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New roles for a digital age

Published by , Editorial Assistant
Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Maintenance and repair are necessities throughout everyday life. Some maintenance and repair scenarios are obvious from noises and other visible indicators. For these cases, it is possible to seek help before a bigger disaster happens. Then there are the subtler cases – those that are not seen or heard, and can only be detected by advanced sensors. These are often missed and, if left untreated, can quickly lead to bigger catastrophic problems.

This is the world where the digital technician is essential. The digital technician can look through opaque walls and piping, into the bowels of a system, and can do so from thousands of miles away. These technicians connect devices and collect data to see everything through real time data on top of historical trends. They are able to detect failures and offer quick diagnosis and repairs.

Evolution of the technician

Over the last century, plant optimisation was managed through manual tuning of equipment. As process variations were experienced, maintenance managers would assess all surrounding equipment within the system as possible culprits, and then set tactical plans for further investigations during the next outage. Technicians, armed with toolboxes and wrenches, were then assigned to disassemble all valves within the system to physically inspect each component to determine the extent of repair required. Sometimes failure modes were quick to assess with obvious signs such as erosion or cavitation wear, galling or sticking tread marks, or debris lodged inside the valve blocking flow capacity. Other times, all components would come back within specification, and technicians would be forced to reassemble with new soft goods and move on to the next suspect, on-and-on, down the row of equipment until a root cause is definitively found. They would then hope it is within on-site capabilities to repair, or face the setback of operating through another cycle with less than ideal equipment until new components can be ordered.

In these times, plant operation was loaded with inefficiencies that were a normal part of life. Outages were longer than desired in order to conduct ample diligence; resources were always in shortage due to the magnitude of work; and lead times were longer than maintenance windows would allow. As plants were driven to yield competitive product, valve manufacturers were called to innovate solutions to offset these high cost and long outage inefficiencies.

Today’s world is migrating to the digital age. So what is a digital technician? And how does this new role help to solve these plant inefficiencies?

A digital technician still leverages the skills of a highly trained, product and technology conversant valve technician. However, digital technicians carry with them a digital toolbox that utilises data and software to quickly find root causes and tune a device. Like a doctor with access to a host of diagnostic tools, such as scans and ultrasonic machines, these technicians now have at their fingertips the ability to understand/diagnose a problem before they even set foot into the plant. But like any good doctor, valve technicians must also have a depth of understanding of all components within the valve body, so that they can complete the service after the initial diagnosis.

The digital world of data

The most important element that digital technicians have at their disposal is data. While a doctor may analyse the blood pressure, weight, and overall health of a patient over their lifetime, the digital technician evaluates and analyses the data from the valve along every step of the way, from the as-specified, as-engineered, as-built valve genealogy to the application data and run-time data for the valve. This host of data is compiled and used in different ways to diagnose, test, tune and repair a valve. The digital technician is like the conductor of a symphony, bringing together all facets of the music to create a song. The digital technician must skilfully utilise knowledge, tools, and historic health data to create a valve in harmony with the process it is in.

Written by Gary M. Ostrowski, Baker Hughes, a GE company, USA.

This article was originally published in the September issue of Hydrocarbon Engineering. To read the full article, sign in or register for a free trial subscription.

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