The digital approach to asset integrity management
Leveraging digital technology for improved profitability in pipelines, refineries, and petrochemical plant
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A digital era is entering the oil and gas and petrochemical industries – and with it, rapidly evolving digital technologies. The Internet of things (IoT) has made it possible to interconnect physical assets like never before, with pipelines, plants, facilities, and equipment types being managed by a single digital database. IoT in this sector refers to the phenomenon of utilising technology to connect a series of physical assets to measure and/or enhance industrial processes. Essentially, it equates to digitalisation. This technology has a substantial impact on overall profitability, risk mitigation, equipment life, and asset performance – and as a result, more and more companies are forgoing the paper based technologies of old for the digital solutions of tomorrow.
In the world of asset integrity management (AIM), these solutions translate to intelligent analytics to modernise the plant to an asset-control environment, and now even the ability to conduct and submit asset inspection work directly from the field via Wi-Fi using a mobile tablet. In this article, we will examine the challenges that IoT helps solve, and the new digital solutions available on the market to leverage it to the fullest.
Traditional processes in this sector include manually managing operational maintenance and equipment integrity (safe uptime = profitability) using paper based processes, Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, time based inspection planning, and monthly reporting cycles. As technology evolves, these approaches become less effective. “The industry is experiencing a degree of variability in the business that’s never been seen before. Traditional ERP systems can’t handle it.”1 Variables that affect key business decisions are no longer changing once every 30-90 days. Now, they can change in minutes.
The oil and gas and petrochemical industries often have a vast array of assets to manage. For example, pipeline systems may include compressor stations, pumping stations with intermediate product storage, gathering systems, wellheads, inline heaters, and so on. Further, assets utilised by a pipeline system are not one size fits all. In addition to pipes, other asset types with unique profiles must be considered, including pig launchers and receivers, emergency shutdown devices, motor operated valves, relief systems, chemical injection facilities, corrosion coupons, upstream equipment such as wellheads or above ground storage tanks, and downstream equipment such as basic crude or gas processing facilities.
Petrochemical companies have to manage reactors, vessels, pumps, and processors while being adaptable to any manufacturing process and configurable according to the unique properties of each. Further considerations for petrochemical operators include feedstock in to finished product out. Few industries have to juggle as many moving parts. Moreover, these assets are part of vast, complex networks of equipment with multiple divisions. Implementing one system for the entire network is crucial to these industries.
When so many different assets are at play, each with its own large set of constantly changing data, the traditional approach makes it impossible to keep up with, or to garner the most from, your data. This leads to an operational strategy of reactive maintenance – in other words, continuously playing ‘catch up’ as you slowly become able to aggregate enough information to form actionable intelligence. This lag time in receiving key information makes it difficult to predict and prevent loss of primary containment, which in turn results in more frequent unplanned outages. This, naturally, places the pipeline, plant, or facility’s operational profitability at risk.
Digital solutions for asset integrity management
Multiple technologies can be leveraged to upgrade inspection data management from the outdated traditional approaches to modern digitalisation solutions. It all begins with the health and maintenance of the assets. To start, visualise the equipment maintenance maturity life cycle model.
Digital solution 1: inspection data management software
Embarking on digitalisation and leveraging IoT begins in the earliest stages of the asset’s lifecycle – specifically, how the data is collected, and the type of analytics applied to that data (see Figure 1). By digitalising processes at the inspection data management (IDMS) stage 3, you become equipped with the ability to garner actionable intelligence from data in near real-time. How? All legacy data is digitally populated within the IDMS database. From there, all asset and inspection data is collected, populated, and analysed digitally within the software. This includes the data for every asset type across all site and facility locations – all digitally managed on a single digital platform.
For pipelines, the right IDMS will: capture new pipeline construction data from the construction process, which is of huge value to the pipeline project/integrity/operations group in managing the ongoing schedule and health of the pipeline (see Figure 2); capture in-line inspection data directly; plot visually significant geographical features or defects, providing a large picture view of the pipeline system; plot many of the tasks completed on a pipeline segment on a ‘Google style’ or ArcGIS map to visually represent activities performed on the pipeline; offer seamless connectivity to existing GIS mapping systems; manage all equipment types owned by the organisation from a single software platform; and Include Risk Based Inspection (RBI) assessments.
The software should provide the option to configure risk models according to the company’s needs, in any combination of qualitative, semi-quantitative, and quantitative models (as well as the ability to select from a list of pre-configured options).
For petrochemical operations, the right IDMS will deliver: the ability to handle comprehensively all of the varying asset types, including reactors, vessels, pumps, and processors; a proven track record of success in all aspects of petrochemical asset integrity management, from feedstock in to finished product out; adaptability to any manufacturing process and configurable according to the unique properties of each; comprehensive corrosion and thickness monitoring capabilities to help combat the increased risk of corrosion to assets in this industry; integrity operating windows (IOW) to best measure operating conditions in near real-time, such as excursions from temperature limits and pressure boundaries, to quickly and immediately act upon any excess of such limits; seamless regulatory compliance to major auditing bodies like API (esp. 580, 581, 579), OSHA, ISO and so on, including automatic report generation tailored to these standards and a continuously populating, transparent audit trail of pertinent data; the ability to embed, link, or attach all relevant documents, photos, and drawings; and seamless integration with the company’s existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) or computerised maintenance management system (CMMS) for a ‘closed loop, single version of the truth’ and reduced error in data population across the systems.
Utilising an IDMS digitalises all processes in their infancy, making all asset and inspection data digital and setting the stage for all future stages. This enables you to apply sophisticated analytics, which then improves the artificial intelligence (AI) potential of later stages. Data is data: you have to apply some AI to it in order to turn it into knowledge and verify that it is repeatable and scalable. Only then can you turn that into intelligence that would be the baseline for machine learning and cognitive learning.
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