For offshore OEMs, the space, cost, reliability and performance benefits of single supplier, multiple technology integrated solutions represent a sensible approach in extreme environments.
The harsh conditions and hazardous environments associated with the offshore industry mean that technology tends to be driven by the demands of robustness, reliability and safety, all of which tend towards technically proven solutions. These conservative pressures work against the constant need to adopt technologies that increase output or maintain a technical lead in ever-more demanding situations.
Comparing the needs of different sectors
If this is compared with other market sectors and the issues that drive the adoption of technology, some interesting differences emerge. In the science and technology sectors, technical lead and capability are of pre-eminent importance.
Suppliers of motion and control technologies need to have products and solutions capable of delivering, performance, accuracy and a high level of feedback. Projects may be years in duration, are often highly speculative and are typically targeted at a small, niche customer base. The consequences of short term down-time are of limited significance in comparison with the need for innovative experimentation.
The manufacturing and production sector meanwhile is driven by the cost of production. In developed countries, highly automated output may ensure a quality and cost lead over competitors who have tended towards lower levels of automation. The need to adopt control solutions with high levels of output, cost competitiveness, reliability, and availability are the key drivers.
Experience shows that the automation sector is generally keen to access technologies used in science and research, but that it also frequently demands lower costs, intuitive operator interfaces and lead times associated with the demands of the automation market.
Migrating technology to offshore applications
In the offshore industry, the requirement for high-level system control capability used in monitoring, actuation and positioning, or feed operations is driven by the need for technical solutions to meet the evolving challenges faced by the this industry.
Many technologies from the science, construction, and industrial automation sectors have obvious benefits in the offshore industry if successfully applied. Some examples of this are:
- Pneumatic systems, offering low cost, simple, and relatively safe process and actuation control
- Robotic linear actuation enabling intelligent control and actuation of the smallest manipulator to a an apparatus as large as a complete drilling rig
- Variable speed drive technology, where motor control or the application expertise gained in web and film winding can be applied to marine, subsea and offshore applications
The challenge, however, is to ensure that such technologies remain fit for purpose when transferred to the offshore industry, which is characterized by demanding, often remote, operating environments with extremes of temperature, depth, and pressure. Suppliers need to ensure that products and solutions meet the challenges associated with safety, reliability, and robustness required throughout the industry. If these challenges are met, the real benefits of migrating technologies and solutions among different market sectors can be fully realized.
Some examples of migrated technology include:
- Integrating servo control solutions from electromechanical systems into hydraulic actuation. Most industrial screw or belt driven mechanical actuators would not easily comply with ATEX standards or be made of materials suitable for the extreme corrosive environments typical in offshore applications. But integration of industrial servo drives with hydraulic proportional control and suitable feedback technologies gives integrators the ability to offer the high-level motion control usually associated with industrial robotics to even the largest of positioning systems.
- Mixing and matching technologies. The benefits of variable-speed drives have long been understood; they are capable of accurate motor-speed control of fans, pumps, winches, and winders and of process control equipment, which has resulted in significant energy savings benefits in many applications.
Suppliers able to offer both hydraulic and drive solutions can support power-pack OEMs in adopting simpler, more tolerant fixed-displacement pump solutions that provide the dynamic performance and capability typically associated with complex variable displacement pump solutions. To the end customer, further operation cost benefits in terms of space savings, reduced energy consumption, low noise, and an extended interval between maintenance may also be possible.
The benefits of multiple technologies and one supplier
While many technologies might be available from multiple suppliers, manufactures able to offer motion and control capability across all of these technologies can be a source of elegant, integrated solutions that give a host of system benefits such as:
- Reduced assembly time resulting from a supplier that can offer a large, single subassembly for installation rather than merely a collection of individual drives, motors, actuators, and the like that need to be connected on site and tested before use
- Reduced pipework and potential leak paths as a consequence of an optimized, integrated design that minimizes interconnects and complexity
- Overall space savings; Parker Hannifin solutions have, in many applications, achieved valuable space savings of more than 25%. This is compared to solutions that require the use of individual parts from multiple suppliers that must be assembled by the OEM or an appointed specialist sub-contractor.
- Better guarantees of functionality and reliability in the extreme operating environments typical of offshore installations
Working with manufacturers and integration partners who offer bespoke macro solutions allows end customers to focus on their own areas of specialty and to source modular, integrated assemblies that contain multiple technologies provided by specialists in the particular areas in question. The resultant space, cost, and assembly-time savings, coupled with enhanced reliability and performance, all amount to a very good fit for what are often extremely demanding offshore applications.
Article contributed by Nigel Smith, Product Sales Manager, Parker Hannifin Ltd, Warwick UK
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