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Control via the virtual world

08th September 2015

Subsea 7 works with Siemens to establish virtual commissioning environment for automation control system development

Gorgon traction winch installation
Gorgon traction winch installation

Subsea 7 is one of the world’s leading global contractors in seabed-to-surface engineering, construction and services to the offshore industry.  The company has worked with Siemens UK & Ireland to develop an effective in-house control system development team that now uses the operational and cost benefits of an automation virtual commissioning environment based on Siemens’ SIMIT Simulation Framework.  SIMIT offers a combination of faster commissioning, higher engineering quality, lower costs and reduced risks.

Initially tested as a new approach for the development of the control system for a large and complex winch project ultimately destined for use on a vessel in Perth, Australia, such was the success of the simulation strategy - in terms of reduced timeframes and cost - that the approach has now been adopted on all control system projects undertaken by the team at Subsea 7.

Ian Wilson is the Control System Group Manager at Subsea 7 and he explains the background: “Recognising the fundamental role of control systems as an integral element of offshore equipment, we put together a new team about four years ago designed to provide support to projects from the initial design phase to the final installation. 

“After looking at the marketplace, we teamed up with Siemens to help us establish a new strategy about how we could generate efficiencies in our development and commissioning stages as we worked on new vessel projects.  At this time we were set to work on the large winch project which would be used to lower a Subsea template to the seabed, which is a distance of approximately one kilometre.  The weight involved was over 1200 tonnes and the timeframe for completion was just eight months.”

The winch project allowed the team with assistance from Siemens, to come to terms with the simulated approach made possible by SIMIT and this helped speed up the process, especially as the control system team were confronted with major logistical hurdles.  Ian Wilson continues: “With the winch being constructed on the vessel in Australia, it meant that we had to overcome issues around distance and time zones.  The ability to build and use the control system simulator at our headquarters in Aberdeen meant we could proceed with the simulation project to test the control system without delay as construction continued on the other side of the world.”

The impact of the SIMIT simulator was profound.  Within just two weeks of testing in a virtual environment, Ian’s team was able to identify and resolve nearly 250 software bugs which drastically shortened the timescales previously encountered.  Ian Wilson says: “I estimate that testing the system in situ with all the inherent issues of geography and other delays would have taken over three months’ work.  The ability to dramatically shorten this process through the simulation approach in Aberdeen proved the validity of our decision to go down the virtual route for testing.  We basically found more software bugs in less time, which is vital as every day the vessel is not in use is costly.”

The success of the simulation approach on this project helped ensure that this was the right way to move forward for Subsea 7 and the case for office based testing versus onsite testing was proven.  It is now being used on all installation projects, meaning testing is quicker, more efficient and ensures the system works correctly from the first time when installed on the vessel site.

Steve Leech, product manager - process automation at Siemens UK & Ireland adds:
“This is a great example of how utilising the SIMIT Simulation Framework has generated real value to Subsea 7. The cost savings and increased engineering quality within the supply chain are clear reoccurring benefits that have been seen through a modest investment into simulation technology.”

Ian Wilson sums up the benefits he sees from working with Siemens to create his virtual commissioning environment:  “Being able to replicate the control system used on the fleet of vessels in our own offices rather than on site has brought significant benefit.  We can identify and rectify issues more quickly and have seen a 90% overall reduction in the on-board commissioning time.  This has enhanced our operational efficiencies, saved costs and built up in-house knowledge that is now being used across all our projects.  The return on investment was immediate with the expenditure setting up the SIMIT system and initial training recouped straightaway through the efficiencies we saw on the Australian winch project. 

“We are delighted to have worked alongside Siemens to establish the simulation strategy for the control systems team’s work.  It has been a decision that has delivered tangible benefit.”


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