In an industry where control is imperative to the functioning of a business, flow computers have always been viewed as an essential component in operations. Market projections showing the flow computer market in the petroleum industry to be worth in excess of $1bn by the year 2020, despite a recent decline in the price of raw product. However, are these forecasts accurate in the current climate, and is this technology still relevant to modern requirements in the gas and oil industries? Below we take a look at some of the essential roles a flow computer plays in these industries and what the future might hold for flow computers.
A Flow Computer Provides Calculated Control
Flow computers operate as the central point of the control system, collating and interpreting the raw data collected from monitoring equipment, which is then used to provide appropriate control over the system that it supervises. This information is then used to:
- count flow volumes
- activate warning systems based on pre-set parameters
- store information for future reference
The stored information then serves the additional purpose of auditing, using historic data to provide a realistic representation of the systems operating dynamics to design. By analyzing the collected data, it’s possible to search for trends and anomalies within the system and help refine operations by spotting patterns to eradicate any problematic behavior.
A strong control over the monitoring of the system is also beneficial in the prevention of problems too. Maintenance routines and live-testing simulations can be applied, such as set point step testing of valves, by increasing flow pressure through a course of gradients and noting the outcome. This in-line evaluation has the major advantage of not requiring the system to be closed whilst the valves are checked for ineffectiveness. It also allows controls to be re-calibrated to maintain a high level of efficiency within the system.
Flow Computers Calculate the Financial Value Of Resource Transfers
The petroleum industry is in the financial metering of the product being transferred. This is arguably the greatest role that the flow computer provides.
Essentially, an accurate profile of the fluid volume needs to be captured by law to provide an exact figure for accounting. This not only aids the supplier and customer in achieving a fair trade, but also means that the correct amount of due tax is paid to the government. For this reason, the flow computer is often referred to in the gas and oil industries as the cash register.
Custody transfer, therefore, has a vested interest from all participating parties to be of the highest accuracy. With huge amounts of fluid being transmitted on a daily basis, a small percentage error will result in a massive financial discrepancy. The flow computer has a major advantage in that it can not only provide a high level of processing power to calculate these totals, but it also has a clear procedure for traceability with the information that it collects and stores. This processing power, however, is meaningless if the data that it receives is in any way inaccurate.
Supporting Equipment In Flow Control
Within the petroleum industry, there are several different types of controls that are necessary to closely monitor the dynamics of a fluid mass. As such, there are a number of categories of supporting equipment required to monitor the flow mass, including:
- Temperature probes
- Pressure gauges
- Gas composition sensors
- Density measurement equipment
Additionally, there’s also a need for sampling systems and meter provers to verify the data being collected by the other sensors in the system. The use of a flow conditioning unit can verify the velocity profile of the flow dynamics, something especially useful when there is turbulence in the pipe.
Whereas each of these sensors needs to be specific to the type of environment that they operate, a flow computer can be adapted to combine all of these data sources simultaneously, to the differing priorities that are specific to the part of the process in which they operate. This can include needs arising from environmental conditions and safety aspects through to volume logging or composition measurements, all of which are themselves subject to the type of fluid being transmitted.
As processing technologies have evolved, many of the peripheral equipment used for data capture now too comes equipped with their own inbuilt processing systems. That allows them to operate without the need of a supporting flow computer, which was always traditionally required to interpret and communicate information to engineers.
This has so far had little effect upon the use of flow computers within the gas and oil industries, due to the guidelines which dictate the need for exceptional accuracy used to measure the volume of product being transferred. Regulations are in place to determine the amount of tax due from the transfer.
What this does mean, though, is that the expanding levels of technology available provide simpler and more robust solutions. With most devices now working on an independent power supply to the system they monitor, some models are capable of working in isolated conditions and are even resistant to explosions, which have massive benefits for safety and emergency situations.
Versatility Through Technology
With science continually pushing at the boundaries of what is already known of fluid mechanics, dynamic systems modeling has become a specialized field which is composed and reliant upon many variables, even within a closed system. This has lead to the development of increasingly complex software systems, which are able to provide ever more accurate reporting by the flow computer.
Whilst no technology can ever be deemed as future-proof or aging-resistant, as some companies may lead you to believe, many of the new flow computer models feature a hardware platform that can support a number of different applications simultaneously. They have software packages within them capable of being upgraded or manually re-configured to increase their effectiveness along with demand.
As the industry becomes more technology driven and more choices become available in the flow computer market, specialist services and leading manufacturers can be a great resource to help you negotiate your way through the myriad of solutions available to your business. Often these companies also prove a customer support service, which can further aid setting up and maintaining the systems overall effectiveness.