Process control maintenance services: In-house or hired out?

System integration and maintenance services for process control systems and IT infrastructure extend through the full lifecycle of a project. When deciding between in-house or hired-out integrator, consider the quality and type of services available, and ask the following questions.

By Vladimir Morenko May 16, 2012

There can be advantages to outsourcing maintenance services for process control systems and IT infrastructure. Ask these questions when making the decision between inside or hired-out services.

  • What does the customer receive if he gets an engineering company involved in service maintenance at all stages of a control system lifecycle?
  • What essential components determine the quality of services?
  • What criteria should be used to choose service contractor?
  • What to choose: services of an automation vendor or services of an independent system integrator?
  • How can one reconcile requirements for the independence of the system integrator and his loyalty to the vendor? Answers to these and other questions follow.

Project lifecycle

1. Stages of oil field lifecycle translate into different requirements for engineering companies.

Main stages of lifecycle of process automation systems and industrial information systems in oil production include design, commissioning, and maintenance and depend largely on the lifecycle of the oil field.

Oil fields are continuously developing. New wells are drilled, pipelines are laid, and new facilities are constructed and equipped with process automation systems. Geological, technological, and service departments and management of oil companies set new requirements for information systems. Requirements of market regulators and supervising authorities are constantly changing. In other words, commissioning of process automation systems and information systems is just the beginning: Control systems of all levels will go through a complex lifecycle and provide effective process control and a high safety level at every stage.

Construction, which is in most cases carried out under an engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contract, is characterized by a large budget, an enormous amount of work, tight deadlines, large volumes of resources, and high risks. The share of cost of automation systems in such contracts is relatively low.

Process automation systems and information systems for oil fields are often developed by a MAC (main automation contractor) capable of delivering a full scope of services within industrial automation from design to commissioning. It is universal practice among oil companies and EPC contractors to choose global financially stable MACs, which can also act as MIVs (main instrumentation vendors) and have resources to carry out large-scale automation projects with minimum risks.

The operation stage of automation systems and information systems differs considerably from the construction stage. It is always a long-term project with relatively tight budgets and a high level of responsibility for ensuring trouble-free and accident-free operation of hardware. Continuous modifications are required due to the changing requirements of users as well as the moral and physical aging of solutions. At this stage an engineering company must be oriented to long-term relations and be able to provide high-quality services at remote facilities for reasonable prices and in compliance with requirements of local regulating authorities. Medium-sized and large international or local engineering companies prove to be the most effective players at the operation stage.

Service quality is evidently the key criterion for selecting a system integrator at the operation stage of process automation systems and information systems. Thus, when deciding between an in-house or hired-out integrator, one should consider the contractor company that ensures the required set and quality of services.

What features determine the quality of services, and what requirements should a service contractor meet?

2. Anatomy of service quality: What should a contractor be able to do?

Based on service maintenance experiences, the following tasks should be fulfilled at the stage of process automation systems, information systems, and instrumentation operation:

  • Minimize risks related to control systems of various levels (instrumentation, field facilities control, supervisory control level, manufacturing control)
  • Secure the required level of accessibility and reliability of control systems
  • Minimize downtime of main process equipment (production, injection wells, booster pump stations, central processing facilities, pipelines, etc.)
  • Increase energy efficiency and equipment productivity
  • Increase quality of products
  • Minimize repair time and ensure high quality of repair
  • Reduce cost of equipment maintenance
  • Continuously modernize system hardware and software, responding quickly to changes in technologies and requirements of regulating authorities

To reach these goals a service contractor should have the experience and resources to:

  • Schedule preventive maintenance of process automation systems, information systems, and instrumentation
  • Do unscheduled repair work
  • Perform system modification including design, manufacturing, supply, assembly, start-up, and checks
  • Start up facilities operations
  • Investigate equipment failures
  • Maintain operating documents and manuals for maintained systems
  • Maintain reasonable levels of spare parts and components
  • Submit reporting documents for performed work

Preventive maintenance includes routine maintenance, routine repair, maintenance and metrological service of measurement instruments, maintenance and management of information infrastructure and systems, and checks of emergency protection after scheduled repairs. All work is done according to yearly, monthly, and weekly schedules approved by the customer.

