Underpinning the smooth running of the giant Pearl GTL plant at Ras Laffan is an array of process and communication technology. The facility is fitted with 13,000 kilometres of cables, enough to stretch from Doha to Houston.

The US’ Honeywell was awarded a contract to design and implement the integrated process automation and control system for the project. The company provided its Experion system, which enables operators and engineers to process real-time information, as well as historical data.

The telecommunications system links together all communications equipment and security systems at the plant

Andrea Floris, Page Europa

“The Experion system uses data that comes from control processors and safety manager systems, says Orhan Genis, vice-president for Emea sales at Honeywell Process Solutions. “This data comes direct from the C300 control processors and systems deployed site-wide to execute the vast array of complex process control strategies.”

Field instruments for Pearl GTL

Honeywell also supplied a large proportion of the field instruments, based on Hart or Fieldbus digital automation protocol. Instruments include temperature and pressure transmitters, and flow meters. Data from the tank farm is collected by Honeywell’s tank data acquisition system. UOP, a Honeywell unit that specialises in process automation at oil and gas installations and also supplied equipment to the plant.

Installing the process automation equipment was a huge challenge, given the rolling start-up of the complex. “The system at GTL is made up from many component subsystems and the challenge at GTL was to integrate each component part into the main overall system, while some were starting up and others were in commissioning mode,” says Genis.

The finished integrated system enables Shell to efficiently control Pearl GTL operations from production at the unmanned platforms, to processing at the onshore plant, to shipping the finished product. Real-time data from equipment such as process controls, field devices and safety systems is sent to the control room, helping operators make faster decisions. Maintaining and upgrading the system is also no easy task and will require a continuous engagement by the technology provider.

“The biggest challenge comes from the need to maintain such a large installed base, particularly managing the pace of technology driven by operating system and server/workstation hardware vendors,” says Genis. To this end, the company will provide Shell with upgrades to its software, monitor the system and provide spare parts.

While a modern hydrocarbon plant relies heavily on process technology, a communication network is also vital. “The telecommunications system is at the heart of Pearl GTL’s operations as it enables all the other systems as well as all the operatives at the facility to communicate,” says Andrea Floris, president at Italy’s Page Europa. “Quite literally, without this strategic system the Pearl GTL facility would not be able to run.”

Page Europa, a subsidiary of the US’ General Dynamics, was tasked with integrating the telecommunication systems. The company was the principal contractor for the design, engineering, procurement and turnkey supply of systems for telecommunications, information technology and security. It is the supplier of all integrated telecommunications and security systems.

“The telecommunications system links together all communications, security sub-systems and equipment at the facility, ensuring that the information being provided by these systems is monitored centrally,” says Floris.

The technology installed by Page Europa includes intrusion detection and access control systems, CCTV video surveillance, a fibre-optic transmission system that connects offshore platforms with onshore facilities and provides the basis for the local area network and wide area network. The firm also provided the communications system for the team responsible for coordinating the systems checks before the plant came online.

Smooth integration of communication systems at Pearl GTL

As with the process technology, integrating the communications systems was a comprehensive undertaking. “Because our system is fully integrated will all other systems at the facility, we were involved in integrating that system throughout the construction of Pearl GTL,” says Floris. “Although the technology systems integration contract was awarded later than the major engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts, Page Europa was able to deliver engineering and equipment to meet the requirements of the eight different EPC contractors and the Pearl GTL.”

Integrating a project of this magnitude did not pose a problem, according to Floris. “In the case of Pearl GTL, the scale of the project did not impact on our systems despite the large number of components and pieces of equipment involved,” he says

Size does not always matter when it comes to Pearl GTL.