely from operating sites. Centrally-located staff with the expertise can interpret the asset-management data, make it usable for operators, and analyze patterns and trends that may help to optimize production. When it comes to alarms, engineers can also assess any critical states and notify operators in the field if necessary.

Operators, engineers, managers and executives all have access dashboards in the cloud, creating a system of checks and balances that ensures no critical detail will be overlooked. An important alarm missed by an operator can be flagged by an engineer who has access to the same information. Production intelligence can pass through multiple sets of eyes, meaning that one person’s oversight does not impact the entire operation.

However, the benefits of operations management don’t lie solely in information gained. By diverting distracting information from on-site operators to off-site experts, operators can focus on dashboard information that’s critical for smooth on-site operation. Operators who once suffered from a sort of paralysis by analysis can focus on information that they can act upon. The days of sifting through inconsequential information are gone. No more critical alarms missed, no more overlooked maintenance, no more unplanned down time as a result of irrelevant data interference.

By moving the supervisory horizon and leveraging cloud technology, Rockwell Automation is providing best-in-class oil and gas companies with the ability to visualize their operations with live data specific to the role of the individual working the task. As a result, organizations are benefitting from an accelerated ability to find challenges, identify the path to the solution and ultimately reduce downtime.

For more information about the Rockwell Automation Operations Management solution, visit: http://oilandgas.rockwellautomation.com

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