Major INPEX LNG offshore maintenance project earns ABB accolades

Major INPEX LNG offshore maintenance project earns ABB accolades

When you’re operating one of the world’s largest offshore LNG plants, planned maintenance is key to meet production schedules and ensure ROI. INPEX Ichthys floating offshore facilities in the Timor Sea turned four last year, and with that came the need to inspect its ABB designed electrical system. ABB’s service team performed 5,200 hours on-site, running 12-hour shifts, with zero incidents.

Nothing can be left to chance on a maintenance shutdown of offshore oil and gas infrastructure. The INPEX Ichthys LNG project off the north coast of Western Australia integrates subsea extraction, a massive offshore central processing facility (CPF) connected to a 59-metre wide floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel, and an 890-kilometer pipeline to onshore processing in Darwin. It runs the motors that run the pumps that keep the pressure on the gas…and between scheduled shutdowns it needs to work 24/7.

Last year, the first major maintenance and testing of ABB electrification equipment since Ichthys LNG began operating in 2018, was set to take 30+ days and required the full focus of contractors, personnel and equipment suppliers. There are many stakeholders – shareholders, customers, workforces – involved in its powering down. Planning and reliable partners are crucial to completing necessary works within an agreed timeframe.

Jason Hicks, INPEX Shutdown Coordinator for the electrical and instrumentation equipment that forms the backbone of Ichthys LNG production, closely coordinated with ABB’s Electrification Service project manager and field service manager Michael Hand for the maintenance and testing scope. They planned not only every step of the work to be carried out and the specialist expertise required, but had a back-up team ready on land in case a deployed member fell ill. They identified contingencies and the psychology behind making their respective teams feel confident about the work ahead and at ease with one another.

“You really want to know that the vendor you partner with supports you,” says Hicks of INPEX’s decision to partner with ABB for “the shut”. With the platform and vessel more than 200 kilometers from land and 820 kilometers from the nearest port of Darwin, “We need to know that they can allocate the people and resources, that they have all their equipment and tooling sorted, that they get the importance of timely delivery to the vessel transporting equipment from port, and much more.”

ABB had tendered for the work, and had the undoubted advantage of being the original equipment manufacturer and installer of the integrated facility’s electrical infrastructure. ABB had also successfully completed maintenance on other parts of the facility during a shutdown the previous year. “It was a unique situation which included our first inspection of the high-voltage switchboards. In my mind, the OEM is best placed to identify which specialists are required, and they know what to look for,” says Hicks. “Engineering within INPEX agreed, and endorsed our decision to go with ABB.”

No incidents? Not a coincidence

Planning for the shutdown began in 2021 and despite COVID restrictions was smoothly carried out mid-2022 without incident.

That might sound like an anti-climax – no dramas, no unexpected challenges to overcome? That’s exactly how Hicks likes it: “When you execute on schedule, it means everything’s been done according to the plan and you get safe, good quality outcomes,” he says, adding, “When you start finding unexpected things, that’s when you can come unstuck.”

Planning for emergent scopes of work – “scratch the surface and sometimes things get bigger,” says Hicks – is generally part of the process, though less so when the equipment is still new and successfully delivering, as it is on Ichthys.

Inspections are required because although “all machinery has a warranty period,” says Michael Hand, “like cars, switchboards have moving mechanical parts and they have certain things that need to be ticked off to make sure that they do reach their expected lifespan of about 30 years.”

He says the importance of the first inspection since commissioning is that “if any issues weren’t picked up at commissioning, now is when we’re going to find and flag them, so that we can get them repaired before they cause any problems”.

The role of Liam Ruane, Business Development Manager for ABB’s Electrification Service business in Western Australia, includes working to improve the life and cost of ownership of installed ABB electrical assets. He handled the tendering process for the shutdown and lauds the efforts of a whole ABB team of professionals behind the scenes to ensure INPEX requirements and expectations were met.

“The cost of downtime for Ichthys is extremely expensive,” notes Ruane, and major shutdowns for maintenance are only scheduled every four years, “so if we didn’t deliver on the entire scope during this shutdown window, it could put their operations in jeopardy for the coming three years”.

All necessary equipment and tooling left for Darwin a month before the planned shutdown, and was shipped to the floating facility ahead of the crew’s arrival by helicopter. Carry-on baggage for the chopper flight was limited to seven kilos, which one passenger remarked, “is just enough for clothes and a toothbrush”!

Working through a pandemic

COVID was the biggest potential spanner in the works. An unexpectedly reduced workforce posed one of the greatest risks to the shutdown schedule.

ABB fielded a team of 20 to carry out the work, including a small onshore squad, “a couple of people waiting in a room” for a week, designated to be ready in case any of the deployed workforce fell ill after going offshore.

Due to Western Australia’s border closures during COVID, the Western team was only able to bring two key experts – Jumar Felizardo who led ABB’s team on the CPF and Rajesh Dhumal who was in charge of the crew for the FPSO – from interstate. A long-enacted ABB strategy of having local contractors trained in installing and maintaining its equipment allowed ABB to confidently provide the required number of skilled people. “We work with the same contracting partners often, so that the training we provide them can be utilized on a number of projects throughout the year,” says Hand. “That allows us to look after major projects from a local base, which proved a successful implementation given COVID.”

Rehearsal ensures everyone knows their part

INPEX had also requested that all those deployed be briefed and ready to go when they landed offshore. A pre-shutdown workshop at which everyone sat with their respective combined INPEX /ABB teams, went through the scope of work, and made sure that each individual was totally across their role and responsibilities proved to be another key step in the recipe shutdown success. Says Hand: “We believe it was a big contributor to the fact we had no high-risk incidents and everyone was able to safely deliver the work.”

The facility was shut down for almost 35 days, to allow equipment to cool before commencement of the 28 days of maintenance.

Hicks says INPEX also sought to reduce the heat on people to perform at speed: “At morning meetings we never showed up with schedules that highlighted what point we were at in the whole shutdown program. It was only about the plan for this day, and about going out and safely doing those jobs.”

Switchboard inspections, circuit board maintenance and relay testing were on the agenda, but if there was time at the end of planned blocks of work, people didn’t walk away. “On programs like this, we would normally just take note of any further work that is required, but given the guys were running slightly ahead of time, they were able to also do a lot of simple rectifications while they were there,” says Hand.

The next service on the electrical equipment that powers INPEX Ichthys is due in 2026, and ABB’s maintenance performance to date puts it in a good position to also win the coming contract. Both companies are also exploring the opportunities for interim support delivered by virtual reality goggles and via phone or computer tablet – ABB’s remote solutions that could save time, reduce carbon emissions generated by travel and offer immediate assistance from ABB’s global experts.

In the meantime, Hicks describes ABB’s offshore team as “exceptional”. He says their combination of work ethic and calm approach to the stop-start nature of waiting for particular areas to be isolated so they were safe to work on, showed a great attitude and resilience to the rigors of the off-shore environment. “Our core crew gave really good feedback on ABB’s knowledge and performance, and said it gave them a great deal of confidence when they were reenergizing the equipment.”


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