The oil & gas industry faces unique and complex maintenance challenges. Facilities across the production process often operate in extremely difficult conditions that increase the likelihood of equipment degradation and failure.
In such challenging environments, the consequences of an undetected fault can be severe. Left unrepaired, even seemingly minor issues can grow into catastrophic failures that lead to damaged equipment, environmental destruction, injuries, and disrupted operations that have a long-term impact on profitability.
Further, high-value assets and critical components must be regularly inspected to meet regulatory requirements, with the potential for substantial fines and penalties in cases of non-compliance.
Given these challenges, it is clear that traditional approaches to maintenance can only go so far. As the industry embraces new technologies and adopts new data-driven solutions, the time is now to shift away from a scheduled maintenance program and transition toward a Condition-Based Maintenance strategy.
The Limitations of Physical Inspections and Scheduled Maintenance
Historically, oil & gas companies have tended to rely on a time-based approach to maintenance and repairs. A maintenance schedule was assigned to each asset, and crews were dispatched to the site at regular intervals or in response to a known issue.
Once on-site, teams used a variety of handheld sensors, optical gas imaging (OGI) cameras, sniffers, and other measurement tools to assess the status of equipment, detect leaks, and record data for future analysis.
While this approach can work, the limitations are obvious. Not only is it time-consuming and expensive to send a team to each facility, but it can also be highly dangerous, especially when traveling to offshore oil platforms or other remote and hazardous sites.
Moreover, because data is only taken periodically, it is impossible to detect faults that occur in between these inspections. It is inherently reactive, with limited opportunities for predictive or pre-emptive maintenance that prevent an issue from occurring in the first place.
For example, a small methane leak could go unnoticed by technicians. Left unchecked, the leak could continue to grow until the next scheduled inspection, wasting product, contributing vast quantities of greenhouse gas emissions and making the area unsafe to work in.
Manual data collection also increases the chance that errors, omissions, or other oversights result in inaccurate data. And the gaps between inspections make it more difficult to identify trends or conduct root cause analysis when an issue does occur.
Physical inspections will always have a role to play. But as regulatory requirements become more demanding, conducting more and more physical inspections comes with a significant added cost to the Operations & Maintenance department.
What Is Condition-Based Maintenance?
Unlike traditional time-based maintenance, a Condition-Based Maintenance strategy focuses on monitoring and assessing the actual health and performance of equipment to determine the optimal maintenance requirements.
With safe-area and explosion-proof thermal and visual cameras and advanced analytics, the Operations & Maintenance team gains access to continuous monitoring and real-time data, which they can use to detect and diagnose issues remotely before sending a crew to conduct the repair.
Thermal cameras are especially suited to this, as a sudden or prolonged change in temperature often indicates a problem. Upon receiving an alert, the team can use the high-resolution video camera to visually inspect the equipment, check gauges, determine the cause, and prioritize a response.
Similarly, mounted OGI cameras provide automatic 24/7 leak detection across an entire facility, without the dependence on weather conditions or proximity that other technologies suffer from.
Instead of being reactive, Condition-Based Maintenance takes a proactive approach and allows the Operations & Maintenance team to prolong the life of equipment, mitigate the risk of catastrophic failure, reduce planned maintenance costs, and effectively allocate scarce technical resources.
Transitioning Toward a Condition-Based Maintenance Strategy
While the specific implementation will vary depending on the needs of the business, a Condition-Based Maintenance strategy benefits oil & gas companies at all stages of the production process.
Upstream producers, for example, can monitor hazardous sites without putting crews at risk, while midstream storage facilities can monitor for spills or leaks caused by degradation and corrosion. Downstream, oil refineries and natural gas processing plants can optimize performance, improve productivity, and extend the life of equipment.
With the right technology, the Operations & Maintenance team can shift away from time-based physical inspections and fixed maintenance schedules. By deploying safe-area and explosion-proof thermal and visual sensors, oil & gas companies can transition toward a data-driven, proactive approach to maintenance that allows for the early detection, diagnosis, and repair of minor issues before they become more severe threats.