5 Innovative Technologies Changing Maintenance Management in the Oil and Gas Sector

Innovative and disruptive technologies are impacting every industry and way of life at a rapid pace. While beneficial, it’s fascinating to think that these innovations of today will be quickly outdated as they give way to or spawn other technologies.

Most of us are aware of current advancements in artificial intelligence, a technology that is on the threshold of becoming a major influence in the coming years. Self-driving motor vehicles have moved from a science fiction movie to an everyday reality that is set to permanently change our view of transportation.

A technological advancement in one industry can be imported and applied to a completely different sector. For example, developments in materials and designs for space programs have been adapted for firefighters to create lightweight breathing apparatus.

Maintenance related activities are not often associated with innovation and disruptive technologies but the reality is that there is often pressure to reduce costs and downtime. This impetus drives the change which has a direct impact on maintenance management.

Early adopters of technological breakthroughs can position themselves to reap the rewards of increased profitability and business viability.

Here are 5 innovative maintenance technologies that hold the potential to herald changes in the oil and gas sector:

1. A Subsea Robot Arm Called Eelume

Up until recently, undersea inspection and repair operations have been carried out by Remote Operating Vehicles (ROVs). A ship is used to carry the ROV to position, to be lowered into the sea and the inspection work is controlled by an operator on board the ship.

Enter the Eelume, a snake-like robot. The Eelume was developed for inspection, maintenance and repair of undersea oil and gas infrastructure and has caught a lot of attention from industry leaders, as chronicled by Automation World. What separates it from other underwater repair technologies is the fact that this robot is self-propelled and therefore does not need the support of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

For this reason, the Eelume is considered a truly disruptive technology that will significantly reduce the costs of first-line inspection and maintenance of undersea installations.

The Eelume has been developed by top academics from NTNU, Kongsburg Maritime and Satoil. Kongsberg Maritime has 25 years of experience in technology development with marine robots and Statoil provides access to real installations for testing and qualification.

According to the robot’s developers, the primary cost factors in undersea maintenance are impacted by the increasing depth of new installations and the aging of the existing infrastructure. The Eelume can be stationed at the undersea facility and activated for maintenance activities as required, which will greatly improve the efficiency and reduce the time taken to execute a repair.

Typical tasks conducted by the Eelume will include visual inspections, cleaning and adjusting valves and chokes. Its snake-like shape will enable it to access hard to reach places between the network of pipes and infrastructure.

Also, due to their constant presence on the ocean floor, the Eelume can be used to respond to emergency situations, mitigating a problem before it becomes a major repair.

2. The Development of the Industrial Internet

Another advancement is the Industrial Internet of Things which utilizes the Internet of Things technologies in the manufacturing sector by combining machinery and “intelligent data”, as described by the Industrial Internet Consortium. The consortium goes on to say, “The Industrial Internet will transform industry through intelligent, interconnected objects that dramatically improve performance, lower operating costs and increase reliability.”

This sounds like every manufacturer’s dream and the source of a significant change in the efficiency and effectiveness of maintenance related activity.

GE and BP are using this technology to launch an ambitious project to connect 650 deep sea oil wells to the Industrial Internet and then use GE’s Predix Software Platform in order to monitor and predict the performance and failure of wells.

There are two things needed to optimize the maintenance and operation of complex equipment like that of a deep sea well.

  • First, you need information: real-time access to process measurements that tell you what is happening on the well and the condition of the equipment.
  • Second, you need high levels of technical expertise to interpret the data and make decisions based on maintenance required and predictions of future problems.

The benefit of this technology is that you can now develop analytical and predictive tools based on the data from 650 wells using the technical expertise of your best engineers – and it is online 24 hours a day. Think of it as cloning your best team of technical resources multiple times over to monitor and advise the maintenance crew in every production facility you have!

Kate Johnson, chief commercial officer of GE Digital, says in the article, “Right now, if something fails, you have to send a person and a part to fix it. We want to eliminate unexpected failures. That’s the value right in front of your face. But the idea is that it will also allow us to obtain new insights into making the machines work better.”

It is estimated that an operator is set to lose up to $3 million per week if a well goes out of production. Technology that can, therefore, prevent an unplanned outage is extremely valuable.

3. Virtual Reality Immersive Training

One key component to keeping maintenance costs under control is training personnel and increasing their skills and effectiveness in making decisions. This is where virtual reality immersive training comes into play.

