Case study - Oil analysis - House Calls - Help reduce offshore equipment failures

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Courtesy of Spectro Scientific

A new approach

It is hard to think of another environment where an equipment failure could have a greater negative impact on employee safety and lost production than an offshore oil and gas production platform. Yet offshore platforms are among the world’s most difficult locations to operate and maintain equipment. In most cases, skilled people and supplies can only reach the platform by ship or helicopter so the cost of bringing technical specialists, replacement equipment, spare parts and tools to the platform is high. On nearly every offshore platform, oil analysis plays a critical role by alerting the maintenance team to problems that may damage a vital system. An effective oil analysis program also helps to efficiently allocate scarce resources by planning maintenance based on equipment condition rather than time intervals. Most offshore platforms take oil samples and ship them by helicopter to onshore labs for analysis. Once the results are available, they are sent back to the platform.

The problem with this approach is it might take a week for the sample to reach the lab, another week for the lab to perform the analysis, another week to process the results and get them back to platform, and perhaps one more week before technicians view the results and take action. By the time the results are acted upon, the equipment may have failed. This could put personnel at risk and cause production outages or require costly shipments of replacement parts.

A new approach involves flying a technician with a portable oil analysis tool to the rig. The technician samples all of the equipment on the rig and provides instantaneous feedback. Immediate maintenance actions can be taken to avoid equipment failure. The operator can also determine the equipment which requires non-urgent maintenance or the assets that do not require any maintenance. This information allows valuable on-platform resources to be used for other duties.

Value of oil analysis on offshore platforms

It costs more than $1 billion to operate a typical production platform over its 10 to 20-year life cycle, so operating costs per day can be estimated at $100,000 to $300,000. A typical offshore platform contains millions of dollars of machinery that is critical to the crew’s safety and whose failure can easily put the platform out of operation. Oil analysis has long been the gold standard in the offshore industry for monitoring the condition of critical equipment. Oil analysis determines the amount of various metals in the oil, providing a fast and inexpensive way to gauge the amount of wear in the machinery. Oil analysis also helps determine the condition of the oil by measuring solids formed by oxidation and by measuring the viscosity. Monitoring oil condition reduces the risk of catastrophic failure and can also reduce the high cost of changing and disposing of oil in heavy machinery.

As with other activities, oil analysis is much more difficult to perform offshore than onshore. The crew operating the platform typically does not have the time or equipment needed to perform oil analysis themselves. They collect samples from the various rotating equipment on the platform such as flooded screw compressors, turbo gas powered generators, fire water pumps, diesel engines, gearboxes, pumps, crane engines, hydraulic systems, etc. They label the samples, put them on the helicopter for shipment to the onshore lab and wait for the results. If any of the samples were mislabeled the results may be inaccurate. When a positive result is received, technicians must take immediate action before validating the results because it would take too long to analyze another sample from the same piece of equipment.

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