The rising digital tide in the oil and gas industry is lifting many boats. Perhaps one of the most important, complex and yet least glamorous beneficiaries of this digital advance is the growing fleet of aging offshore assets. For these existing facilities, digital techniques are providing managers and engineers with increasingly economical and effective tools for maximizing capital efficiency and lowering operating costs.

In a mature industry where most operators face an increasing number of aging assets in their portfolio, creating greater capital efficiency is a priority. The overarching question is, “What can be done to keep the facility running safely as long as needed while spending as little as possible?”

The need for answers is critical. When the facility has reached the end of its life, the reservoir may become a stranded asset and its productive life is over. While there is ultimately a time for decommissioning, maximizing reservoir recovery often depends on extending facility life for as long as it is needed.

Engineering and digital tools

Many things affect this calculation of capital efficiency, cost and return on investment. However, much of it comes back to basic engineering principles regarding fatigue, corrosion and other causes of failure. Managing the asset to keep it running efficiently and effectively is a process of understanding how the failures occur and how to detect and prevent them.

For these aging assets, the opportunity presented by the digital revolution is the ability to merge huge volumes of data with experience-based engineering wisdom. Digital tools are the enablers in this complementary union.

Digital tools take many forms. In some applications, they immerse engineering teams in 3-D virtual realities; other applications launch intricately crafted algorithms to search through massive databases for trends and anomalies. Each tool is the product of a growing ability to understand and apply intelligence and visualization to data.

As with any other tool, using digital tools begins with defining the task; it is up to digital technology to justify its inclusion in any plan. This process quickly becomes a discussion about how operational wisdom supported by digital techniques helps an operator move forward.

Managing the spares inventory

Merging digital techniques with experience-based wisdom yields practical, innovative solutions. A good example is the challenge of managing the spare parts inventory, or “spares,” for complex facilities. Every oil and gas installation has a spares to hedge against downtime caused by procurement delays.

After years of high energy prices, operators might be holding up to 50% more spares than required; a large operator might now hold more than $3 billion worth of spares. The art in managing this inventory is working out what parts to hold to keep operational risks within acceptable levels. It can go one of two ways: if too little is spent, then the things needed are missing, or spend money on things that are not used. In practice, operators often get it wrong in both areas. Ultimately, it can be very expensive as the cost of parts, maintenance and storage adds up.

The inventory and operational data for analysis already exist but in unwieldy volumes. Conventionally, examining slow-moving inventory enables a judgment on whether the right spares are

in the warehouse.

This effort is limited by the challenge of aligning an operational rationale with the many thousands of individual components that make up an offshore installation.

However, the enormous amount of data is well suited to a digitally enabled solution. Data analytics provides a way to reduce waste by cleansing inventory data of unsuitable spares and by stocking the correct spares in the required condition.

The digital tool, in this case, involves using sophisticated algorithms to search through the data and spot trends, patterns and anomalies. The resulting analysis provides experts with a powerful way to investigate and rationalize the spares holding. When used to inform future analyses, the data also contribute to a predictive capability.

The results of the spares management process are typically pretty significant. An inventory optimization program for one operator identified potential savings of $179 million from a $214 million operational spares inventory in one basin alone. That included opex savings from less warehouse storage and lower labor costs and reduced capex spending on the unnecessary stock.

The $179 million revealed by the statistical analysis was realized through $79 million of unsuitable spares and $100 million of excess stock. To date, the client has confirmed savings of more than $50 million.

The potential $79 million savings in unsuitable spares involved identifying incorrect data, such as spares, without equipment asset tags and parts for decommissioned equipment. Rationalizing the spares inventory for low-criticality equipment identified nearly $17 million in potential savings.

Excess stock savings was determined using statistical analysis to identify maximum and minimum stock levels based on the acceptable risk of a stock outage, spares lead times and consumption rates. Reducing excess stock realized an abundance of both large and small savings. For example, 110 membranes for an inert gas package were held in stock at a value of $360,000, when, in fact, the maximum recommended quantity was 64 membranes—a savings of $200,000. Slow-moving stock held longer than five years, such as thousands of O-rings and circuit breakers, accounted for an impressive $30 million in potential savings

Brownfield visualization through a digital twin

Another type of digital tool enhances the engineering and delivery of brownfield projects through engineering visualization. A virtual 3-D representation of the structure is particularly important to aging assets, where maintenance and modifications take place in an existing facility. However, the asset’s age means many of these structures do not have a digital twin, and if they do, it is out of date or unsuitable.

For these existing facilities, digital scanning, digital twinning and immersive visualization technologies are key to both capturing and understanding the data. Digital scanning uses laser technology to produce an accurate record of the current facility. With new technology, the scanning process might only take a couple of days. Once captured, the data are used to create a 3-D version or digital twin. The linked data provide a visual asset information model that supports virtual and augmented realities.

With existing assets, where modifications are constrained by the structure, a digital twin provides engineers with a powerful tool for virtual planning and implementing construction and modification. In a virtual environment, the ongoing design is informed by a virtual reality construction. Allowing engineers to explore design options digitally by virtually walking around the installation enhances the construction effort and minimizes facility downtime. The 3-D model also facilitates training for the planned modification, improving safety and performance. All this takes place onshore, further reducing costs and improving safety.

For one offshore oil and gas normally unmanned installation, a brownfield digital twin was produced to enable remote assessment and simulation of constructability and installation in preparation for major works. This significantly reduced the manning requirements, which are in the order of about $20,000 per trip in logistics alone.

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