By using virtual reality technology, workers can get a realistic feel for the work environment they will encounter before they even get on location. They can be trained for specific tasks in advance, thus cutting down on valuable time on site and improving safety performance.

“An example of this is TOTAL’s Pazflor platform, for which the crew was able to begin its training while the facility was still under construction,” suggests Siemens in a recent post. “The training sessions in the virtual model reduced the time needed to prepare workers for their tasks, thus helping to put the oil platform off the coast of Angola into operation more than two months earlier than planned.”

Virtual reality training companies like Systran are migrating gaming technology advances to the field of manufacturing and maintenance. For example, Systran’s LOTO EXP Virtual Experience Trainer is being used to train workers on isolation and lockout procedures using a standard Xbox controller.

A grading system based on time taken and compliance to procedure enables workers to learn from their training and improve their readiness for onsite tasks.

4. Eddyfi Inspection Tool for Corrosion Under Insulation

An advancement that is also likely  to impact maintenance is a new technology for non-destructive testing (NDT) created by Eddyfi and to which Frost and Sullivan awarded their Global New Product Innovation Award.

In any oil or gas facility, the integrity of pipelines is critical for both production and safety. Any pipe rupture can have catastrophic consequences.

The purpose of NDT is to identify where corrosion or erosion is affecting the integrity of equipment (for example, a product pipeline). When this is identified, a planned maintenance project can be executed to repair the damage or replace the equipment before a failure results in a costly emergency repair.

When piping and vessels are covered by insulation, existing NDT technologies are limited in their effectiveness to measure pipe thinning. The situation is further complicated as a slight defect in the insulation can allow moisture to penetrate into the metal and accelerate the effects of corrosion and pipe thinning.

Eddyfi’s program of NDT measurements will show pipe thinning over time, which will then prompt maintenance organizations to plan a repair or replacement before the thickness deteriorates beyond acceptable limits. When NDT results and predictions improve, it not only impacts the effectiveness of the planning and scheduling of repairs but also minimizes downtime.

Eddyfi has conducted in-depth studies of CUI (Corrosion Under Insulation) testing techniques and found Pulsed Eddy Current (PEC) technology to be the most effective under typical CUI conditions.

Their Lyft product is an example of an innovative technology that is adding value to maintenance crews. It predicts failures and allots time and space to effectively prepare complex maintenance tasks where insulated equipment is vulnerable to CUI, which is both high risk and often difficult to measure.

5. Fluke Cabling Installation and Maintenance Advances

Fiber optic cables are a standard infrastructure component in manufacturing facilities. These cables are utilized to transfer large volumes of data for process control, optimization and maintenance diagnosis. Timely availability of information is critical to many decisions required on a daily basis.

Due to the hazardous nature of many manufacturing facilities, the number of resources required in the field and tasks that are needed to be done in hazardous environments are kept to a minimum. Up until now, the need to test a fiber optic system from both ends of the cable has demanded the deployment of technical resources in the field for every new installation and maintenance check of an existing system.

Fluke Networks’ OptiFiber Pro OTDR with Smartloop product addresses this problem and recently earned Fluke Networks recognition from Cabling Installation and Maintenance, a publication for professionals in this sector.

OptiFiber promises to reduce the test time for fiber by at least 50%. Using this new technology, technicians will no longer need to test a fiber link from both ends as a single test at one end can now evaluate links in both directions. This will also eliminate the need for technicians to travel to dangerous sites or areas difficult to access.

This is another perfect example of an innovative technology that decreases resource requirements and the time to perform a standard maintenance job, thus reducing costs associated with maintenance and project management.

Innovation Continues

Innovation and advances in technology that can be cross-transferred to other industries are creating opportunities for increases in efficiency and cost savings for maintenance crews.

Organizations stand to benefit from:

  • Predictive technologies that facilitate proactive repair rather than reacting to emergency breakdowns
  • Optimized allocation of resources through technologies
  • Reducing time on tasks through new and innovative methods

Technology is an ever-developing process. As advancements are made, they will quickly serve as stepping stones for future innovations. As William Pollard said, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

Are you leveraging any of these technologies at your organization? Contact Prometheus Group to learn how the Prometheus Platform can accelerate and optimize your digital transformation.