National Instrument’s LabVIEW is helping to power advances in vital monitoring equipment
Monitoring high-powered equipment in remote locations is tough. If the environment does not present enough of a hurdle, operators have to find monitoring packages hardy enough to withstand transport, rig-up and use. You then need software capable of providing the accurate and timely data needed.
That was the problem faced by Houston’s Lime Instruments when designing and programming its controls and instrumentation technology for their oil well monitoring systems.
The company’s monitoring system is designed to analyse the performance of vital pump components during operation. One of its main product lines is focused on monitoring high-pressure fracturing pumps in well-stimulation applications.
Each fracturing unit typically has a high horsepower diesel engine and transmission mated to a triplex or quintaplex pump. Both the engine and the transmission come equipped with an electronic interface that monitors critical functions and provides diagnostic information as the unit is running. The engine and transmission send out the data they monitor via an SAE J1939 communication protocol.
Prior to Lime’s solution, pumps in the industry did not usually contain more than a couple of discrete sensors that monitored their critical operating parameters. Typically, discharge pressure, RPM, lube oil pressure and lube oil temperature are monitored, each of which is measured with an individual sensor and signal cable that goes back to the main control console.
Lime looked to create a system which would monitor these functions as well as several others and transmit that data back to the main control console via the same SAE J1939 controller area network (CAN) protocol. The monitoring system needs to look for data characteristics outside the normal operating envelope and failure conditions. With this real-time information, operators can determine if they should cease operation or continue based on real performance indications from the pump.
Ultimately, this system should reduce the number of pump failures as well as overall pump maintenance costs, saving time and money.
The road to RIO
The final system is based on National Instruments’ (NI) CompactRIO and NI Single-Board RIO hardware, with software designed using the company’s LabVIEW platform. This is used to program the real-time processor, field-programmable gate array (FPGA), and input/output (I/O) for the CompactRIO system. Lime Instruments’ CEO Robert Stewart commented: “Other hardware solutions we considered were not able to provide the high-speed I/O and analysis to catch the momentary pressure spikes and vibration indications of these oil well service fracturing pumps.”
CompactRIO also provides a robust hardware package – vital if fracking equipment is to be moved through rough and unforgiving terrain, even before it has to monitor pump vibrations.
In addition, the ability to develop the control software rapidly proved critical to Lime, especially in an oil and gas gas application. Stewart added: “We can develop software in LabVIEW faster than most other programming environments… What most C programmers take two years to do, we can accomplish in a couple of months. We can use [these] time savings to get to market quicker and capitalise on our competitors’ lag time.”
It also allowed Lime to work with a number of sensor packages, including pressure transducers, magnetic pickup sensors, digital encoders, temperature sensors, nuclear densitometers, magnetic flow meters and Correollis flow meters, all of which can be integrated into coiled-tubing fatigue and wellbore-simulation software.
In addition to successful work with Lime Instruments, NI has used its adaptive software and hardware offering in a number of other oil and gas applications. Mud-Gas separators, coil tube drilling control, condition monitoring and predictive maintenance have used platforms such as CompactRIO and InsightCM, to name but a few.
With a comprehensive track record within the oil and gas industry, NI will continue to innovate and develop product lines and support to fuel efficiency, effectiveness and game-changing new ideas.