In 2023, our measurement and metering team clocked up 35 years in the industry and this year celebrates five years since it joined Proserv. Janice Macleod, General Manager, Measurement and Alasdair Thomson, Principal Engineer, enjoy a retrospective and explore the here and now of the sector.

The present Cumbernauld measurement team started out back in 1988, based at the time in Grangemouth – how different was the sector back then?

Alasdair Thomson (AT): if you strip it back to the fundamentals, a metering system hasn’t essentially changed because the important thing for an operator is that we enable them, clearly, swiftly and accurately, to see what their production totals are. The customer wants a daily report to know how things are performing and that hasn’t really altered.

Today, Coriolis and ultrasonic flow meters are certainly more prevalent, although the more traditional turbine and orifice plate meters are still in use. So, some of the technology is similar to back then but there are more alternative solutions available.

Take SCADA systems – these offer immediate, very sophisticated ways of trending data and production performance. They provide insightful historical context but even 35-40 years ago, there were rudimentary means, even if automatically charted on rolls of paper, where one could analyse how equipment was performing in general terms. So unsurprisingly, modern technology does things very differently and delivers impactful visibility, yet it continues to carry out some of the essential functions as in the 1980s.

In any FAT for a new metering system, one of the key requirements is to verify that the calculations are correct. When a set of values is fed into the system and these are verified, the calculations must not introduce an error of more than 0.001% when compared to an independent test tool. Proserv has developed Valid8 calculation verification software, which has been independently validated, for this purpose. So, that requirement hasn’t changed and the international standards employed are more or less the same, allowing for updated versions over the years.

Proserv’s Cumbernauld facility, with equipment past and present

What about the introduction of tighter regulations around environmental factors as the sector, and industry more widely, have become alert to these requirements?

Janice Macleod (JM): This is a really significant development being driven by regulators like the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) and very different to the situation in the early years. Emissions measurement, so gas flaring and venting, is increasingly critical and is a central plank of the North Sea Transition Deal (NSTD) with regard to meeting future net zero goals.

The NSTD has set a challenging target of halving emissions by 2030 and the stringent regulatory framework of the NSTA means that monitoring and measuring how much gas is being flared or vented, and how much oil is contained in the water discharged into the sea, are now extremely important to maintaining operational excellence and need to be precise. Fines have been imposed where these emissions levels have been excessive.

For us, this new landscape creates an opportunity. There is only going to be an increase in investment in the North Sea around technologies providing effective metering for flaring and venting and all that information can be pulled into our metering systems.

Flaring is difficult to measure accurately – it can vary hugely. We are very alert to openings here and the NSTA has reached out to industry to identify solutions that can accelerate measuring this. Proserv technologies such as Dynamic Uncertainty could be applied here.

Dynamic Uncertainty engages live data to analyse and evaluate operational performance. It allows a user to monitor information in real-time as well as undertake trend analysis. If something is not right, immediate action can be taken when slight changes or differences arise. So, it supports customers in making sure they maintain the required uncertainty levels.

New expectations around practices and greater capabilities from technology seem to be the big disrupters to what went before – how else have things changed?

JM: Basically, flow computers from the turn of the century, when placed next to what is used now, were considerably less sophisticated. It is true that the core fundamentals of what metering and measurement are all about are essentially the same, but the multi-functional aspects of modern tech have been transformative.

AT: Dashboards are another case in point. Go back 35 years and displays were far less graphic and everything was in black and white. The intuitive use of colour showing when, for example, valves are opened or closed is now just assumed and normalised. Equally, HMIs where an operator can see trending data just wasn’t an option. To be able to identify temperature spikes or flow rate drops over time, perhaps over a 12-month period, is a major leap in aiding diagnostics.

Cybersecurity also wasn’t a thing in the 1990s! Metering systems were completely self-contained and were not part of a network – everything would be connected to a supervisory computer and that would be it. Jump forward to now and we can be sitting in Cumbernauld exploring a metering system, in real-time, hundreds of miles away offshore. Of course, critical security protocols come with that, and this is only done with full knowledge and collaboration with the client but in the old days, if you needed to see things in detail, you’d have to head up to Aberdeen, carrying heavy kit bags including disc and tape drives, and jump on a chopper.

To be able to connect, live, with offshore technicians without leaving your desk would be the stuff of science fiction thirty-five years ago. Back then it was a struggle to even phone the office from offshore, now we have developed equipment to allow for remote access to our systems.

By having that visibility, we might be able to identify issues before an operator even spots them. We can be their virtual, remote service support. That is another example of showing where the value comes.

Today’s tech – a typical dashboard monitored by our measurement team

You have mentioned Dynamic Uncertainty and we have a portfolio of predictive and real-time offerings, Prognosis Pro being another aimed at differential pressure meters. How is the measurement team targeting these skills and capabilities in 2024?

JM: One thing that has changed is until about ten years ago, our industry was bringing in large revenues, prices were strong and spending OPEX was never in doubt, but when returns dropped in around 2014, that ushered in a whole new way of thinking where customers only decide to commit to expenditure through obsolescence management.

When we are selling our products there has to be a clear value. So, we have to create a right for us to win that contract and there has to be something valuable for the customer. That’s where technologies like Prognosis and Dynamic Uncertainty, and the new software, come in.

One advantage is that many of our customers have been with us 35 years. So, we have evolved together. With Dynamic Uncertainty for instance, every asset must provide an uncertainty report for its audits to prove that the uncertainty range for its metering system is in line with the expectations required for fiscal measurement.

A lot of that work is done via spreadsheets but with Dynamic Uncertainty we can integrate the solution into the system and generate monthly uncertainty reports making the whole auditing process simpler for the operator.

AT: With our real-time condition-based monitoring via solutions like Prognosis and Dynamic Uncertainty, operators gain in a multitude of ways. They can detect anomalies at very early stages where, ostensibly, daily readings might still seem accurate. A blocked or worn orifice plate could be affecting flow rate calculations and the diagnostic data generated by Prognosis greatly improves an operator’s early awareness and understanding of the condition of the differential pressure-based measurement system. Not only that but the information generated enables any maintenance or intervention to be targeted at the right area or cause.

Equally, one of the real gains from solutions like Prognosis is that this software can also show that there is nothing wrong with the system and so unnecessary maintenance is avoided, physical inspections are reduced, and a condition-based approach can be adopted rather than regular, calendar-based schedules.

JM: This is exactly right – it can cost a significant amount to take an orifice plate out of the line, close off a pipeline, and send it to a calibration facility, when it is working perfectly well! This is how our software solutions can allow smarter, more efficient strategies – saving time and money.

Through Dynamic Uncertainty we are trying to take some of the manual processes away and enabling them to be digitalised. That makes things easier and mitigates against human error. Likewise, we have designed our systems with cybersecurity in mind empowering them to be even more secure and robust.

Solutions like Prognosis and Dynamic Uncertainty have exciting potential. They follow the Proserv methodology of being OEM agnostic, so we can integrate them into any system, not just our own. This really opens up our market globally. In some areas, like the Middle East, contract bidding is price sensitive but with these powerful software solutions, we become much nimbler and more flexible. We can deliver software as a service quickly and effectively.

This changes our commercial outlook for 2024 as we can target new global opportunities alongside the very customers we have valued for the past 35 years. We can deliver annual service contracts backed by our decades-worth of expertise and augmented by these software licences, bringing extra value to their daily operations and allowing us to be their remote service tech of choice.