Trouble time

July 9, 2010

For a while, non-productive time was a problem most companies didn't want to acknowledge. Two recent reports have brought into focus the amount of time, and money, lost due to non-productive time. Jennifer Pallanich finds out what the Athens Group/ModuSpec study reveals about the industry's take on NPT.

According to the 2010 Control Systems Software and Hardware Integration- Related NPT Benchmarking Report for Offshore Assets report released in April, operators still deem non-productive time (NPT) as too high, especially for units that may command spread rates of about $1 million/day. That's the first half of a two-part report Athens Group and ModuSpec have published this year about NPT. The second, The State of NPT on High-Specification Offshore Assets: Second Annual Benchmarking Report, focusing on commissioning and human resources, came out in late May.

Athens Group chief marketing officer Christine Lowry says clients requested the focus on HR. The report looks at what companies 'are doing to fix the problem of the revolving door on their crews', she says. Additionally, the spike in newbuilds has put a strain on an already tight labor market. 2009 saw five drillships completed, while 15 are due out of yards this year, 14 in 2011 and seven in 2012. For semisubs, 14 were delivered in 2009, 22 are on course for delivery in 2010, nine in 2011 and seven in 2012. Jackups - many of which are high-specification and highly-automated - tally at 21 delivered in 2009, 33 for delivery this year, five in 2011 and four in 2012. Personnel will be needed to crew these rigs.

Lowry notes the 2009 report indicated lack of the right skills as the number one barrier to reducing control systems- related NPT. Increased automation and the newbuild spike continue to strain resources, with technicians who have technology experience in short supply, she adds. This year's survey shows additional crew familiarization is necessary for all roles, ranging from 83% for mechanical technicians, to 85% for drilling personnel, to 89% for electrical and software technicians, according to the report.

Peter Sierdsma, VP of Americas at ModuSpec, says familiarization with rigs is a key element of safe and efficient operations. For years, he says, it was possible to transfer a crew from one rig to another with little time dedicated to crew familiarization of the rig, but the newer generation of rigs are so different that time spent in familiarization is necessary. 'It's not so much training, but getting the crew familiar with the equipment on site,' he says.

Familiarization is but one step, he adds. It's important to define a level of competency for working different pieces of equipment. Definitions of competency levels are expected to be included in the 2011 report, Sierdsma says.

According to the 2010 survey, 93% of drilling contractors and operators plan to provide improved training for rig crews as part of their 2010 NPT reduction initiatives.

Sub-par commissioning
Commissioning, too, is a hot-button topic, with drilling contractors and operators remaining unsatisfied with the quality and effectiveness of final commissioning for well control, drilling and mud systems. Universally, respondents were unhappy with commissioning, Sierdsma says. 'They were not pleased with the level of commissioning of rigs coming out of the shipyard . . . without exception.' Respondents see shipyard lack of experience in delivering automated, highly-integrated topsides and rigs being pushed out of the slip before they are ready as the top two causes of poor quality. Because of sub-par commissioning quality, Lowry says, all drilling contractors and operators responding say they plan to take more control of commissioning this year, with many planning to implement additional methods of commissioning management, over and above the EPC contract.

'There are a number of underlying issues. If it were just one issue, it would have been resolved long ago,' Sierdsma says. Working with experts on commissioning topsides is key, he says, but it's vital that those experts - whether internal or third-party - be well-versed in drilling topsides, rather than production topsides.

Lowry says the company is still working on building up awareness about NPT.

'We're getting there. It's been at times evangelical,' she says. When the 2009 report came out, 'nobody was talking about it'. Comparing treating the problem of NPT to treating an addiction to alcohol or drugs through a 12-step program, she says, means acknowledging a problem exists is key. 'That's the first step.'

NPT starts in a number of places, according to Lowry: incomplete contracts, incomplete requirements, and a shortage of personnel at shipyards, to name a few. 'NPT is really a four-letter word in this industry, and people always want to know more about what other people are doing about it, how do they track their levels,' she comments.

Earlier this year, Athens Group and ModuSpec released the first half of the 2010 report, the thrust of which said NPT is still too high on high-spec offshore assets (OE May). That part of the study focused on control systems software and hardware integration and found total NPT during the first two years of operations on highly-automated late generation offshore assets is 50-67% greater than what is deemed acceptable. The report went on to say sail date delays cost drilling contractors $12.2-$73.6 million in lost or deferred revenue for each delayed rig and operational date delays cost operators $48.4 million to $2.4 billion, due to delays in reaching first oil.

Don Shafer, a founder and chief technology officer at Athens Group, says about 30% of NPT problems are associated with the drilling control system.

'It's better than last year,' he adds, noting the inaugural report the company released in 2009 cited such problems as the cause behind about 40% of that downtime, a result Shafer calls 'a real lightening rod'. He attributes much of the improvement to drilling contractors and yards starting to pay more attention to the software.

'As an industry, we haven't stepped up and said "œsoftware's critical",' Shafer says.

Integration is a key moment in a rig's life. 'Shipyards are great at building hulls and ships, but they don't have specialized experience in integrating automated components of a rig,' Lowry says. 'Because more pieces are automated, more pieces need to be integrated.'

The expected level of refurbishments to rigs in the coming years will likely add to that. 'There's going to be a peak of people doing refurbishments,' Lowry says, as the newbuild market passes its current peak.

Athens Group is working to improve awareness about contributors to NPT by teaming up with groups like the International Association of Drilling Contractors and the American Association of Drilling Engineers. Lowry believes common standards for interfaces that vendors use would go a long way to reducing problems.

Some vendors may worry about losing a competitive edge or intellectual property, she says, but that shouldn't be such a concern.

'There's ways to do that. In other industries, they've found ways to do that, and do what's in the best interest of their customers,' Lowry says. OE



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