Saudi-Aramco: Rationalisation but not at all cost
The market in oil and gas has forced the industry to rationalize in terms of CAPEX and OPEX for new and existing projects, including valves. This especially applies to off the shelf products. For more demanding applications, however, quality remains key. “The cost factor remains important but we tend to look more at the TCO for these critical applications.”
Article by Lucien Joppen
Bader Al-Jarallah (see box text Valve specialist) has been working for Saudi- Aramco for 23 years. His current function at one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies requires a broad vision on the valve and actuation sector both from a technical and commercial standpoint.
“My responsibilities include: giving support to operating facilities and to company projects in Saudi-Arabia and abroad, standard development and updates, technology development and transfer, professional development and strategic sourcing and vendor approvals. In other words, I get around”, Bader smiles. As mentioned before, cost has become more important in oil and gas, partly/mainly to compensate for low(er) barrel prices. “With the current market situation we are faced with the challenge to balance between cost and quality. The key question being: how can we source valves that comply with the required standards and still get a good price? As for commodity valves, this job is relatively easy as there are numerous suppliers, also from low(er) cost countries that are able to deliver. For more critical applications this is more of a challenge.”
Higher valve reliability
As is common in the industry, these applications require more bespoke solutions that require end users to work more closely - on one-on-one basis, with valve manufacturers to develop custom products and to pursue specific requirements. “Qualification programs of these new designs also pose a challenge as these programs are costly and time consuming. Nevertheless, these are necessary to prevent future issues as much as possible. As you know, in- and external leaks and malfunctioning valves, due to getting stuck, are still causing problems in the oil & gas sector. This is primarily a (worker’s) safety issue but increasingly environmental factors come into play, especially fugitive emissions and CO2-emissions and stricter international regulation on these topics.”
In terms of new product development in valves, Bader sees room for improvement in solutions that address the aforementioned issues, especially as outside conditions and media in the upstream side have become more demanding due to the advance of deepwater drilling, operating in arctic conditions, and handling more aggressive or corrosive media.” There is clear market demand for higher valve reliability which in turn reduces the total cost of ownership.”
Pushing the envelope
Bader continues: “There is still room for improvement in critical valves - for example HIPPS-valves - in design and material selection (packings, coatings, sealings) and special welding processes. To give you a specific example: the development in metal coatings to be able to achieve tight shutoff and the quick action required for HIPPS-valves (partial seconed). Another example is the development of reliable packings for high pressure, high temperature (HPHT) systems.” This means that suppliers have to push the envelope in order for their valves to remain reliable under more demanding conditions.
In fact, Mr. Al-Jarallah expects these valves to have longer life cycles. This depends on the specific application, therefore he can’t narrow it down to a percentage or an absolute number. “In some applications there is no planned shutdown for the expected service of the valve (25 years), whereas in other applications there is an overhaul every 5 years. Of course, this is not only a question of the valve in question, but also of the installation, operational procedures and maintenance.”
Talking about maintenance: Saudi Aramco has opted for Performance Based Preventive Maintenance. As Bader puts it, “we don’t want to be reactive but pro-active”. Based upon relevant data and parameters, such as ‘valve operational criticality’, maintenance records and operational historical records, frequency of operation and service hazards and the severity of the flowing medium, Saudi Aramco plans preventive maintenance intervals.
“We have succeeded in extending the life cycle of our critical valves. The extension depends on the application and failure mode. Recorders indicate that in some cases the mean time between failure MTBF was doubled after the introduction of the preventive maintenance. As for predictive maintenance, it is our ideal goal but it’s not practical, given our massive valve population. Therefore we have adopted predictive maintenance only for some critical applications, such as HIPPS valves, emergency isolation valves, and some operational-critical control valves. We monitor parameters such as vibration, torque, pressure variations, seat leakages, travel emission measurements and actuator performance.
We use different systems that are utilized to collect the appropriate data. Locally we can do this via infra-red or Bluetooth. In other applications, for example in the field, the instrument is connected to the DCS system. These field data is analyzed simultaneously, allowing the operator to monitor the valve performance from the control room”.
Regulated vendor list
An important part of Bader’s job is to monitor valve suppliers that are featured on Saudi Aramco’s Approved Manufacturer or Vendor List (AML/AVL). “In order to ensure the quality and integrity - especially of our critical valve park - we maintain a regulated vendor list. The right selection of the supplier is the first step towards an optimized TCO. Of course, we are always open to new suppliers for which we have developed a standardized application procedure via our company website. Our sourcing strategy is dynamic and intended to meet our company’s demand for local suppliers that are close to our operations with their production and assembly facilities. I encourage valve manufacturers to pursue these local opportunities.”
For the more critical applications, there are ample opportunities for existing and potential suppliers through addressing the technical challanges. As Bader has indicated, there are opportunities both in valve and material design/selection and better processing (welding). Also for the actuation part there is room between the current offering and the imaginary ceiling. “Faster (shut off) response times, lower torques that are required and digitalisation are functionalities that are already optimized and could be developed further.”
Focus on gas
Saudi Aramco, owned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is a fully integrated, global petroleum and chemicals enterprise. The company is the world’s largest integrated oil and gas company.
Saudi Aramco manages proven conventional crude oil and condensate reserves of 260.8 billion barrels. The average daily crude production is 10.2 million barrels per day (bpd), and the company has stewardship of natural gas reserves of 298.7 trillion standard cubic feet (scf)*. (source: Saudi Aramco website) For the near future, Saudi Aramco has stated it aims to double its gas production “This reflects our commitment to introducing new supplies of cleanburning natural gas. These new supplies will help reduce domestic reliance on liquid fuels for power generation, enable increased liquids exports, provide feedstock to petrochemical industries, and reduce carbon emissions,” Amin Nasser, CEO of Aramco said to Reuters news agency.
Bader Al-Jarallah is Saudi Aramco’s Valve Engineering Specialist. He works for the Consulting Service Department Piping and Valve Engineering Group. Bader joined Saudi Aramco in 1995 and since then he has dealt with various responsibilities pertaining to valves: valve design, commissioning, operations & maintenance issues.
He served as the Chairman of Valve Engineering Standards Committee as well as a committee member of several engineering valve standards. He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and M.S. in Material Engineering. Bader has achieved several international certificates related to valves. Bader is a member in several international committees and International conferences and has several publications in the area of valves.