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Drilling platform operational again thanks to knowledge and expertise PROCENTEC

Producing combustible substances such as oil and gas at sea is a challenging activity, where safety is paramount. Availability of the systems is also crucially important, because downtime has a direct impact on the operating results. So it’s hardly surprising that one of the drilling platforms in the North Sea called upon the knowledge and expertise of PROCENTEC when a malfunction occurred in the PROFIBUS network. “A drilling platform lying idle costs around half a million euro per day.”

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A drilling platform is a platform that is built to drill for oil or natural gas in relatively shallow water. If sufficient quantities of recoverable oil or gas are found, the drilling rig makes way for a production platform, which is subsequently used to produce the fuel.  
The cabling, layout and configuration of the PROFIBUS network is key for the technology on the platforms. At one of the production platforms, the network failed about two years ago because one of the valves that stem the flow of oil while it’s being pumped upwards stopped working. To prevent the
oil from spurting sky-high out of the riser, the entire installation was set to manual control, which led to considerable delays. PROCENTEC’s knowledge and expertise was necessary to get the platform operational again.

Loss of half a million per day

The network and all its related parts were implemented by an installation company, so the installer was first flown in for the repair work. Even though he had the PROCENTEC troubleshooting & maintenance tool ProfiTrace at his disposal, it was apparently extremely difficult for him to localize the problem. Via one of the distributors, the British installer ended up contacting PROCENTEC in the Dutch town of Wateringen.   
Manager of the PROCENTEC support department, Elmer Vis: “I flew to the drilling platform the very same day to investigate where the problem lay, together with the installer. It emerged that the drilling platform had already been out of operation for a fortnight – an expensive business, because every day with no drilling means a loss of half a million euro. Not only is no oil produced, but nobody on the platform can work either. You can work out the costs for yourself. Ultimately I was able to determine that the valve controller was defective and the controller was replaced.” 

Elmer Vis - Head of Service & Support
Elmer Vis - Head of Service & Support

Elmer Vis also explains that the PROFIBUS infrastructure on the production platform was not installed correctly. “A redundant network was built using apparatus that is not redundant. It’s actually just luck that it has worked well so often. I could see from the readings that it goes wrong regularly, but that everything nonetheless continues to run. If one part comes to a standstill, they disconnect something they don’t need at that moment and then it works again for a while, but that’s naturally not a long-term solution. They could also purchase a ProfiTrace, but a certain amount of experience is required to interpret the signals, so for them it is cheaper and faster just to fly in our knowledge and expertise.” 

ProfiTrace discovers malfunction 

The last time Elmer was flown to the drilling platform, the culprit turned out to be a poor contact in the fibre optic network. “That was a little less urgent, because there was a ring topology installed there, which is in itself redundant so drilling could continue.” On the drilling platform, many fibre optic converters are used, because the installation is divided over several levels. As a result, the cable has to go through the outside air from level to level, so it’s advisable to make use of glass due to the risk of lightning. “At various places on the platform, there are displays where the status of the drilling can be seen, for instance depth, temperature, pressure and so on.” The correct monitoring equipment was not present on the platform. Fortunately, Elmer Vis was able to discover where the problem was located in the fibre optic network, with the aid of the ProfiTrace. “Because the reading did not reach the end point, I knew that the problem was located in the fibre core. As it turned out, it had not been properly welded, so the signal came to a standstill.” 

Solid infrastructure is key

“Actually all the cables should be re-laid and a good monitoring system should be installed.” The reason that the owner of the drilling platform doesn’t invest in a solid infrastructure is because it’s not known how long the platform will continue to exist. The expectation is that it will be sold within a few years and that is why very few adaptations and renovations are being carried out.  
On the one hand, Elmer can understand this attitude: “If a new infrastructure has to be installed, the installation has to be closed down for a few days, and that costs a lot of money.” 
On the other hand, he finds it strange that there is so little knowledge about the PROFIBUS network on the drilling platform. “With an installation that costs half a million euro per day if it is out of operation, at a location with a risk of explosion, surely you would want to know exactly how it’s put together and how it works?”.

Fortunately the owner of the platform can always fall back on the fast, knowledgeable and professional products and services of PROCENTEC.

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