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Prevention not cure

Published:  25 June, 2015

The recent drop in oil prices has focused even more attention than usual on improving operational efficiency and maximising reliability to safeguard uptime and minimise costs. ODEE spoke with Castrol’s technical services manager, Tony Globe, who explains how global standardisation for products and services within the offshore market can generate efficiencies, saving time and money.

In the offshore oil and gas industry, lubricants are increasingly being required to perform in harsh regimes. Deeper water, extreme climates and higher reservoir temperatures and pressures all place more stringent demands on both equipment and the lubricants used with that equipment, while harsh operating regimes can result in a need for lubricants with a different viscosity, thermal stability, anti-wear or other characteristics compared to those that might be selected under more benign conditions. Choosing the right lubricant to ensure optimum reliability under challenging conditions is therefore critical.

For mobile offshore drilling units (MODUs) in particular, the inherent need to relocate means that maintaining access to lubricants that enable safe, seemless operations for each individual application, as appropriate for the operating location and regime is a constant challenge.

Without a global product and service supply agreement, operators must use multiple suppliers in their enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and the complexity of managing numerous stock keeping units (SKUs) increases administration costs and impacts on a operator’s ability to leverage buying power. This is a particular issue for companies that view each asset as an autonomous unit that makes its own buying decisions, or alternatively group assets within a certain region that still have regional autonomy. While some operators retain this approach, other offshore drilling majors are seeing the benefits of a uniform approach and are looking to achieve supply continuity of quality components for their assets through global standardization. In working with suppliers such as Castrol, that offer a product portfolio that is aligned with the vast majority of applications installed on the operators’ fleet and available in all necessary locations, much of the complexity can be eradicated.

For the international drilling market, global standardisation is particularly advantageous as it eliminates the need to switch suppliers and lubricants when the rig moves to a new location; removing the need for extensive assurance work to establish that proposed lubricants in the “new” location are compatible with the products used previously, and that they are indeed direct replacements.

Multiple applications

MODUs require lubricants for all key applications, including drilling systems, power generation systems, handling systems (for example pipe & casing manipulation), the dynamic positioning and motion compensation systems (for floating units), elevating systems (for a jack-up unit) and safety systems (i.e. fire suppression). And that’s notwithstanding subcomponents, for example gearboxes, compressors and hydraulic systems to name just a few. Faced with so many key applications, as well as the need to safeguard infrastructure in harsh operating environments while complying with increasingly stringent environmental legislation such as OSPAR, operators can be using hundreds of individual lubricants to fulfil the safety, operational and regulatory demands of their MODU fleet. Conversely, a global product and service supply agreement can ensure that, wherever possible, products are rationalised across the asset base and unnecessary SKUs can be removed to simplify supply. One customer was able to reduce complexity by product consolidation from around 300 down to approximately 50.

Furthermore, the use of environmentally responsible lubricants can be used to facilitate global standardisation. While the primary driver for using such lubricants, is the prevailing environmental legislation in the operating location, forward thinking companies operating MODUs are standardising best environmental practice across their fleet, facilitating standardised lubricant selection in order to avoid disruption when moving from location to location – especially important in those parts of the world where supply infrastructure may be limited.

Unraveling the real performance

The benefits of uniformity in supplies of lubricants extend beyond individual drilling units. By taking a global overview of how offshore drilling assets are functioning in one 'like for like' system, technical and operations personnel at corporate level can analyse global fleet performance to generate efficiencies. This goes beyond the well-established concept of condition monitoring, which can only provide a limited insight into performance when the lubricants being assessed are not directly comparable. For example, in a scenario where the same lubricant utilised across a fleet is tested using several different laboratories, lubricant test suites and test methods, condition monitoring effectively compares ‘applies with pears’ and the results are inherently skewed. This is down to the varying characteristics of lubricants, which can differ significantly between suppliers even when used for similar applications. Most lubricant laboratory service providers, even where they have a standardised data management system, do not integrate data for a customer with fleets in multiple locations. It is possible to address most of these issues by using a single global laboratory, but this solution can itself present problems in terms of the logistics of shipping large numbers of samples around the world.

Castrol’s technical services manager, Tony Globe, explained to ODEE that Castrol’s LabCheck programme provides a solution to this challenge that is designed to meet the specific needs of the oil and gas industry, and in particular those customers with an international asset base. The software incorporates a number of features that, in conjunction with a standardised lubricants portfolio across a fleet, empowers users both on their operating assets and in their onshore offices to make confident and informed maintenance decisions that ultimately save time and money.

Oil analysis from Castrol LabCheck is carried out at a number of strategically-located regional laboratories. Lubricant samples are sent to the appropriate laboratory and subjected to defined test suites based on the product and application; these test suites and test methods are standardised globally. The Castrol Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) will then add diagnostic comments and, if appropriate, flag the sample to a diagnostics technician for further review. All diagnostics are managed centrally to ensure consistency. Once processed, a report is issued automatically to the customer via the Castrol LabCheck Online web-based reporting system and, if requested, via email.

All lubricant and application data for customer equipment is held within the Castrol Recommendations Database, which itself is fed by the company’s Lubrication Scheduling Tool (LST). The LST allows Castrol’s analysts to create an electronic Lubrication Schedule for each customer asset, incorporating details of the equipment, recommended lubricant, whether the applicant will be included in the Castrol LabCheck programme and, if so, evaluating the appropriate sampling interval and test suite to be used. This data is then transmitted to the analytical laboratory via LIMS so that the correct analysis regime will be used.

Globe says that Castrol that by using Castrol LabCheck, assets in a fleet that are under-performing or at risk of malfunction can swiftly be identified. On a fleet-wide basis, this ‘prevention not cure’ approach can offer impactful insight. For example, an operator running more than 100 engines of a particular type and using one oil can assess the impact of a new lubricant on two or three engines in order to establish which assets are performing best. Furthermore if the lubricant, engines and testing are all the same across a fleet, the operator can determine which crew and operating procedures lead to the most effective performance.

Ultimately, larger companies are becoming more sophisticated. They want transparency in terms of how well operations are functioning and to be able to understand appropriate lubricant life. Such ‘intelligence’ underlines the core objective of any driller, which is to consistently get the right product, at the right time – saving time and money.

Ensuring that lubricant recommendations support this objective requires a deep knowledge and understanding, not just of the lubricants and the equipment in which they are to be used, but also key factors such as the operating environment and legislative requirements. To do this successfully not only requires a consultative approach, but a uniform one too – that provides a full portfolio of products to meet those needs, and the ability to make products available consistently wherever and in whatever environment the oil and gas facility is operating. As sources of oil and gas and the regions in which they are located expand and diversify, so tapping into a global standard of products, support and services becomes ever more critical.

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