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Keep the rigs running - Each aspect of the oil industry could do with a bit of help from predictive maintenance. (Image used for illustrative purposes.) Image Credit: Bloomberg News

Pinning down predictability has rarely been trickier than it is in the energy markets right now. In turn, the value of predictive maintenance is greater than ever.

Valued at $2.94 billion in 2019, the global predictive maintenance market is expected to reach $21.2 billion by 2027. This marks a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28.9 per cent - a soaring pace by any standard.

To be worthwhile, predictive maintenance technologies must allow either early intervention to prevent failure or reduce secondary losses. It is not enough to just go around detecting failures - the benefits of utilizing such tools properly can be enormous. Studies have shown that predictive maintenance can boost productivity by 25 per cent, cut breakdowns by 70 per cent, and slash maintenance costs by 25 per cent.

Such gains are especially valuable when up to $647 billion per year of lost revenue is due to downtime in manufacturing, which equates to a staggering $13 trillion in production value.

Consider these figures against a backdrop of low, if stable, oil prices, plus intensifying pressure on energy markets to decarbonize in support of the Paris Agreement. And let us not forget that the global economy is recovering from what the International Monetary Fund called the worst economic squeeze in nearly 100 years due to the pandemic.

Perhaps what is especially astonishing is that these potentially huge economic losses are largely avoidable; 89 per cent of asset failures occur at random and not because of asset age.

Proactive not reactive

The energy industry’s cyclical and oft-volatile nature means getting predictive – and therefore protective – measures in place makes good business sense. We currently have 117 machines covered by our predictive maintenance programme, with approximately 8,000 individual data points collected, monitored and trended.

The tools that we use include vibration analysis, airborne ultrasound, thermography, and Polarization Index Testing. Predictive maintenance gives us far greater visibility than we would have otherwise, and means that the time between overhauls for our high-value items of centrifugal equipment can be extended to as much as 30 years – longer than many stakeholders’ careers.

Tread smartly

Each company must do their own cost-benefit analysis to find solutions that work specifically for their budgets and existing operational norms, as predictive maintenance exists within the context of a company’s overall maintenance strategy. Otherwise, a company risks having a staff member wandering around with an accelerometer looking for faults.

Instead, your maintenance management and your predictive maintenance team must work as one unit. A way to achieve this is by having predictive maintenance services in-house, as it strengthens and streamlines the overall core functions of the operator, especially with real-time issues.

Energy companies can fall prey to investing in overly high-tech and costly solutions for specific or niche potential failure cases, which then never happen. This is a costly back-up plan. A good rule of thumb is only to apply predictive maintenance to an asset where failure is happening at least once a year.

There is also a tendency for energy players to wildly overestimate the potential savings incurred by installing predicting maintenance. To avoid this, operators must be brutally honest about their cost-benefit analysis before signing any checks. When making an investment, remember that it is far better to integrate the predictive maintenance strategy before said project is built.

Doing it later risks expensive back-and-forth reconfigurations, which could defeat the whole economic value of installing the predictive maintenance in the first place.

New futures

Up to mid-century, oil and gas markets will be ‘sunset industries’; their influence fading as lower carbon energy markets gain momentum. This means that the big prizes in predictive maintenance must focus on two key areas.

One will be squeezing every ounce of efficiency from existing fossil fuel infrastructure; a vast system bursting with potential. The second is retrofitting brownfield assets with new technologies, including green energy projects, to curb the risk of stranded assets and overly expensive new builds.

Whichever market you are in, being able to leverage early warning detection systems are an undeniable gamechanger for those who – and those who opt not to – to take preventative actions. Proactivity pays off over the long-term in terms of safety, profit, and reputational value. With a tsunami of question marks clouding the future of the energy industry, any chance of increased predictability is gold dust.