Time under the microscope

Jennifer Pallanich
Thursday, May 20, 2010

Non-productive time (NPT) associated with control systems software and hardware integration remains a significant drain on high-spec offshore asset costs, according to a study released last month.

The study, by the Athens Group and ModuSpec, concludes that total NPT during the first two years of operations on highly automated late generation offshore assets is 50-67% greater than generally deemed acceptable. The report* says sail date delays cost drilling contractors $12.2 million to over $73.6 million in lost or deferred revenue per delayed rig, while delays in producing first oil cost operators from $48.4 million to $2.4 billion.

Athens Group started looking at NPT issues about two years ago. ‘We realized there are some major issues,' said Don Shafer, a company founder and the chief technology officer. ‘One's a safety issue.'

Additionally, the industry is starting to recognize the ‘criticality of the software'. As Shafer put it: ‘There's nothing on a rig that doesn't use software somewhere.'

The problem, he said, comes down to integrating various bits of software. ‘The first time that system comes together is in the shipyard,' he said. A piece of kit may pass factory acceptance testing only to fail on integration with another piece, he added. ‘The last thing you need to have happen is the blue screen of death when you're trying to do an emergency disconnect.' Software glitches had ‘caused a fairly serious problem' maybe 10 times globally in the last year ‘that we're aware of'.

According to the report, operators still deem NPT as too high, especially for units that may command spread rates of about $1 million/day. A 10- or 50-day delay is ‘totally unacceptable for these guys, but it's still happening,' Shafer said. About 30% of those problems are associated with the drilling control system; that represents a near 10% improvement on the company's estimate a year earlier but it was still, in Shafer's view, ‘a horrendous number'.

‘They don't have Six Sigma software,' he added.

‘We don't even talk about that in drilling software. At 30%, you're pulling your hair out, trying to get things working.'

Part of the solution lay in developing standards for software, believes Shafer, whose company is pressing for such standards through the IADC and various class agencies, but it could be a decade before they are in place.

‘It's going to take Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, ConocoPhillips, Total, Shell and everybody else to say "Enough, get some standards in place," because at the end of the day they're the ones who are really doing the buying,' Shafer said. OE

* 2010 Control systems software and hardware integration-related NPT benchmarking report for offshore assets.

Categories: Software Rigs Hardware

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