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Your plant measures dollars

Investing now in metering delivers profits in the long term

To measure is to know. It’s a time-honored motto, but no less true today. However, less attention is being paid to good measuring processes, it seems, in the oil and gas industry. Everyone knows that accuracy is all-important while collecting data, but they sometimes cut back on metering systems and calibration. This ends up costing money in the long run. It is therefore time for an innovation battle in metering.

The calibration of meters is very important. Through calibration, you can see the metering errors that are causing the measurement data output to be incorrect, as they do not correspond with reality. To date, in the Netherlands, meters in plants are calibrated by an independent laboratory. It finds mistakes and assesses uncertainties in accordance with international standards. After a calibration by an independent laboratory, as energy producers, you know exactly whether the figures are correct about your product, and whether or not more or less was produced than you measured yourself.

Savings cost money
But calibration usually happens only once every few years. And, what strikes me most: in twenty years’ time, hardly anything has changed in this sport. The innovation level is quite low. This is because the market has historically been conservative and few risks were taken. Such risks weren’t necessary before because large profits were made on high oil and gas prices and the urgency to innovate wasn’t present. This has now changed. Cost savings are high on the industry agenda. Therefore, savings can be created by taking a different, innovative way of looking at metering.

How do you ensure that your meters are reliable and accurate so they make money? This will be determined on the front end of the development process. What I see now is that in the front of the chain, in the design of measuring systems, there is insufficient attention to metering. Management looks mainly at the initial cost and wants to keep it as low as possible (CAPEX). That the choices you make at the front of the chain have a big impact on operational expenses (OPEX) is usually not an issue in the project. Of course it’s nice if you can get a good price for the purchase and construction, but the savings are negated as this produces higher costs in the form of worse operation of the unit, or costly maintenance in the following years. If you do not build-in the correct metering tools in the beginning, it is difficult to do effective data collection later on and solving these problems later makes it even more expensive.

Seeking advice
How do you prevent this short-term view? Bring in an independent consultant in metering in the preliminary phase of a project. A plant measures dollars, so it’s worth the investment to do this as reliably and accurately as possible. Such a consultant can also provide good advice about the right suppliers to choose. Since different metering manufacturers make different products, with different specs and uncertainties, an independent specialist knows exactly what your plant needs.

In addition to enabling an independent expert, I advocate a holistic approach to measuring systems. To date, they focus on the meters themselves, while you should have a complete picture in order to really assess whether your measurements are correct. Indeed, there are other factors that affect this such as, among others, pressure, temperature and composition. The total installation affects the measurements, therefore also take into consideration such factors. Unfortunately, for the equipment selected for the calibration, no independent laboratory has been enabled, but companies can do this themselves.

From experience, figures show that 90 percent of errors are caused by people and only 10 percent by equipment. Of the 90 percent caused by human error, 80 percent are from the incorrect interpretation and application of engineering standards, lack of the right competency skills, interpretation differences in procedures and work instructions and lack of software tools. Why then such a focus on the measuring equipment instead of on the occurrences of human error?

Simple and visible
This anticipatory strategy I am suggesting, must be shared by the management. This can be difficult to accomplish because managers do not always have sufficient technical knowledge to understand already how important it is to invest in the preliminary phase of a project. Often, they mainly see fees and no long-term losses. The way to get something to move in the boardroom, however, is by explaining things in a simple way and making them clearly visible. For example, with a user-friendly dashboard that shows exactly how you will perform installations.

I see it as my personal mission to convince managers of the importance of metering and how you can understand it with proper software. Think of online tools to automatically validate instruments, to determine uncertainties of measurement systems, to collect relevant diagnostic data and to base actions on it. With the right IT solutions and advice from an independent metering specialist you can really trust your measuring systems and get paid the correct amount of dollars.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Kuwait to give a presentation at the second Kuwait Flow Measurement Technology for Oil & Gas Conference. This conference was opened personally by the CEO of Kuwait Oil Company (KOC). This, to me, is a sign of appreciation for excellence. In other words, management is aware of the need for proper measurements.

Wouter Last, president Hint