Integrating flow, process control improves operations

System integration, operations advice: Integrated flow and process control can significantly improve oil and gas operations.

By Tim Manning February 4, 2021


Learning Objectives

  • Decrease number of software packages to ease data sharing.
  • Standardize programming languages, communications protocols.
  • Ease configuration and cybersecurity risk.

Integrated flow and process control can significantly improve oil and gas operations. For instance, at a well pad, there may be the need to perform between 25 and 75 simultaneous measurement calculations along with the execution of wellhead and facility controls. A typical well pad might have one or more separators, Lease Automatic Custody Transfer (LACT) units, a facility programmable logic controller (PLC) and a central radio for supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). On a separator, there will also be separate measurement devices for water, oil and gas, often in a stand-alone remote terminal unit (RTU) package and perhaps even another RTU for measurement and reporting. There may also be additional stand-alone PLCs or RTUs performing other site functions. To establish a SCADA connection, each device typically communicates through one radio.

Having many software packages complicates data sharing

The problem is each measurement, RTU and PLC device traditionally has its own software package and communication protocol. So it is not only a challenge to establish a connection among them, but it also is very difficult to pass their data through the SCADA network. Modbus is the most common communication protocol for doing so today.

Communication between an RTU and a PLC requires defining tables at both ends and verifying the data conversion for each data type. Further complicating things, measurement team members cannot connect to both the PLC and the RTU. The PLC program requires an additional member of the automation or instrumentation and electrical (I&E) group, and possibly a contractor. Once the process of configuring the Modbus table on each device is completed, the users must verify and validate the Modbus data is being passed successfully from the RTU to the PLC. The validation process must be repeated to validate the same data from the PLC to the SCADA system, which can take more than a day.

By integrating the flow computer with a powerful automation platform that has a modern processor, large program memory, gigabytes of data storage and intrinsic cybersecurity, all measurement and controls functions can be performed in one secure box.

Embedding the measurement calculations from the American Gas Association (AGA), American Petroleum Institute (API) and other standards organizations into the firmware of a device with a secure runtime environment ensures efficient processing and eliminates the opportunity for the calculations to be tampered with.

Standard programming languages, communications protocols

By choosing a device that supports IEC 61131, the user can take advantage of the powerful programming features of the standard, including being able to program in a language most suitable for the application and users. Integrating measurement and control becomes even easier and more powerful. In addition to open programming standards, the device should support advanced, open and secure communication protocols such as OPC UA and message queuing telemetry transport (MQTT).

However, with open standards comes the need for providing robust, intrinsic cybersecurity. Features such as embedded public key infrastructure (PKI) authentication, encryption, secure boot and a secure real-time operating system are required to ensure the device is protected from cyber threats. Without these capabilities, the user is faced with the need for additional spending on add-on security devices, or leaving the system exposed.

Software configurable I/O points ease configuration; cybersecurity

Finally, having software configurable input/output (I/O) points is a huge benefit. The flexibility of being able to configure each point, via software, as an analog input (AI), analog output (AO), digital input (DI), digital output (DO), counter, frequency input, NAMUR input or HART channel makes design, commissioning and startup so much easier.

The same can be said for allowing full software control over the serial port configurations. There’s no longer a need to have multiple serial port cards in inventory or carry a lot of adapters to accommodate changes in the field. All options are available, all the time.

A platform that integrates custody transfer quality oil and gas measurement, high-performance automation, state of the art I/O and communications capabilities, with open standard programming tools, communication protocols and deeply embedded cybersecurity features will dramatically reduce the complexity, time and cost of measurement and automation at a well site. With the ever-growing demands to increase efficiencies, now is the time to consider this approach.

Tim Manning is OSA + Flow product manager at Bedrock Automation. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

KEYWORDS: Automation implementation advice, controls, programming, I/O, cybersecurity


How can you simplify process automation architectures to resolve multiple challenges?


For more, see the Bedrock OSA Remote +Flow industrial control system in New Products for Engineers Database.

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Original content can be found at Control Engineering.

Author Bio: Tim Manning, Bedrock Automation