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Standardized automation boosts productivity at Occidental

Nov. 22, 2019

“We need systems to be easy to deploy, and flexible, as standard automation does not mean standard facilities.” Occidental’s Alan Bryant discussed the company’s drive to standardize its Permian Basin automation platforms on a handful of factory-assembled Rockwell Automation cabinets. 

An ever increasing quantity of legacy equipment with disparate and aging controls might not be the ideal starting place for standardization, but it sure makes you want it. In 2000, Occidental Petroleum’s Permian Basin operations expanded with acquisitions of existing wells from Shell, Amoco and others, including their existing systems.

“We had probably one of everything ever made, and a lot of different SCADA systems,” said Alan Bryant, senior automation engineering advisor, Occidental, who presented with colleague Mauricio Castillo, industrial control systems advisor, in the Oil & Gas Forum at Automation Fair 2019 this week in Chicago.

Occidental is in the upstream business. “We pump it out of the ground, separate the oil, water and gas, and sell it,” Bryant said. Its Permian basin is 75,000 square miles over west Texas and New Mexico. “The field we’re talking about is 90 square miles, a wide area to cover with SCADA, with thousands of wells,” he said.

Bryant joined the company in 2003, and his first job was to develop an open automation SCADA system to join those wells together. In 2005, his group standardized on an approved vendor list, “but having legacy hardware also meant we had legacy people, and we could only get it down to three PLC vendors,” he said. Still, they standardized hardware, protocols and programming at the upper levels.

“In 2011, we settled on Rockwell Automation, as ControlLogix 5000 could support everything in one platform. That allowed us to standardize programming at the lower levels,” Bryant said. “It helped that at that point, we consolidated the automation function, with 45 technicians under one manager. That manager wanted a single system to support.”

About that time, the company reorganized the automation into two groups—one for supporting existing oil rigs (EOR), another for exploration, drilling and unusual applications called BU. Bryant became part of EOR, Castillo is in BU. “EOR had a small annual budget for some proactive replacements, but mostly replacement at failure,” Bryant said. “We had standard panels made that we could quickly deploy for upgrades and at new wells on skids.

“We have a standard CPU box, power supply box, and remote I/O boxes for wells, separators and test. Today, we have Rockwell Automation send us complete, factory-built panels. We can deploy standard programming to standard CPUs and we’re ready to go.”

New and unusual applications

In 2017, the BU group wanted to develop a standard approach to new and unusual applications. “We also do a good amount of drilling and new wells with flow lines and facilities, that have their own requirements,” said Castillo. “Time is money in this business—one or two days delay costs far more than small parts of field systems. We need systems to be easy to deploy, and flexible, as standard automation does not mean standard facilities.”

The group was doing too much customization of specific panels. It needed shorter lead times and the ability to make quick late changes. “We’re concerned about total cost of ownership (TCO), not just low initial cost,” Castillo said. “We need the ability to maintain, and to add equipment, upgrades and I/O later on. And a dependable supply chain.”

A typical well train will have the wells plus separators, a heater treater, oil tanks, water tanks, a water transfer station, gas scrubber, flare and gas and oil metering, with the associated pumps, valves and instrumentation.

BU’s standardized approach identifies automation requirements by equipment (PLC or Remote I/O); enclosure size—tiny, small, or medium; type (CPU and module setup); base/expansion (module quantity); version; and inventory name (description). The result is seven equipment types that can be matched to the requirements. “You can put them together to get what you need,” Castillo said. “You can go with a base version or provide room for expansion or to customize or add equipment.”

They also standardized on 11 versions of wire harnesses. “It takes minutes to wire versus hours for point-to-point, with better quality control and serviceability,” Castillo said, “And if there’s a wiring problem, you can just change the cable.”

Once they design a train, if a second train comes on, they can just duplicate the system. “We can have standard, prebuilt boxes in inventory instead of building custom panels,” Castillo said. “And over time, as new versions and processors come out, we can migrate to them so when an old one goes obsolete, we already know what to replace it with.”

They have optimized designs with better documentation and streamlined procurement. “I can call the vendor and say I want 20 of these over the next six months,” Castillo said. “We have the equipment on-hand to deploy on a construction site so the crews can make the connections and test everything, fast.”

Having the same equipment everywhere makes it easier to train people. And, if they find out in the field that there’s a problem with a component, like a terminal block, they can re-specify it and correct the inventory.

“Standardization can work in any industry, not just oil & gas,” Castillo said. “But, if you have 13 ways to do things and decide to standardize, don’t end up with 14 standards.”

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