Contractors must have adequate resources to carry out unscheduled work, which is inevitable at any operating facility, in a timely manner and with high quality. Effective actions in emergency and post-emergency situations require a work requests processing system, shift work schedules, formalized process of work transfer between shifts, ability to comply with requirements of industrial safety, and labor protection for various customers.

System modification and retrofitting are priority tasks for developing oil fields that require engagement of a full-fledged engineering company experienced in design, fabrication, assembly, and start-up of automation systems and information systems. To guarantee continuous optimization of process automation systems, information systems, and instrumentation under conditions of growing business demands, an independent full-cycle engineering company is required, not just a service company.

Modification of automation systems and information systems is done both upon customer’s requests and based on results of periodic on-site audits conducted by a contractor company. Recommendations and a feasibility study are identified in documented reports. Audit results and preventive maintenance play an important role in detecting vulnerabilities of the systems because based on failure statistics and an analysis of failure causes, experts can develop a complex of preventive measures to eliminate emerging problems. Modification of automation and information systems can also be required due to new technologies, moral and physical obsolescence of systems and equipment, and changes in legislation.

Importance of modification can be illustrated with the following example.

During the last 15 years, oil fields in the Russian Federation have undergone considerable changes related to implementation of smart field technologies. This resulted in significant changes in the requirements to process automation systems, information systems, and instrumentation. Insist Avtomatika started working in the oil industry in Russia when smart technologies were unknown, but in the course of work under long-term service contracts, the company, in cooperation with the customer’s team, provided modification of automation systems and information systems on the basis of smart field technology. The new experience and highly qualified personnel ensured synergetic effects unreachable under short-term contracts.

Submit the following minimum set of report documents to the customer for tracking the condition of automation systems and information systems and control their current configuration:

  • Work completion certificates for repair and modification of systems and instrumentation
  • Protection/check reports
  • Reports on IT infrastructure administration
  • Reports on real-time database administration
  • Work completion certificates for metrological service
  • Documents on the handing over of shift work

The role of personnel in service maintenance is crucial. The ability of personnel of all levels to reach an understanding with the customer and efficiently solve emerging problems is one of the distinctions of a professional service company. Cultural tolerance and experience in a multicultural environment are also extremely important when working in international markets.

3. How is service quality provided?

Service quality can be provided only if a contractor satisfies the following contradictory criteria:

  • Full scope of engineering services
  • Independence
  • Loyalty to vendors
  • Extensive experience with long-term maintenance contracts
  • International best practices in services management
  • Experience in industry and high qualification
  • Innovative culture
  • International cooperation

Collaborating with a full-cycle engineering company, the oil company gets access to professional resources that are needed to modify and develop process automation systems. This ensures maximum benefit from collaboration and minimizes risks.

Independence of the engineering company is not an end in itself but required instrument that ensures real focus on customers and includes several aspects: decision-making independence, independence from contractors, and independence from vendors.

Independence in decision-making is based on the legal and financial independence of the company. Independence from contractors is ensured by their own fabrication facilities and a comprehensive system of contractor assessment and management.

Independence from vendors means that the company does not have to limit itself to the products of one vendor and can apply software and hardware of various vendors based on the customer’s requirements.

The engineering company’s independence from automation vendors is not absolute. Moreover, independence can be reached only if an engineering company is able to provide and maintain real loyalty to automation vendors for a long period of time. Ironically, loyalty to some vendors is a prerequisite for the real independence of an engineering company. So independence of an engineering company can be assessed by the number of vendors to which the company is loyal. Loyalty to a specific vendor can be assessed based on the number of personnel trained and certified by a vendor and experience in application of the vendor’s products.

