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Where safety is essential

04 July 2013

The highest safety levels are pivotal throughout the oil & gas sector. CDA takes a look at some of the latest developments and how they have been driven by this vital issue.

While health and safety is an important part of any industry, there can be few in which it is as vital as the oil and gas sector. According to Oil & Gas UK, the trade association that speaks for the offshore industry, reducing the number of dangerous occurrences, injuries and hydrocarbon releases remains a top priority and is a key focus of the industry’s absolute commitment to continually improving process safety standards. Little wonder then, that safety remains central to every aspect of the industry.

SAFCO Engineering was founded in 2003 for the design and manufacture of fire and gas safety systems and equipment for the industrial sector. Initially focussing on products, the company is now more focussed on system integration, and it was recently called upon by a leading oil and gas company in the Middle East to develop and deploy an integrated, single-platform fire and gas safety solution for all of the assets in one of its major refineries.

Notably, this project is one of the first in the world to leverage a single architecture for both the refinery and the office buildings, using the PlantPAx process automation solution from Rockwell Automation alongside the SAFCO Engineering Intelligent Fire Panel.

In this type of installation, the traditional approach is to have separate fire and gas safety systems for the plant and the office buildings. The individual needs of both areas are currently catered for by mature technologies, which are seen in applications around the world, but they often rely on completely different communication protocols and associated networks.

Integrated solution

The challenge for SAFCO Engineering was to develop an integrated solution that would run on a single network using a single protocol – removing many of the communication and complexity barriers present in other systems. As well as the network/platform issues, it also had to address the different legislation covering the two discrete areas.

In addition to this primary requirement, the project required multiple additional features, many of which are commonplace in the oil and gas industry. The refinery needed redundant hot-backup controllers, which employ communication via a redundant fibre optic network ring. It needed redundant OLE for Process Control Data Access (OPC DA) to interface with the Distributed Control System (DCS) and OLE for Process Control Alarm & Events (OPC AE) to interface with plant's alarm-managements system, while using the Simple Network Time Protocol (SNTP) to provide time synchronisation between the fire and gas system and the DCS. There was also the need to be able to hot swap single components.

The innovative aspect of the solution developed by SAFCO Engineering was the use of PlantPAx to not only address the plant's fire and safety requirements, but also to control and communicate with the addressable devices within the office complex for fire protection.

According to Gianbattista Zago, sales and business development director at SAFCO Engineering: "The solution was divided into three logical levels using sub networks, which when connected all together, created a global network."

Each level deploys interlinked equipment from within the PlantPAx solution from Rockwell Automation. At the lower level a local fire and gas panel is used for building protection, with an HMI providing the operator interface.

At the medium level another fire and gas panel is deployed for building and process area protection. The medium level also exploits a server for data collection and interfacing with the PlantPAx DCS and the higher level. Finally, the higher level contains the main server, for data collection, disaster recovery and domain control of the network.

The entire network uses EtherNet/IP and ControlNet (with associated switches) to link to both the HMIs and the PlantPAx SCADA solution.

Operators at the refinery can now leverage the capability, reliability, connectivity and open protocols used by the PACs across the whole infrastructure

"The solution developed by SAFCO Engineering, with support from Rockwell Automation, is, we believe, unique in the market," Zago explains. "Operators at the refinery can now leverage the capability, reliability, connectivity and open protocols used by the PACs across the whole infrastructure. Normally there are so many product families, but in this instance we have one product family. PACs normally used for process control are being used for buildings for protection as well. The market has not really pursued this way because PACs are not normally linked to fire alarms."

The refinery will benefit in multiple ways. In the first instance the operators do not have to use several programs or software to make modifications, as RSLogix 5000 is used for all PACS and addressable devices. Zago elaborates: "In the past, at least two software programs were needed, one for the PACs and one for the fire alarm; some form of software 'bridge' was also required to link the two systems. The HMI is also common across all systems, using FactoryTalk View instead of one display for the PAC and one display for the fire alarm panel."

