Case Study: PC-based Control Optimizes Oil and Gas Production

Case Study: PC-based Control Optimizes Oil and Gas Production
Case Study: PC-based Control Optimizes Oil and Gas Production

Since FourPhase was founded in Norway in 2012, it has been committed to optimizing and enhancing the efficiency of established oil and gas extraction processes through modern technologies. By implementing innovative concepts, FourPhase paves the way for its customers to increase their production and remain consistently profitable. Jørgen Bruntveit, chief technology officer and chief operating officer at FourPhase, believes leading-edge solutions are the key for companies to thrive in a cost-intensive and traditional industry.

Solids can severely disrupt the production of crude oil and natural gas. Cyclonic separation reduces costs and increases availability. (© FourPhase)

FourPhase makes changes to traditional oil and gas production processes

Working at company sites in Bergen, Norway, and Aberdeen, Scotland, FourPhase’s experienced team aims to bring sustainable change to the traditional oil and gas industry. FourPhase ensures that solids are continuously separated from oil and gas production. This protects other system components, such as separators, valves or pumps, enables solids-free flow and creates the conditions for producers to perform oil and gas extraction processes without costly and time-consuming well interventions due to wellbore blockage from solids. Ultimately, FourPhase’s solution eliminates production downtime.

The separation of solids in the production of oil and gas is extremely important in order to protect the process system and ensure uninterrupted oil and gas production. (© FourPhase)

Solids production has detrimental effects on oil and gas production performance. Commonly there are downhole screens installed to eliminate solids production, but by nature of the design, downhole screen is either over or undersized; either becoming a restriction or not having the desired protection. In addition, downhole screens are extremely prone to erosion and mechanical collapse resulting in loss of protection. The surface production systems are normally not equipped to manage solids production. As a result, oil and gas production gets choked back allowing solids to accumulate downhole and eventually lead to a partial or complete blockage of the wellbore. Costly and energy-intensive heavy intervention (such as Coiled Tubing) is then required to clear the blockage.

Jørgen Bruntveit during a plant test: With the CPX3721, the operator has the operational status in view at all times and can intervene if necessary. (© FourPhase)

An enhanced control system as a global success factor

“The applications of our technology are very diverse in terms of the type, amount and configuration of equipment required. We chose a control system that is both modular and centralized,” said Bruntveit. “All applications are fitted with a ‘brain box’ that acts as a central hub and includes the main PLC, a Beckhoff CX5140-0155 Embedded PC. All additional units have local I/O boxes that communicate with the brain box via EtherCAT. The system is operated via a human machine interface (HMI) that uses elements and functions in compliance with the European standard for nuclear power plants (IEC 61772). While the system is primarily operated from our control room, local access to all functions is also possible via the Local Control Panel (LCP), a Beckhoff CPX3721-0010.”

Plants that process oil and gas products place high demands on explosion protection. With the ELX system, signals from the hazardous areas can be processed safely. (© FourPhase)

This “core control system” or elements of it are used in every system the company operates. Harnessing the power of this technology, FourPhase has enjoyed international success in several countries, including Norway, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, the United States and Malaysia. In its work, FourPhase puts particular emphasis on continuous improvement and the cross-system transfer of knowledge and learning experiences. As such, practicality dictates that the company’s entire portfolio is based on the same control system.

Oil and gas is a cost-intensive and traditional industry. Therefore, a reliable and future-proof automation system is needed to be competitive. (© FourPhase)

Explosion protection and extreme environmental conditions as significant challenges

Oil and gas extraction is a very challenging field in which the technologies and components used are subject to exacting requirements. “Our systems are used under extreme conditions. They operate under high pressure and temperatures and are exposed to extreme wear. Any operator error, such as performing an incorrect sequence or function, would have serious consequences for both staff and the environment,” Bruntveit said. “In light of this, the design work focused on the user as well as protection and safety aspects. The biggest challenge was striking the perfect balance between safety and usability. Since our operations are so dynamic and operating parameters are constantly changing, we are unable to work with a ‘fixed’ program. As such, it was difficult to give the program enough flexibility to accommodate a ‘human touch.’”

The ruggedized aluminum housings of the CPX panels make them ideal for use in harsh environments. (© FourPhase)

FourPhase designs systems predominantly for use in hazardous areas. This means that Bruntveit and his team have to overcome additional challenges in their day-to-day work. In particular, explosion protection requires extensive expert knowledge as well as high-quality and certified components.

“Our systems are used under extreme conditions. They operate under high pressure and temperatures and are exposed to extreme wear. Any operator error, such as performing an incorrect sequence or function, would have serious consequences for both staff and the environment,” says Jørgen Bruntveit. (© FourPhase)

“Electronics designed for these applications are usually from an older generation and are not sufficient to meet current requirements. Beckhoff Ex-certified products mean all requirements can be met unconditionally, as particular emphasis is put on implementing state-of-the-art electronics in the explosion-protected environment as well. It is also important that the products are certified in compliance with global standards and can therefore be used without restriction. What’s more, we have achieved a significant reduction in the response time of our systems by using EtherCAT. Through the modular scalability of I/O systems and the flexibility of PC-based control technology, I am also convinced that we can cover every possible application in our system,” said Bruntveit.

Jørgen Bruntveit, chief technology officer and chief operating officer at FourPhase. (© FourPhase)

With the help of the Beckhoff Ex portfolio, FourPhase is able to offer its customers innovative systems and options to extract oil and gas efficiently. “Our system has benefited in every respect through implementing Beckhoff products. The quality requirements of Beckhoff and FourPhase are fully aligned and pave the way for good integration. By using Beckhoff products, we have made major progress in the field of remote operation and can now perform complex controls even under extreme conditions and over long distances,” he added.

For its 'brainbox' FourPhase uses a CX5140, this functions simultaneously as a central hub and PLC. (© FourPhase)

Beckhoff as a trustworthy and reliable partner in hazardous areas

FourPhase relies on Beckhoff as a partner for its future-proof solutions. This trust in a company and its products is built up gradually over time and grows very organically, according to Bruntveit.

The ELX system helped FourPhase significantly reduce control cabinet footprint while increasing signal quality. (© FourPhase)

“Ultimately, you need a reliable product, but a lot of other elements contribute to building that trust. Everything makes a significant contribution–from technical documentation to customer support and on-site service. For a smaller company like FourPhase, it can be rather difficult to get the same level of attention and precedence as a bigger customer. In this sense, we were astonished at how Beckhoff provides help with problems,” he said. “We had an emergency in one of our systems and urgently needed a component to ensure it could operate safely. Thanks to the direct communication within the company between sales and product management, we were able to get an appropriate replacement very quickly and easily. With the help of Beckhoff, we were able to keep the downtime of the system to a minimum. The approach that Beckhoff took and the way they handled this incident has cemented our trust in them.”

By using EtherCAT, FourPhase has significantly reduced system response times. The modular, scalable I/O systems and the flexibility of PC-based control technology cover every application. (© FourPhase)

About The Author

Andres Oetken works in Business Management Process Industry at Beckhoff Automation.

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