How to Run Your Process Control Applications Far Out in the Field

Establishing Process Automation Projects in Developing Economies and Other Remote Locations Requires Better Preparation, Stronger Supply Chains, More Accessible Expertise, Simpler Controls and Added Training. Here's How Veteran Players Make It Happen

By Jim Montague

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"To optimize operating expenditures in our crude oil production areas, we required scalable automation solutions that could handle both process control and safety control on our production facilities, which produce hundreds to thousands of barrels of oil per day," explains Mollard. "We needed to reduce operator presence on small production plants by fully instrumenting offshore platforms and onshore sites, interconnecting all the automation systems and remotely operating several production facilities from one main control room. We also needed to rationalize our maintenance efforts by reducing local electrical production units and centralizing electricity production; managing our power plant operations, load shedding and electrical network monitoring; and remotely accessing diagnostic information to prevent unsuccessful trips."

Besides coordinating and streamlining existing operations, Perenco also needed new infrastructure to development its nearby Olende and M'Polunie fields; construct two 14-megawatt power plants with high-voltage electrical distribution; install a distribution network linking Libreville and Port-Gentil to gas reserves; and implement a dual-product, 2-million-barrel offshore terminal. "Our project objectives were to centralize operations in two main control rooms to minimize local presence and reduce logistics costs, such as helicopters and boats," adds Mollard. "We also sought to electrify all of our production facilities by installing the two main power plants to reduce local electricity generation and maintenance costs. We also wanted to further optimize production by acquiring production well information that could be analyzed by the geophysical department in its main office and remotely." To accomplish its diverse goals and simplify its operations, Mollard reports that Perenco was going to need some outside assistance.

Technical Tour Guides

Of course, whenever you journey to an unfamiliar place, it's good to go with someone who knows the terrain, and it's even more important if you're going to do business and build manufacturing facilities there.

"We've been implementing automation and process, building and combustion controls in Brazil and other parts of Latin America for more than 50 years, and even installed some of the first DCSs in Chile's copper mines and Venezuela's oil fields in the 1980s," says Gustavo Galambos, mega-projects director for Latin America at Honeywell Process Solutions. "We've seen that one of the best ways to develop and support far-away process applications is to have a government in that region that provides incentives to develop local resources. For example, Brazil built many of its oil and gas refineries in the 1970s, but it also encouraged its universities to create the electronics and controls curriculum that could be used in its process applications, and now it's a leader in the deep-water oil and gas industry."

Likewise, Garalambos adds that Honeywell's history and foundation in many developing economies helps its users gain efficiencies as well. For example, Alcoa has worked with Honeywell for several years on their joint Quality Automation Solutions for Alumina Refineries (QUASAR) program, which has standardized process controls and infrastructures and reduced emissions at multiple Alcoa refineries in five countries, including three in Australia and one each in Jamaica, Suriname, Brazil and Spain. QUASAR began by collecting and combining best practices from each plant, and setting up a centralized monitoring system that allows experts to analyze and rectify controls performance. Next it established a co-sourced support center available 24/7 to provide integrated support and maintenance to help reduce downtime, and organized a dedicated implementation team for rapid QUASAR deployment at each location to reduce costs, improve quality and minimized plant interruption.

"To accomplish this never-before attempted feat, we needed to partner with someone that had the process control products and solutions expertise, but also understood the cross-cultural challenges affecting seven different sites, multiple countries and cultures, and four different languages," says Dennis Mason, process systems manager for global refining at Alcoa. "Working with Honeywell under the QUASAR program, we expected to see improved alumina production rates, reductions in our raw materials consumption and costs, and increased technology transfers between our refineries. We've consistently exceeded expectations in those areas. What took our combined team just five to six years to accomplish would have taken us more than 20 years internally."

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