The biggest advantage is the fact that the solution runs on one common system. From each individual point, wherever the user is, they can gain access into the system using password authority to determine the level of access and control, to check all the components.

The PanelView HMI display is also available over the internet, so users can gain access from remote or off-site locations – answering one of the customer's primary requirements, which was: "I want to control it from my seat, no matter where I am".

Zero outages

Premier Oil is an oil and gas exploration and production company that owns interests in nine producing fields in the UK.  By replacing an ageing, unreliable SOE printer system with MAC Solutions’ ProcessVue software, Premier Oil’s Balmoral facility has experienced zero software outages since it was installed two years ago. The 100% reliability of ProcessVue ensures that data from safety-critical plant is always logged, enabling engineers to identify the cause of a plant upset, including the sequence of events (SOEs) leading up to this.

The Balmoral facility in the Central North Sea area is a purpose-built, semi-submersible floating production vessel (FPV). Lee Hanlon, instrument and controls engineer at Premier Oil North Sea, is also project lead for the ProcessVue implementation at Balmoral. He comments: "We have lots of safety-critical plant and equipment, as well as thousands of individual instruments installed across the Balmoral FPV. Event and alarm data from these instruments needs to be logged on a continuous basis. The sequence of events leading up to a failure or plant shutdown need to be recorded, so that we have 100% traceability at all times. If anything unforeseen happens, our personnel need to be able to quickly identify and analyse the root cause of the events that triggered an alarm.”

Safety-critical events

The alarm management system is required to collect data from six separate sub-systems across the Balmoral FPV. These include DCS, Fire & Gas, Subsea, ESD, HVAC and Marine systems. In total, around 30,000 alarms and events per month need to be recorded by the software across these sub-systems. An example, says Hanlon, is the need to monitor the movements of a set of process valves that need to open and close in a certain sequence.

According to Hanlon, the previous alarm management system, which was installed in 2002, was "too unreliable” and suffered from regular outages. "Perhaps two or three times a year we experienced a software outage, which was too many for a facility like this,” he explains.

In 2010, Hanlon therefore began to search for an alternative alarm management system. After discovering ProcessVue, MAC Solutions (and several other software vendors) were invited to tender for the project. ProcessVue was selected as the preferred choice of software, primarily due to three factors: its ease of use, expandability and the software’s track record in other energy and utilities installations.

ProcessVue can be used as a standalone application or to bring together multiple disparate systems onto one common platform

ProcessVue is a suite of software from MAC Solutions that provides clear, relevant and prioritised information to plant operators, supervisors and managers, enabling them to make better-informed decisions about their processes and plant safety. The software combines the latest communication, data logging and reporting technologies with more than 25 years’ experience in design and implementation of Alarm Management and Printer Replacement software. ProcessVue can be used as a standalone application or to bring together multiple disparate systems onto one common platform.

ProcessVue uses the latest .net technology from Microsoft, ensuring compatibility with customers’ existing and future operating systems. ProcessVue uses the industry standard SQL database, TCP/IP system architecture and the latest Ajax ‘Zero Footprint’ web-based clients. ProcessVue’s architecture is designed to enable interfacing with almost any control system, bringing all data into a standard configurable format. This allows simple Operator SOE display and high level KPI reporting and analysis.

ProcessVue on Balmoral

"In 2011, we asked MAC Solutions to install ProcessVue over a very short timeframe on Balmoral,” explains Hanlon. "We couldn’t afford to be without an SOE Printer system, so speed of installation was critical. To our delight, MAC Solutions installed a new server, configured the ProcessVue software to our exact requirements, and commissioned and tested everything within three days."

MAC Solutions also provided on-site training during this period. As Hanlon states: "ProcessVue is used by 8 to 10 personnel on Balmoral and all of us, including myself, found ProcessVue to be self-explanatory and easy to navigate. We can access and retrieve information quickly and easily. The software is so easy to use that it requires very little training as it is Windows-based and therefore has a very familiar look and feel. Ease of use is critical for us because the average age of personnel in the North Sea is 50-plus, so we need to ensure that they are 100% comfortable with any new software or hardware that we ask them to start using.

