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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Start packing. In remote locations and extreme environments, it can be harder to get what you need to run your process control applications. Supply lines can be stretched thin, if they exist at all, and your usual system integration services aren't just around the corner either. Staffing is likely to be a challenge, too. You must bring in know-how from much further away and provide more extensive education and training to local personnel.

These challenges can seem insurmountable at first. However, if you stop and look at them closely, they're more difficult in degree, but not different in kind from the plans, specifications and punch lists of any other process control project. Certainly, there can be many tricky curveballs to deal with, but many engineering procurement contractors (EPCs) and other experts can help. And almost all the recent advances in process controls and their supporting networks can also enable users to build and operate applications in less developed regions, fulfill local requirements and even help Third World markets and consumers secure more advanced capabilities and benefits.

For instance, Vale Nouvelle Calédonie on the island of New Caledonia, a French island territory in the southwest Pacific about 750 miles east of Australia, has been working with ABB to install new controls and help upgrade its plant for processing minerals from the open-pit Goro deposit, which is one of the world's richest undeveloped laterite bodies with an estimated 55 million tons of measured and indicated nickel ore reserves (Figure 1).

Besides implementing one of the world's largest System 800xA automation applications without incurring downtime, Vale and ABB also had to develop and submit all project documents and drawings in French as well as English to comply with local regulations. The 800xA system includes 48 operator workstations, 10 engineering workstations, 8,000 HART-capable instruments, two OPC clients, 33,000 history logs, 23,000 redundant 800xA tags, 50 AC800M redundant PM 864 controllers and many other components. This 800xA application also has a burner management system (BMS) with three AC 800M HI controllers for three new coal-fired boilers producing electricity and steam for the plant.

In addition, ABB delivered a safety instrumented system (SIS) with its TÜV-certified Functional Safety Management System (FSMS), which uses five more AC 800M HI controllers for processing LPG during ship unloading and port handling. Finally, ABB provided Vale's ore-processing plant with purpose-defined software libraries, which enabled a framework for standardized alarms and events, and allowed English-to-French translation functions by the plant's operator terminals.

Also Read "Are You Ready for Process Control?"

"Overall good planning and preparation are what resulted in a successful execution of this upgrade," says Ghislain Belmonte, Vale's technical services manager.

Simpler Plans, Lighter Luggage

Similarly, Perenco recently undertook the largest surface redevelopment project of its onshore and offshore production operations in Gabon on the central west coast of Africa, which required it to build new infrastructures, and reorganize and coordinate numerous platforms, control facilities and industrial networks. "Perenco began production operations in Gabon in 1992 with the acquisition from Total and Marathon of developed, offshore fields near Port-Gentil," says Laurent Mollard, Perenco's senior automation and control systems engineer. "Twenty years later, our yearly average production reached 62,500 barrels of oil equivalents per day (BOEPD) in 2012. This growth was sustained by continuous development of mature fields, an aggressive acquisition strategy and successful exploration, but we really needed to streamline all these production operations and overhaul our infrastructure."

Based in Paris, Perenco is an independent oil and gas company with onshore and offshore operations in 16 countries in northern Europe, Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. In Gabon, Perenco runs 27 oil production sites, including 12 offshore and 15 onshore. Each offshore site can include three to six platforms. The production sites cover an area that's about 400-kilometers long, running north to south off Gabon's coast, and they're networked via a combination of fiber-optic cabling, radios and satellite communications. The company also operates a 450-kilometer, mostly underwater, natural gas pipeline, which covers two production fields, one gas treatment plant and two distribution sites. It also operates two floating storage and offloading (FSO) units to store and export crude oil, and supplies natural gas to the local power plants at Libreville and Port-Gentil (see "Travel Bag of Tricks").

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