Houston, Texas – An industry-wide shortage of software-experienced engineers and over-extended equipment vendors are the two principal reasons why control systems software and hardware integration issues account for 34% of overall NPT (non-productive time) costs in the oil & gas industry.
Control systems software and hardware integration-related NPT is 67-86% higher than the acceptable rate, depending on the age of the asset, says US-based Athens Group’s in its 2010 NPT Metrics and Initiatives Benchmarkingreport, following a survey of US drilling contractors and operators.
A third major reason for the excessive level of non-productive time in the industry is the late delivery and testing of software. Efforts to mitigate these problems are, apparently, being hampered, says the Athens Group, “mainly by an under-estimation of control systems software-related NPT”.
The report quotes Dan Rabun, chairman, CEO and president of ENSCO Inc. He says the greatest challenge on new-build projects is that much of the equipment is software driven, and ”getting the bugs out of the software is the biggest issue”.
Starting risk mitigation earlier is key to dealing with these issues, according to the survey. It identified the top measures for reducing NPT as: having better defined requirements (67%); improved factory acceptance and commissioning testing (63%); and development of a software-specific risk mitigation plan (59%).
Adoption of simulation testing for topsides, improved training of rig crews, and implementation of alarm management software are the top three NPT reduction initiatives planned for 2011 by drilling contractors and operators, says the report.
Athens Group, therefore, urged a more holistic approach to reducing control systems software and hardware integration-related NPT and schedule delays, including addressing software risk earlier in the lifecycle by:
- Implementing a Concept Phase for newbuilds and refurbs including the creation of a concept of operations (ConOps) document
- Developing a software-specific risk mitigation plan
- Improving requirements definition, and tracking and testing requirements throughout the lifecycle
- Improving factory acceptance testing
- Implementing alarm management software, processes, and audits
The report quotes Geir Slora, senior VP, drilling at Statoil as saying: “We’re getting less output for more and more input,” – referencing the decreasing number of wells per rig, the growing cost per meter drilled, decreasing meters-per-day performance, and increasing day rates.
Also included is a quote from Dan Rabun, chairman, CEO and president of ENSCO Inc. in Drilling Contractor, which asked about the newbuild project challenges that his company has faced.
“A lot of the equipment is software driven, and that was probably the biggest challenge,” said Rabun. “I think that’s what most people are finding with these new rigs - getting the bugs out of the software is the biggest issue.”
Meanwhile, ’overextended equipment vendors’ and the ’industry-wide shortage of software-experienced engineers’ were ranked as the top two causes of control systems software-related NPT.
The study found that drilling contractors and operators are now focusing on mid-term initiatives to help reduce these issues, such as the establishment of contractual software standards and increased software-related training.
“However, they must also manage the immediate and ongoing risks introduced by overextended vendors and the shortage of software-experienced
personnel. This can be achieved through lifecycle project management,” Athens Group commented.
In terms of the skills gap, the Houston firm noted that “seasoned offshore crew members are well-versed in the measures needed to operate and maintain hardware effectively.”
“But, because control systems are relatively new on offshore assets, most have not acquired the software experience necessary to properly maintain or repair control systems; identify when software is the root cause of a failure; triage problems remotely with vendors; or establish, maintain and ensure compliance with software configuration and alarm management policies.”
Due to the “great crew change,” many of these industry veterans will be replaced by new graduates - but that will not necessarily add to the software-specific knowledge on offshore assets, said the Athens Group study.
A recent study conducted by Schlumberger Business Consulting, estimates that the oil and gas industry will lose approximately 5,000 geoscientists and petroleum engineers to natural attrition by 2014.
Most of the new workers entering the industry will have to learn processes and procedures for the operations and maintenance of both hardware and software systems and understand how systems are integrated.
The upcoming influx of entry-level workers, combined with the increased automation and integration needed to extract “hard-to-get” oil and reach “zero injuries” from a safety perspective, will, in turn, increase the need for software-related training.
Over time, software-specific training programs will help the industry become significantly more familiar with processes for effective control systems development, maintenance, and repair.
Given the continued industry-wide shortage of software-experienced personnel, engaging third parties with proven methodologies for verifying and validating software quality and processes is one way for companies to help reduce control systems software-related NPT and schedule delays.
One respondent noted “We don’t currently have enough in-house knowledge – especially about software – to be able to identify all potential failure modes or conduct thorough root cause analysis.”
The report is based on a second set of survey results from Athens Group’s “The State of NPT on High-Specification Offshore Assets: Third Annual International Benchmarking Report.”
According to the company, its survey was designed to help the industry reduce control systems software and hardware integration related NPT on today’s highly-automated offshore drilling and production assets.
Athens Group offers drilling technology assurance services for highly integrated control systems and are tailored for each phase of the asset lifecycle. Clients include Anadarko, BP, Chevron, Eni, ExxonMobil, Maersk, Marathon, Noble Drilling, Pacific Drilling, Shell, Stena Drilling, Total and Transocean.