|Seeking global control of petroleum
|Thursday, 21 June 2007Sabian Wilde|
AUTOMATION and communications giant Siemens is hoping that the launch of version seven of its SIMATIC PCS 7 suite will finally put the company among the top three players in process control systems (PCS), giving it access to the lucrative petroleum sector.
A global project manager once told PetroleumNews.net that all automation systems were basically the same and with competition in the market being so fierce, contracts could be made by determining which vendor was most accommodating.
But as the race for new oil and gas discoveries heats up, the petroleum sector has been reassessing its reserves and there has been a trend to fast-track the development of marginal fields.
Recognising this, Siemens is spruiking the SIMATIC PCS7 on the strength of its integrated safety and control system architecture, which offers the high availability control required for constant production with sophisticated alarm management that it claims significantly reduces the possibility of unnecessary shutdowns.
Integrated safety/control systems can offer an elegant solution to the petroleum sector's production challenges.
Moving away from the traditional approach of having separate safety and control systems reduces the total cost of setting up production and reduces the total footprint of the overall system, which can be a significant factor in offshore operating environments. Integrated systems can also reduce maintenance and training costs.
All of which are good arguments for integrated systems, but not necessarily for the SIMATIC PCS7 – until you ask the question, "How does it work?"
While most vendors are now offering integrated systems, Siemens is attempting to leverage the trend by bringing together its expertise in several fields under the banner totally integrated automation.
It says this delivers a robust system that is backwards compatible, supports equipment from other manufacturers and can meet the increased need for systems availability as well as regulatory requirements for safety and reporting.
The automation world has taken off in recent years with an ever-increasing variety of software/hardware systems for process control, digital data management and security, enterprise management, asset management (including predictive maintenance systems) and rigorous safety requirements.
Rather than using proprietary instrumentation and equipment, Siemens has opted for a flexible approach to providing control and safety systems by using original equipment manufacturer-supported platforms such as Profibus, which lets PCS7 interact with all of the hardware components of the production system using electronic device description language (EDDL).
EDDL means that not only does the PCS7 know which components are being used in the operation, whether it is an FPSO or a rig or a refinery, but it is also programmed with the optimal performance parameter for each component.
The ability to determine the performance of an individual valve over time, measured against its optimal parameters, could mean the difference between near-continuous production and a costly unscheduled shutdown.
Similarly, the ability to tell that an individual component's performance is slowly decreasing lets operators schedule maintenance with minimal impact on production.
During a critical incident, operators can be overwhelmed with alarms, as every component in the process chain is likely to be affected.
Siemens claims PCS7's alarm management system can prioritise alarms based on the system's whole-of-plant knowledge, allowing the most significant problems to be dealt with first.
While there are some concerns from within the automation sector over integrated systems increasing the potential for single-source faults (during which both safety and process control can be lost at the same time), Siemens has implemented a solution it calls Flexible Modular Redundancy (FMR).
Using FMR, a PCS7 system can sustain multiple critical failures while maintaining both safety and process control.
Additionally, redundant modules can be geographically distributed throughout the plant, ensuring safety and control can be maintained even in the event of sections of the plant becoming unavailable, such as in an explosive incident.
Boiler/combustion specialist Aalborg Australia (formerly Gosfern) has standardised the PCS7 system for its work on converting tanker furnaces to provide power and other critical systems for floating processing, storage and offtake operations.
The company says the system's flexibility and highly configurable nature eases the burden of changing regulatory requirements and the unique characteristics of each operating environment.
Aalborg Australia managing director Jack McDonald said given the pre-eminent concern for safety in the petroleum sector, the Siemens PCS7 came up trumps.
"Triple Modular Redundancy was excellent for safety but a pretty lousy control system," he said.
"I'm happy to say we've come a long way with the PCS7."
If Siemens is to have any success in bridging the significant market share gap between it and its leading competitors, it will be through its plans to progress partnerships with systems integrators and OEM vendors providing services to the sector.
"Siemens currently has some 20 official partners in Australia, most from a previous partnership program focused on factory automation solutions. As Siemens has expanded its partnership program to cover its entire automation suite, it has also extended the range of training and accreditation it provides its local partners.
The company plans to progress with training and accreditation for another 20 partners by 2010, offering additional support in engineering solutions and project management to get large-scale projects from the drawing board and into production quickly."
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