Through Life Services (TLS) offers its perspective on obsolescence management, and how careful planning can make a major difference to long-term operating costs and efficiency
Life extension, although a preferable choice for many operators in the current environment, is nonetheless a difficult business. Although using and maintaining current equipment is often cheaper than replacement, additional problems can arise if components fail or modifications need to be made. If these parts are no longer available from a manufacturer or other sources, re-design (or full replacement with new equipment) may be the only option, at even greater costs and with loss of production. Life extension then begins to resemble a false economy.
A slew of recent work in the North and Norwegian Seas – EnQuest’s Thistle Alpha, Statoil’s Oseberg C, BP’s Magnus – illustrates the extent to which operators are facing up to these issues.
Obsolescence management (OM) seeks to mitigate these potential issues. Identifying risk at an early stage – and managing it – means that operators can plan and anticipate the effects of obsolescence, without costly intervention later in the life cycle. Done properly, proactive OM involves operators, manufacturers and the wider supply chain to ensure that obsolescence is managed as an integral part of design, development, production and in-service support. As a result, the financial impact of loss of production or failure can be minimised.
Demand for OM expertise led Stuart Kelly to set up Through Life Support (TLS) with fellow director David Williams. TLS’s aim is to support all the policy, plans, processes, tools and contractual guidance operators need to tackle OM effectively. It also provides one-day awareness and three-day intensive courses and training programmes for those looking to understand the issues.
Although both directors’ backgrounds are in aerospace and defence, Kelly and Williams have been instrumental in recent OM work for oil and gas majors. A 2011 JIP involving BP, Statoil, Total, Chevron, Inpex and Woodside enlisted TLS as part of their efforts to establish an OM strategy for subsea equipment. Its primary role was to develop a Recommended Practice (RP) document which would provide a uniform process for managing obsolescence risk, to “help both operators and the supply chain to understand what was required, and do it in a uniform way,” Kelly says.
“We spent a lot of time with the operators understanding their requirements and their challenges,” he continues. This also involved reaching out to suppliers directly to gain their perspective, and to see what measures could be put in place to encourage proactive OM.
The RP document was published in 2014, and marks an important beachhead in OM strategy for the oil and gas industry – not least, Kelly points out, because it saw 6 firms come together to collaborate on an important standard. The changing nature of the sector and its equipment also means that the scope of OM work has also grown, while shifts in environmental or working policy – e.g. RoHS, RoHS2, WEEE and REACH – can have similar results.
“Proactive OM traditionally looked at high-risk electronics, however, although this is still a significant risk, the discipline now regularly includes the management of non-electronic parts which can also pose an obsolescence risk to equipment,” Kelly continues. Neither is it limited to the subsea sector: “These issues are the same across many sectors, it’s just the equipment (and the potential resolutions) that differs… These processes are applicable to equipment for subsea, topsides, test equipment and more.”
All in all, there is likely to be a significant growth in demand and specifications for OM in the hydrocarbons industry, and Kelly is positive that TLS will play an important role for companies beginning to tackle it. “It’s at an embryonic stage in oil and gas at the moment, but it can only go one way – and TLS wants to be there to help implement these OM plans. If the major operators are contracting for OM now as they are, the supply chain will start to take notice.”
TLS’ next OM course runs October 20-22 in Bristol.