Involvement of a loyal vendor engineering company in the early stages of the project seems to be one of the prerequisites for a successful win-win strategy beneficial to all participants. At each stage of the project, the customer faces a complex task: to come to a compromise between quality and the price of solutions suggested, in most cases, by the vendor and the quality of services and the total cost of the project (determined by the vendor and/or service company).

Within the framework of each project, the engineering company must balance the interests of the vendor who supplies the equipment and spare parts with the customer who strives to reduce operating costs, and meet its own goals.

It is universally recognized that a quality management system certified in compliance with ISO 9001:2008 allows the company to maintain a high quality of goods and services. The Control System Integrators Association (CSIA, USA) also is committed to promoting best business practices and benchmarks in the field of process automation systems. CSIA membership guarantees that the company continuously works on:

  • Implementation of the best world practices
  • Increasing customer satisfaction
  • Implementation of goods and services quality management system
  • Decreasing costs
  • Personnel development and training

Today international cooperation is a must. Self-reliance is not the best decision in a situation when free exchange of qualification, technologies, experience, and solutions ensures the company’s competitiveness, high technological level of solutions, and high quality of services. The situation is complicated by the increased scale and complexity of international projects requiring large engineering teams at all stages of the process automation system lifecycle. So it is highly desirable for the contractor to be a member of an international system integrators association, such as the Automation Alliance Group (AAG, USA) that provides the advantages of international cooperation:

  • Shared resources and free exchange of information
  • Global presence and access to local markets
  • Common quality standards

An engineering company with personnel experienced in international projects, and innovative corporative culture is the requirement for today and tomorrow.
(Automation Alliance Group is a CSIA member as of 2/26/2015)

4. Requirements lists minimize risk

This proposed list of requirements for qualification and criteria of the service contractor is clearly not exhaustive, but Insist Avtomatika’s experiences suggest that meeting these criteria allows oil companies to minimize risks at the field operation stage and enhance production indicators.

The author thanks Andrey Perminov, Sergey Faruntsev, and Elena Kholina for their contributions to this article.

– Vladimir Morenko is director-general, Industrial Automation Systems LLC (Insist Avtomatika), Russia. Insist Avtomatika is the only Russian member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) as of this submission. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering.

ONLINE extra

About the company: Industrial Automation Systems LLC (Insist Avtomatika) is a Russian control systems integrator that provides process automation solutions for customers in oil and gas, petrochemistry, transportation, and mining industries. The company offers a full scope of services including design, fabrication, start-up, commissioning, maintenance, and support.

Headquarters and main production facilities are located in Omsk, a representative office in Moscow, and a branch in Jebel Ali Free Zone, Dubai, U.A.E., established to support projects carried out in the Middle East. The article above draws on company experiences in long-term service contracts with the companies Salym Petroleum Development N.V. (joint venture of Shell and Sibir Energy) and TNK-Uvat (joint venture of BP and TNK).

Insist Avtomatika consistently maintains loyalty to vendors and has experience with large-scale automation projects based on equipment of various vendors: the Priobskoe oil field of Rosneft company (more than 40,000 I/O signals, Emerson), the Nakhodka gas condensate field of LUKOIL company (more than 10,000 I/O signals, Siemens), the Vankor oil field of Rosneft company (more than 30,000 I/O signals, Emerson), the Salym group of fields of Salym Petroleum Development N.V. (more than 100,000 I/O signals, Rockwell Automation), the Uvat group of fields of TNK-BP (more than 40,000 I/O signals, Rockwell Automation), and others.

Year of establishment: 1993

Certificates: EN ISO 9001:2008, TRACE

Work experience: More than 350 process automation system and information system projects in the oil and gas industry and metallurgy

Personnel: 215 employees

Industrial Automation Systems LLC (Insist Avtomatika) is a CSIA member as of 2/26/2015