The upstream segment is a challenging operating environment affected by both internal and external factors. World geo-political situations, macro-economic factors, and supply and demand changes are just a few external factors that significantly affect the industry. The internal operating environment is a complex mix with assets located in remote areas, and maintaining these critical assets on a continuous basis to ensure their availability is an important part of upstream operations.

What is Asset Integrity Management (AIM)?

Asset integrity management (AIM) is a systematic management process that extends through an asset's entire life cycle in an overall optimized way to reach a balance between reliability (for example performance, safety & environment) and economics (so as to realize the organization’s strategic operating performance goals).

Asset Integrity Management Key for smart operations

AIM is a holistic approach toward maintaining production critical assets based on an established framework throughout the asset's life cycle. Basic components of AIM are:

  • Establishing critical standards and benchmarks
  • Assessing and monitoring procedures
  • Developing competencies and skills
  • Maintenance execution
  • Quality assurance and auditing

AIM has become an integral part of any manufacturing operation. It combines procedure-based maintenance with the safety, hazard and risk factors associated with the particular equipment.

A safety and hazard matrix is prepared for each critical plant tool. This matrix tells us how disastrous it would be for the organization, people and environment if there were a failure related to the mission-critical equipment. By going through this process, exploration and production (E&P) companies effectively mitigate the risks involved in operating sensitive equipment and pave the way for effective risk management strategies.

Why is it important to identify mission-critical equipment? Upstream operations require a multitude of equipment for exploration activities. Maintaining all this equipment falls upon the operational maintenance department. However, not all of the equipment requires the same maintenance strategy or approach because some of them may not be important to production or safety. Hence, we need to identify the ones that are mission-critical in terms of production and safety. They are classified as integrity-relevant equipment and demand a very special maintenance procedure as a part of the enterprise asset management strategy.

Before examining each of the AIM components, it is helpful to understand the asset life cycle in the upstream environment. Because upstream production demands specially designed equipment, AIM plays a critical role in the entire life cycle. A typical physical asset life cycle is design, construct, operate, enhance and abandon. In the upstream context, these phases are broadly categorized as ODP (overall development plan), EPCI (engineering, procurement, construction and installation), O&M (operations & maintenance) and finally life extension & disposal. In life extension & disposal, the plant is evaluated for possible life extension so that it can be sold or used in other upstream projects. A proper waste disposal strategy must be formulated prior to abandonment of the plant.

Integrity in each of these phases is essential for smart upstream operations to achieve unhindered and maximized exploration. (Related reading: Steering Smart Operations through the Digital Oil Field.) Upstream operations have multiple landscapes, such as subsea operations, well and drilling operations, marine operations, topside activities and storage facilities in the case of floating production, storage and offloading units (FPSOs). Critical equipment is deployed throughout the entire operational landscape, which requires an unrelenting upkeep procedure.

Components of AIM

The concept of AIM is to achieve excellence in operational performance and effective risk management in operations. With this in mind, components of AIM are modified depending on the nature of the operations.

As discussed earlier, integrity management has to flow through the asset life cycle and hence it has to start right from the ODP stage. During this phase, an important AIM component that comes into play are the standards and benchmarks relevant to the particular equipment that the company is considering for production deployment. There are numerous standards for various pieces of equipment as stipulated per the international best practices and regulatory requirements. When drafting the AIM strategy these critical inputs should be taken into account and followed diligently during the design stage itself as a part of integrity management.

Another crucial constituent of AIM is an assessment and monitoring procedure. This forms a part of the governance framework of integrity management during the asset life cycle, especially during its erection, commissioning and operation. Developing skills and competencies in integrity management is a challenging task. As such, these skills are in short supply and hence a concerted effort is needed to nurture the talents and skills at regular intervals.

The mission-critical equipment requires specific strategies during operational maintenance. For example, work notifications for the equipment should be fast-tracked compared to ordinary equipment either in approval processes or in scheduling and execution of maintenance work. This is because their continued availability is indispensable to avert any production loss.

Finally, as a performance evaluation measure, a good quality assurance and audit procedure is essential for asset integrity. Meticulous reviews are done on the maintenance execution for the mission-critical equipment. This is a mandatory step and a vital link in the governance process. Based on the reviews, gaps are identified and suitable corrective actions are taken if there is any lack in adherence to the policies and procedures set out in the integrity management framework.

Key Issues with AIM

As a concept, have no doubt that a well thought out AIM plan is fundamental for effective upstream operational performance. However, some challenges such as integrity data management and process governance exist that complicate the situation. (Be sure to read How Big Data is Transforming the Oil & Gas Industry for further discussion on this topic.)

Upstream operations deploy a plethora of equipment and machines, and maintaining them is an intricate function as these gadgets generate large amounts of data related to their operation. Gathering this data, collating them properly in an established format, and interpreting them for a profitable business decision is a major task. This is where most of the AIM initiatives struggle to deliver. Therefore, robust asset data management is a prerequisite for a successful implementation of AIM.