How Control Automation Reduces LNG Plant Design/Build/Operate Project Risks
According to Forbes magazine, the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) market grew by 8% in 2018 with deliveries reaching 314 million tons. This represents a 30% rise from 2015 and growth has more than tripled since 2000.
It is expected that this demand of LNG will continue to grow in the coming years due to the increase in needs and need of clean energy with reduced emissions. In order to support this growing demand, more LNG plants are being built and commissioned. The plant deployment process involves not only the oil and gas companies that invest in these assets but also the global engineering and procurement contractors (EPCs) that design them and an assortment of key experts from the global vendor community that support them.
Capital investments in LNG plants are huge, in multiple billions of dollars. Therefore, the builders of LNG plants always strive for low risk, fast implementation projects so that the production and revenue generation can begin as quickly as possible. The reliability of those plants also needs to be safeguarded so that, once commissioned, they can continue to produce healthy streams of revenues for an extended period of time.
A resource-intensive process that requires high efficiency
LNG projects, however, present major logistical challenges. Large quantities of equipment and people need to be brought in from all over the world, and plants are often built in harsh environments. Costs need to be strictly controlled and the stakeholders often struggle with maintaining a tight deployment schedule. Once the plants are operational, maintaining uptime and high productivity levels are critical to the plant’s success.
Over the last 30 years Schneider Electric has supported the industry through its Singapore based LNG business center of excellence. Over that period, teams of Schneider Electric engineers and experts have helped LNG customers to install, run and maintain over 58 LNG “trains” (a train is an independent production unit where natural gas is liquified), out of which 25 Trains have been engineered and delivered out of Singapore center.
Digitization, modularization and simplification emerge as top themes in a modern day LNG project delivery
As the LNG industry matures, end users and EPCs are now more impacted by digitization than ever before. Modularization concept has been applied to optimize site resources and faster installation and start-ups at site. New technologies are enabling faster turnaround times and are lowering production risks in several ways:
- Engineering tools are expediting design and operational efficiency – Plant designs that were once drafted in a manual fashion, with teams working independently are now implemented digitally, with teams working in an integrated collaborative environment, as are processes for planning, scheduling and optimizing performance. This drives faster development speed though improved connectivity and that enables easier collaboration and coordination among engineers, Project managers and Supply-chain partners.
- Smart field devices and connected systems are enriching the data pool – More and more field devices have developed the capability of collecting and transmitting data about themselves. Consider a simple device traditionally used to measure the level of a liquid in a tank. Now such devices incorporate sensors that can also provide historical and predictive information surrounding environmental conditions such as temperature and pressure inside of the tank. The growth in data collected from various sources in the plant greatly expands the breadth of applications for controls, enabling more precision and better business decisions.
- Cloud based Engineering and Testing of applications have allowed collaboration between globally distributed teams. The technology allows to replicate the entire automation systems in the cloud, using which automation vendors can develop LNG applications and HMI. A secured access can be given to customers, for their review and testing via cloud. This allows phased testing of applications based on completed design. As the entire work is done on a replicated system in cloud, removing the requirement for people to travel and also it makes the engineering and testing independent of hardware manufacturing. This will significantly reduce the project schedule by removing hardware shipment from the critical path of the project.
- Simulators and analytics software are converting data into business value – Given the proliferation of data in the LNG environment, the importance and influence of digital models and simulators that help to train operators have also grown. These types of solutions dramatically improve uptime by serving as a method for reducing human error, even among young, inexperienced operators. When business systems start interacting with process control systems, the ability of operators to positively impact plant profitability grows exponentially.
- Modularization concept is becoming popular in EPC world, whereby the process modules are built in a yard, where access to materials and people makes them easy to build them and the fabricated modules are shipped to site, reducing the site work. This concept is also applied in delivering Automation and Electrical control systems, whereby systems are pre-installed and tested in pre-fabricated buildings and shipped to site.
Schneider Electric supports modern LNG digitization project initiatives by providing automation and electrification systems for controlling the LNG plants and by managing safety exposures. Delivery teams consist of application engineers who understand LNG control applications, operational sequences, HMI design and deployment, and the electrical systems needed to operate the plant.