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June 2012 Issue

Condition Monitoring Reaches Tipping Point in Offshore Industry
By Peter Pilon

In most industries, financial pressures are the most influential force for change. Offshore is no different. The old-school attitude to condition monitoring (CM) is: When day rates are low, there’s no money for condition monitoring; when day rates are high, people simply don’t care. But this mind-set is changing. The offshore industry has reached something of a tipping point in relation to CM, influenced by a number of commercial factors.

One fundamental change relates to corporate culture. Every rig used to be an island with its own engineers and purchasing team who chose solutions for their particular budget. In today’s offshore landscape, multiple mergers and acquisitions have created larger companies, each with a fleet of rigs that benefit from implementation of a companywide policy. As a result, engineers are being promoted to positions with significant corporate influence, whereas historically there was a disconnect between those at the top of the organization and those at the coalface. Engineers with greater corporate authority now have the field experience and understanding to present a solid business case for CM adoption.

This is coupled with lessons taken from other industries that clearly demonstrate CM’s value. In shipping, for example, where the cost of downtime is smaller than for drilling, companies already benefit from online CM sensors. The liner is one of the most crucial and costly components of a ship’s engine. Monitoring wear extends its life and protects against considerable financial pain, as the average insurance claim for an unexpected liner loss is more than $150,000. By monitoring the scrape down oil for ferrous wear, online diagnostic equipment can continuously provide complete sets of trend data.

Technology from other industries is no longer shoehorned into an offshore application. CM specialists are investing heavily in research and development, spending years fine-tuning application-specific products. Kittiwake Americas’ (Houston, Texas) ThrusterSCAN, for example, is being installed on Transocean Ltd.’s (Zug, Switzerland) eight-thruster Development Driller III rig for early warning of thruster component damage, lubricant degradation and seal leaks and failures, providing critical information to optimize thruster operating parameters and manage overhaul schedules.

Another significant trend is the changing demands of operators, who are now asking for proof of “healthy” equipment because, with average day rates, the cost of any loss of productivity can quickly escalate, so operators are pushing drilling contractors harder than ever to increase uptime. More­over, exceeding the agreed levels of downtime during drilling operations impacts contractors’ day-rate revenue, and, of course, performance track records can provide competitive advantage. In today’s ultracompetitive marketplace, CM offers a clear differentiator that contractors are leveraging to expand their reach.

One aim of CM is to improve the ability to sweat more from your assets. CM is now also a tool for safely extending overhauls. The ability to prove the condition of assets to class societies enables extension of the strip down interval. If, for example, the condition of in-situ thrusters can be proven, the strip down and inspection interval can extend from five to 10 years. With the cost of dry-docking for this purpose extending to millions of dollars, this is a compelling argument for the relevant CM practices.

Another factor prompting change is the speed of industry growth, which has led to a shortage of engineers and the challenge of up-skilling. There is concern over how much investment in training is required to ensure that engineers are able to use CM tools, effectively interpret the information and take appropriate action. To address this, CM has moved online, utilizing sensors to continuously feed back to a central control point where data are collected and analyzed by experts with the most experience. De-skilling CM technology keeps overheads lower and reduces the need for companywide CM training—especially important when so many engineers regularly move among companies.

This has also led to improvements in the analysis of companywide data. Oil CM is nothing new to drilling contractors, but combining the results of lab analysis with onboard test data is a powerful means of comparing and contrasting rigs from a corporate perspective, enabling fleetwide implementation of best practices and improvements.

CM’s objective has expanded from simply stopping equipment before catastrophic failure to spotting problems early and implementing efficient preventive maintenance scheduling, all of which saves money. A low-cost investment may save a high capital cost; for example, water ingress in a thruster can damage the gearsets, but early identification may mean only the seals need to be replaced. The prevention of one catastrophic failure can cover the costs of the fleetwide deployment of CM.

This is why there has been such a notable shift in industry dynamics. The approach to CM has evolved from vendors trying to explain its benefits to drilling contractors, to operators asking drilling contractors for proof of CM practices, and, finally, to drilling contractors now proactively seeking out CM tools and technologies.

The latest generation of CM is enabling maintenance engineers to make fast and informed on-the-ground decisions in an industry where there is an increasing onus on operational efficiency and performance. Moreover, it is providing the knowledge and understanding required to make far-reaching corporate decisions that have the potential to reap significant financial rewards.



Peter Pilon is president and CEO of Kittiwake Americas Inc. (Houston, Texas), where he is responsible for the company's U.S. marine and offshore markets. He has more than 30 years’ experience in the oil and gas and marine industries, and has held senior positions with leading technology, equipment and system-providing companies in the Netherlands, U.K. and U.S., where he has been based for the past 25 years.


2013:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC
2012:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC

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Sea Technology is read worldwide in more than 110 countries by management, engineers, scientists and technical personnel working in industry, government and educational research institutions. Readers are involved with oceanographic research, fisheries management, offshore oil and gas exploration and production, undersea defense including antisubmarine warfare, ocean mining and commercial diving.