Controlling the construction processes

In less than a year, shipyards' lack of experience in delivering automated, highly-integrated offshore topsides has dropped as a primary source of non-productive time, according to a recent report that polled operators about the causes of NPT. Jennifer Pallanich reports.

Survey responses in part two - The State of NPT on High-Specification Offshore Assets: Focus on Metrics and Initiatives - of the Athens Group's third annual international benchmarking report, clearly reflect the fact that operators and drilling contractors took back more control in the construction processes and delivery of units, says Athens chief marketing officer Christine Lowry. 'They were in control,' she adds. 'They had ownership of it. I don't think they view the shipyards as the hinderer they were,' (OE July 2010). Lowry believes the shipyards benefited from having one more year of experience in delivering the higher-spec drilling units. Drillers and operators are 'looking to have more control over the commissioning phase', she notes. 'Some are doing it themselves. Some are hiring independent third parties to help them with that.'

Training has also become an even bigger focus, Lowry says. Companies are spending 'a lot of time training their crew. They don't want to be the next company that has to undergo the scrutiny that followed' the Macondo tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico in April last year. 'What happened in the Gulf of Mexico really gave a lot of visibility to this whole issue.'

As Nestor Fesas, EVP for global solutions delivery at Athens Group, points out, the industry took advantage of training on offer. 'They focused in that area,' he says, adding training is never finished. Part one the report - Focus on Industry Collaboration and Safety - showed that 84% of responding drilling contractors and operators believe industry collaboration has resulted in safety training progress.

Fesas says one highlight of the current survey is the need for risk mitigation, planning and execution much earlier in the life cycle of projects. More completely defined requirements were viewed as more important than ever.

Respondents reported control systems software and hardware integration-related NPT is between 67% and 86% higher than the acceptable rate, depending on the age of the asset. While some progress has been made in reducing control systems software and hardware integration-related NPT, it still accounts for about 34% of overall NPT costs, according to the study.

Nearly half of all respondents in the survey said they were considering adopting simulation for factory acceptance testing (FAT) and commissioning. 'The increase in adoption of simulation testing stands out,' Lowry says. 'People are trying to work earlier in the cycle and doing everything they can to improve safety and NPT.'

Fesas says simulation is appealing for use as a tool because it can help identify problems before they become problem. The question is when to begin using the simulation programs, he says. 'Simulation is a powerful and important tool . . . but it is one small part of a solution.' Waiting until FAT to carry out simulation is 'too late,' he says. 'To find problems at that stage more often than not translates into delays . . . and a secondary FAT.'

While a tremendous amount of simulation work may be done early on in the development of a hull, the work on control systems is often done in isolation. Therefore, Fesas says, when the whole system comes together, the pieces may not work together. Then, he adds, 'hordes of programmers are trying to fix' the problem.

As well, over one-third said they were planning to implement alarm management systems. This approach, Lowry says, is probably attributable to the fact that one alarm on the Deepwater Horizon was 'screaming' all the time and had been turned off.

What's in a name? There is, however, some discrepancy over the very meaning of non-productive time. As Lowry admits, 'not everybody agrees on the components of what constitutes NPT'. Benchmarking becomes an issue in this scenario, she says, adding that Athens Group is looking into a JIP aimed at defining what constitutes NPT.

'The industry really wants to standardize on NPT calculations, standardize on interfaces,' Lowry says, citing the 61% of responding drilling contractors and operators who identified the implementation and reporting of an industry standard calculation of NPT as a top opportunity for industry collaboration. Other areas respondents saw as possible areas for collaboration include: standardization of equipment interfaces (74%) and industry-wide adoption and greater oversight of software quality processes (65%).

'There's also a desire to cooperate,' Fesas says. 'One of the messages that's coming across is that we're not seeing the cooperation we want to see.' One hurdle could be proprietary elements. There seems to be more openness to collaboration now than in the past, Lowry says. Fesas says it could be because 'the threat of not acting is bigger than the threat of collaborating.' OE

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