"ProcessVue also gives us a vast amount of options when it comes to filtering event and alarm data. For example, we can filter the SOE list by Tag, Priority, Area or Package. We can search for any tag or time stamp and filter this information in order to pinpoint specific events. Over the last two years, the software has become a key tool in enabling us to identify the root cause of events, thereby helping us to investigate and report on these events to other parts of our organisation. The fact that we’ve had no software outages in two years demonstrates what a great job MAC Solutions has done for us and how reliable the software is.”

Retrofit upgrade

Tupras is Turkey’s largest industrial company and leading refiner, operating four refineries of which Izmit is the largest. Rotork valve actuation and two-wire digital control technology has been chosen for a major upgrade and automation programme at the Izmit refinery.

More than 900 explosionproof Rotork IQ intelligent electric valve actuators will be installed in a four stage project to motorise manually operated valves on the refinery’s tank farms. Nearly 800 of the actuators will be retrofitted on existing valves whilst the balance will consist of new actuated valve packages. Many of the actuators will be factory fitted with intumescent fireproof coatings.

The non-intrusive, explosionproof and permanently watertight design of the Rotork IQ has a proven record of long term reliability and low cost of ownership in the petrochemical industry. Secure non-intrusive and wireless technology is utilised for setting control parameters, commissioning and downloading integral dataloggers to provide vital diagnostic information for asset management programmes.

Secure non-intrusive and wireless technology is utilised for setting control parameters, commissioning and downloading integral dataloggers

Secure non-intrusive and wireless technology is utilised for setting control parameters, commissioning and downloading integral dataloggers

Due to the size of the refinery site, groups of IQ actuators in different areas will be monitored and controlled by a total of twenty Rotork Pakscan P3 digital bus networks. Designed specifically for valve actuation applications and the spacious environments associated with tank farm installations, Pakscan incorporates secure field communications with inbuilt network redundancy.  Each network is controlled by a Pakscan P3 master station which provides a local centre for monitoring and control and links the network to the site’s SCADA system.


New from Honeywell is the latest Experion Virtualization Solutions package, the industry’s first turnkey blade solution that is optimised for virtualisation and the needs of the process control industry, enabling offshore oil and gas, refining and petrochemical customers to increase operations availability and reduce the total cost of ownership of their control system.

By applying virtualisation to industrial control systems – a concept first introduced by Honeywell in 2010 – processing plants and refineries can simplify their computing environments, streamline maintenance and reliability, and reduce the amount of hardware space needed at facilities such as floating offshore oil rigs, where space is at a premium.

Virtualization is a major productivity and efficiency tool for commercial and industrial operations. Process controls typically require separate servers to support different applications – requiring additional space, hardware and significant maintenance costs. Virtualization allows a single server to simultaneously run multiple operating systems and applications, insulating the operating systems from hardware changes, improving overall server utilization, simplifying maintenance and reducing costs.

The newest member of the Experion Virtualization family, called the Premium Platform, is based on blade server technology. It provides an alternate offering for the ultimate in lifecycle and availability features being demanded by the process industry. The Premium Platform reduces setup time by 90 percent, generates 40% more energy savings, has 22% greater density than alternative virtualized server platforms and allows recovery from a processor failure in minutes.

"Customers are demanding higher availability from their virtual environments, said Jason Urso, vice president of technology, Honeywell Process Solutions. "Virtualization solutions using blade servers offer that extra layer of reliability, but it’s about more than just reducing downtime: virtualization  simplifies operations and allows manufacturers to modernize their facilities and turn them into true business assets.”

Key Points

  • PlantPAx process automation solution from Rockwell Automation runs alongside the SAFCO Engineering Intelligent Fire Panel
  • Replacing a SOE printer system with MAC Solutions’ ProcessVue software, Premier Oil’s Balmoral facility experiences zero software outages
  • Explosion-proof Rotork IQ intelligent electric valve actuators installed at Turkish refinery
  • Honeywell's latest Experion Virtualization Solutions package is optimised for the process control industry