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Almost all maintenance and engineering managers face the common problem of maintaining a balance between efficiency and cost reduction. Due to this, many deem it unnecessary to set up a regular maintenance model as opposed to a reactive one. Reactive maintenance means only rushing to fix the problem once it has actually occurred. This is the most basic strategy that many companies in the midstream oil sector implement. But, this strategy can result in really high downtime chances, safety, health and environmental issues; the throughput also reduces tremendously and repair costs are higher as well.

Looking at maintenance in a much more planned way is highly efficient and can save a huge amount of money and also ensure safety in all aspects as well. It also increases the reliability and integrity of assets. Proper predictive maintenance does require initial effort and time, but once the program becomes sustainable, it pretty much takes care of itself. All that the companies need to do is arrange predictive/ scheduled maintenance according to the setup program.

Main Maintenance Challenges Faced by Midstream Sector

Here are the key maintenance challenges experienced by the midstream sector:

  • Approaching Maintenance in a More Proactive Way: The pipelines and transportation from rigs to refineries aren’t that frequently checked as they are spread across as long as few hundreds to thousands of kilometers. You can’t expect regular scheduled checks for the entire pipeline according to a set schedule. This is why many midstream sector companies prefer reactive over predictive maintenance. If there was a way of analyzing and detecting problems beforehand, these maintenance problems wouldn’t occur.
  • Reducing Unplanned Downtime: Unplanned downtime in most of the transportation pipelines is caused due to maintenance. Some other reasons for unplanned downtime are natural calamities or disasters and third party damages. Whatever the reason is, these can be easily reduced using some form of scheduled or condition-based maintenance program.
  • Reducing Cost of Maintenance: Many operators are still living in a reactive world where due to lack of insight and maintenance budgets, they are unable to protect their investment in the best possible way. Slowly, by investing a little more in the beginning, maintenance would become really easy for the longer run.

All these challenges can be easily dealt with advancements in technology and implementing a strategic, optimized, and proactive maintenance program.

What Is Condition-Based Maintenance?

Condition-based maintenance is a strategy in which maintenance on the asset is done only if the actual condition of the asset deteriorates. The pipelines are fitted with sensors at regular intervals, which collect data on the condition of the pipeline. This data is transmitted to the inspection tools and also in the form of raw images, which are further analyzed to identify anomalies and abnormalities. These anomalies are further assessed to find higher priority anomalies. Once these actionable anomalies are found, a maintenance team is deployed to the location of the anomaly and the problem is fixed.  

This way, the damages are detected well in time, reducing unplanned downtime. It also reduces the maintenance cost as you don’t have to run a scheduled or reactive maintenance. You just need to fix the problem if you analyze the condition to be deteriorating. Various companies employ automation in detecting these anomalies, thus reducing even more labor cost and increasing response time and accuracy. For example, Quest Global was able to cut the response time of these pipelines by about 50%, just by analyzing and categorizing anomalies using sensor data and manned inspections as well.

Advantages of Predictive Maintenance

Predictive maintenance comes with a lot of benefits. Read on to find out what they are.

  • Compliance with standards of safety, health and environment is improved.
  • Useful life for all assets is extended as maintenance is done before the anomalies could cause serious damage and asset might need replacement.
  • The equipment runs more efficiently as the repair prevents any unmonitored leak.
  • It reduces labor and maintenance cost tremendously as instead of working on a scheduled basis, you work before there could be a predicted malfunction.
  • Budget control is improved as purchases of spare parts and labor costs can be planned well before time.
  • There’s an increase in customer satisfaction and service as timely and continuous transportation is possible.
  • Reporting and analysis can be done easily, which can help in determining more strategies in terms of maintenance and other business decisions as well.

Almost all companies are now implementing intelligent systems that can monitor and analyze flow, pressure, temperature, corrosion and possible ruptures in pipelines. All this is making the midstream sector highly efficient and safe in terms of operations. The cost has gone down and maintenance and customer satisfaction has increased. This is due to a strategy shift from reactive maintenance to predictive or conditions-based maintenance.