Meeting the metering challenge

Small errors in metering have a big cost to the business, but how can you be sure all your metering assets are performing correctly when …

Image courtesy Honeywell Process Solutions
Image courtesy Honeywell Process Solutions

Small errors in metering have a big cost to the business, but how can you be sure all your metering assets are performing correctly when they’re spread across the business – or across the globe? Honeywell Process Solutions and Flow Control hosted a webinar on how you can transform metering maintenance. WATCH IT NOW

By Eric Bras, Global Product Marketing Manager, Honeywell Process Solutions

Metering measurement accuracy is critical to profitability, efficiency and safety in natural operations. Inaccuracy risks compliance failures, legal disputes and increased gas that is lost or unaccounted for. It can rapidly erode profits and irreparably damage reputations.

By their nature, measurement errors are rarely random. Rather than balancing out, they accumulate. Even small errors can lead to substantial losses over time, bleeding profitability hour, by hour, day by day. An error of 0.5% in gas measurement can easily account for losses of more than $1 million a year – for a single meter.

The importance of monitoring high pressure equipment is only increased by a broader hydrocarbon mix and increasing occurrences of impurities in the gas in a larger number of pipelines.

Handling high pressures and wide flow ranges, eliminating compressors and with no moving parts, ultrasonic meters are the solution of choice for modern custody transfer operations. Build-up of contamination and/or liquids inside the pipe can have a significant impact on the accuracy of ultrasonic meter readings, however. For this and other reasons, they must be properly monitored and, where necessary, maintained.

The challenge of doing so is made greater by two factors: On the one hand, remote, dispersed operations and metering stations; on the other, a significant loss of expertise and knowledge from the industry as a generation of experienced engineers retire. Combined with competitive pressures, the result is operators are frequently required to monitor and maintain a growing number of high pressure assets with a dwindling number of experienced staff.

The result is the risks of undetected errors in metering grow as operators struggle to be everywhere, all the time.

A cure worse than the disease

Gas lost or unaccounted as a result of meter errors is not the sole cause of inefficiency in the metering operation, however: Costly maintenance can also undermine profitable operations.

At least part of the driver for increased use of ultrasonic metering has been the superior reliability and consequently lower maintenance costs that the solution promises against alternative technologies. Ultrasonic meters have no moving parts and transducers (which detect and convert the ultrasonic pulse used to calculate the speed of the flow) that can be quickly cleaned and replaced –without shutting down or depressurizing the system. Both serve to minimize maintenance requirements and disruption to the operation. Operators must still determine when transducers or pipes need cleaning or measurement inaccuracy for another reason necessitates recalibration of the meter, however.

In practice, most operators opt either for periodic recalibration according to a fixed timetable, or risk-based maintenance programs in which the periods between calibration can be extended by a defined limit if there is evidence of stable measurements. Neither is ideal, however. Both inevitably result in recalibrations taking place where there is no measurement error. This adds to maintenance costs and reduces the asset utilization.

Time-based and risk-based maintenance strategies are not merely inefficient, however; they undoubtedly also prove ineffective on occasion. Measurement errors that develop between calibration dates can go undetected, particularly in large, complex operations with a high number of metering stations or where meters are geographically remote so that diagnostic information is difficult to retrieve.

Condition based monitoring

Condition based monitoring (CBM) tackles this waste by eliminating unnecessary maintenance and recalibrations without compromising confidence in meter readings.

Properly applied, a CBM program will allow maintenance to be targeted at those meters that need it: where indicators show performance deteriorating or evidence of impending equipment failure – before it occurs.

There are two prerequisites for this, however. The first is analytics that allow operators to reliably identify and focus maintenance on those meters in need of calibration. That requires analysis and monitoring of not just changes in the flow meter but also changes in the environment in which meters operate; as well as the translation of that analysis into actionable intelligence for operators to enable them to quickly identify those meters requiring maintenance and, ideally, the nature of the maintenance so engineers can arrive on site with the correct tools and parts; done well, CBM can accelerate diagnosis of problems and massively reducing the need for service engineer visits.

The second prerequisite for an effective CBM strategy is a method to capture, consolidate and centralise the data required for that analysis – in real time. This is required to give users visibility of their high-pressure assets and enable them to manage that maintenance centrally to ensure it takes place before failures or errors emerge.

Only connect

The first of these challenges can be solved through advanced diagnostics and analytics combined with an intuitive HMI and intelligent alarms. Honeywell’s technology in Measurement IQ for Gas is already field proven. A diagnostic dashboard gives users an at-a-glance, real-time overview of all gas metering stations, with warning levels and alarms to identify those meters requiring attention, and allowing users to rapidly drill down to diagnose the issue.

This provides real-time alerts when parameters exceed limits, so that errors and risks to reliable meter measurements do not remain undetected; it also provides analysis of historical data to see when and why issues occurred. As well as providing real-time monitoring, it captures historic diagnostic information that can be used as a basis to extend calibration intervals specified by regulatory authorities. Users can therefore reduce the maintenance of assets without compromising measurement certainty.

The second key technology is the Cloud. This provides significant benefits in terms of unlimited scalability and unrestricted computing power, with analytics and data processing in the Cloud. Perhaps more significantly, it provides a way to connect to a large number of dispersed metering stations, wherever they are located – and share the data to wherever it’s needed.

Honeywell’s solution shows this can be achieved by connecting meters to a simple edge device at each metering station. Combined with the highest levels of cyber security, the data can then be processed and analyzed in the Cloud – and securely accessed by users anywhere in the world with a web browser. With an associated app, users can even get tailored, real-time alerts to their mobile phones.

The solution provided businesses with 24/7 visibility and real-time monitoring of all their metering assets. The connectivity can even be used to effectively outsource their metering monitoring and maintenance function to Honeywell as the Cloud Service provider if they choose. Since the solution can be accessed through the web, it also enables businesses to collaborate across the enterprise, and leverage expertise from across the World. Finally, it allows users to centralize security with automatic updates of the software, again helping to reduce costs in the metering operation.

The benefits ultrasonic metering has brought in terms or reliability and measurement certainty are undeniable. They are only fully realized, however, if firms are able to implement both efficient and effective maintenance programs for their high-pressure assets – and through strategies that can be deployed at scale and across widely dispersed operations. Connecting meters using the Cloud allows operators to do both and use diagnostics and analytical tools to give them real-time visibility of the metering operation.

If the industry wants to maintain the level of measurement certainty needed as operations become ever more complex, connected solutions are likely to play an increasing role. While operators still can’t be everywhere, they increasingly allow them see everything across the enterprise – and act accordingly.

Is your maintenance regime making the most of your meters? WATCH THE WEBINAR

This content is sponsored by Honeywell Process Solutions. Sponsored content is authorized by the client and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Process Flow Network editorial team.

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