CATEGORIZED | 2007, September/October

Engine manufacturers work on supply chains, reliability as drilling contractor demands rise

Posted on 28 October 2009

When lead times for critical equipment like engines reach into the 24-months range, as is currently typical, frustrations can surface. Engine manufacturers Wärtsilä and Cummins know their customers want to see change.

“Engine demand is clearly outstripping supply. Everyone is trying to get more suppliers on line, as well as increase internal capacity,” said Erik Drewry, oil & gas segment leader for US-based Cummins. The company has adopted a multi-pronged approach by focusing on increasing assembly and supplier capacity, streamlining supply chains and optimizing assembly operations.

Finland-based Wärtsilä said that in addition to investments in production facilities, it has concentrated on improving dialogue through the supply chain. “When you make a decision to increase capacity, it’s not a single decision. You have to make sure you have your key suppliers with you,” said Magnus Miemois, head of Wärtsilä’s offshore business segment. “Over the last couple of years, we have worked to make sure these key suppliers have taken the necessary steps to walk the same pace as us in adding capacity.”

He acknowledged that manufacturers’ efforts haven’t made a notable dent in lead times. “The markets have grown year on year, so in a way capacity has been a moving target. Additions made a couple of years ago on that horizon maybe aren’t enough anymore.”

Meeting clients’ increasing expectations of uptime and service support, especially for unplanned maintenance, has been another tough challenge. “As more and more of our customers transition to a more global presence, they expect that their suppliers are able to support them in Russia, Venezuela, the Middle East as they would in the US,” Mr Drewry said.

Cummins pointed out that it has more than 5,500 company-owned distributors and dealers offering support to customers worldwide, while Wärtsilä emphasized that communication with customers has been important in helping them to understand their needs.

RELIABILITY, EMISSIONS

Manufacturers continue to make improvements in engine reliability and emissions, according to both Cummins and Wärtsilä. For Tier 2 and Tier 3 emissions compliance, Cummins introduced the Cummins Modular Common Rail fuel system. It enables full-authority electronic control over fuel timing, quantity and pressure. Precision control over the number of injection events enables not only Tier 2 emissions compliance, Mr Drewry said, but also quieter operation, better fuel economy, smoother power delivery and better idle stability.

Cummins has optimized the in-cylinder combustion system to meet Tier 2 NOx levels without increasing displacement or making significant configuration changes. It’s a “key enabler to meet the current emissions, as well as the building block for future emissions targets in 2011 and beyond,” he said.

Other improvements in power cylinder technology (piston design, rings, liners, etc) are also leading to longer service intervals and allowing for more horsepower for tough drilling with rotary steerables or in deeper wells.

For Wärtsilä, its primary focus has been the deepwater segment, where an increasing portion of the fleet has become dynamically positioned, Mr Miemois said. To improve overall reliability, the company has taken on an active systems approach. By making strategic acquisitions, the company has increased its ability to take on a larger system responsibility for its clients.

For example, in 2002 Wärtsilä acquired a propulsion equipment manufacturer, and in 2006 it bought a company producing electrical switch gears, electrical drives and automation systems.

Instead of Wärtsilä supplying only the engines and another vendor supplying thrusters and another supplying electrical equipment, Wärtsilä can take on the entire power system. “This means we can optimize the system and all its different elements for different purposes,” Mr Miemois said.

REMOTE OPERATIONS

Many drilling contractors and operators have already been exploring the potential of onshore management centers, and engine manufacturers believe it’s a tool they can utilize as well.

Cummins has migrated to a line of fully electronic engines that allow the company and its clients to monitor critical engine parameters and provide faster diagnostics. Wärtsilä wants to use condition-based maintenance, which collects information from engine sensors, to provide operational advice to drilling contractors and operators. “Operators and drilling contractors shouldn’t have to be experts on various pieces of equipment. We can give them operational guidance on equipment so they can focus on the drilling.”

One offshore development with potential for drilling rigs, Mr Miemois pointed out, is the use of alternative fuels. Wärtsilä’s dual-fuel engines, which can use either oil or gas, are working offshore Norway on three offshore supply vessels that use LNG as its primary fuel. “There’s a tremendous difference in emissions, and the technology to do it is there. It’s just a function of cost — what’s the price of a clean environment?”

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