Automating Compression Key Part Of Rockies Express Pipeline Project

September 2009 Vol. 236 No. 9

Jim Nelson, River Consulting, Technical Project Manager


In a continued effort to develop state of the art automation standards, River Consulting is working on a variety of pipeline expansion projects for Kinder Morgan, including automating stations and compressor units for the Rockies Express Pipeline. River brings more than 28 years of control system expertise to the automation project team, and is part of a select group of Allen-Bradley Rockwell Solution Providers.

The Rockies Express Pipeline is one of the largest natural gas pipelines ever constructed in North America. River’s natural gas team is providing the design, programming, panel fabrication and commissioning for the reciprocating compressor units, having completed 22 units which will be installed and put into service by late 2009. River developed standards for the pipeline automation to achieve quality control, faster installation and reduced start-up time. Maintaining project timeliness is important, as the schedule relies on a closely coordinated start-up effort.

The pipeline will provide a transportation capacity of 1.8 Bcf/d once completed in late 2009 and will provide a reliable gas supply to eastern U.S. consumers. The Rockies Express project includes multiple interconnects with other major pipeline systems and creates significant flexibility with more options for reaching other demand-anchored markets.

Compressor Unit And Station Automation
River’s automation services have facilitated the development of methodologies that allow each step of an automation project to be tracked and checked off as completed, from design and engineering of the control system topology, to software development, testing and commissioning. As part of these automation standards, the partnership between the automation team and the control system equipment vendors and manufacturers provides the means to produce consistent results utilizing equipment and designs that support the needs of the client.

Another component of automation standards is the control system equipment and panel supply. With so many control system hardware and software platforms available, selecting the best platform for the project can be challenging for the client. Automation implementation and maintainability can be enhanced by partnering with vendors who have strong distributor networks and system integrator partnership programs. Through partnerships, the end user receives quality solutions that meet the current needs and ongoing support and continuing education to meet future needs.

It is also important that panels meet certain standards prior to installation. By participating in a UL Industrial Control Panel (ICP) Custom Builder program, panels are fabricated to meet specific UL requirements and able to stand up to inspections. Along with the rigorous UL demands, each panel is subject to Factory Acceptance Testing, which helps with proper construction and overall quality.

On-Site Start-Up Solutions

Standard solutions allow both engineers and the client to keep tabs on the project development and timeline to completion. These standards help with quality and consistency throughout, starting with the initial project phase through software simulation, in-house Factory Acceptance Testing and Site Acceptance Testing. Standard solutions are invaluable in keeping with schedules and project milestones. Such standards also allow for easy training of the automation process. Another benefit is a reduction of the amount of engineering time, reduced costs and increased quality.

Start-up scheduling and coordination is an important factor that can affect the perceived success of a project. Using industry standards, and standardized tools and procedures, can help with development. Even if there isn’t a tight start-up timeline, these tools allow systems to be designed more efficiently and in reduced time, thereby lowering overall costs. The ability to couple experience and standardized tools for rapid development allows projects to meet fast-track requirements with demanding delivery milestones.

Software simulation is a key factor in working towards a smooth start-up. Using simulated real world I/O and operating conditions, allows one to fully verify proper operation of the control systems. Equipment operation and instrumentation status is simulated using software specifically designed for the purpose of recreating actual real-time conditions and scenarios. From basic functions that include valve operation and feedback values from instrumentation in the field to upset conditions that require rapid and orderly shutdown, the control system is completely tested for proper functioning.

These simulations also allow Emergency Shutdown (ESD) systems to be configured and tested based on cause and effect matrices derived from site process hazard analyses. Industry standard logic is verified through the process of simulating each identified upset scenario by acting on input from simulated values from the field such as pressure, fire and gas detection devices and operator input to ensure that the control system responds exactly as required.

Simulations allow normal operational requirements of the system to be completely tested. A functional description of the operation of the complete software package forms the basis of the simulation effort, including checklists with entry fields for formal signoff by the control systems engineer, project team, and end-user for all software functions.

Each of the functions that are simulated during the design process and tested prior to installation in the field is also verified in the same manner onsite. All field I/O is verified. The procedures and checklists used for in-house simulation and Factory Acceptance Testing are the basis for real world testing. Completely testing the software off-site before installation makes on-site commissioning more efficient and productive. Time spent on-site can then be focused on challenges related to the actual installation rather than on the software.

While correct equipment, software and overall solutions are fundamental for compressor automation, so are the personnel that will operate the unit or station. When commissioning is complete, training services are often provided. Operators, technicians and site personnel can participate and interact in a classroom setting where screen functions, logical operation, and overall design of the control system are explained and discussed. The system logic is created and documented in a format that is readily understandable and consistent throughout, with the end user in mind. An overall review of the system based on operator manuals created for the project will be covered in conjunction with question and answer sessions and live use to demonstrate and teach confident use of the system. Also, by utilizing software solutions that are open-ended and available to the end user, clients are able to take ownership of the system and modify for changing or future needs.

The author:
Jim Nelson has more than 15 years of experience in electrical system and controls development. He leads River Consulting’s natural gas compressor systems practice and has been an integral part of numerous electrical engineering design and implementation projects. Angie Amburgey
Marketing Director
614.797.2425
aamburgey@riverconsulting.com