Supporting operations in Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq Plants: An interview with Reliability Engineer, Andres Gonzalez

Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq Plants, located in the Eastern Region of Saudi Arabia, is the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world. With a capacity to produce more than 7 million barrels of oil per day (bbl/d), reliability and failure prevention are key factors in maintaining steady production and distribution.

Andres Gonzalez, Reliability Engineer at the Abqaiq plants, recently spoke with Pump Engineer about the overall operations at the plant, and the significant role his unit plays in ensuring critical equipment is performing accurately. Having spent almost 14 years working with global leaders in pump manufacturing, Andres was eager to share his knowledge of reliability methods and experience in the crude oil industry.

By Deirdre Morgan, Editor

Originally from Venezuela, Andres graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2001. From there he began working with Flowserve in one of their repair centers, where he was involved with upgrades, rerates and material modifications for centrifugal pumps. He then moved to Saudi Arabia in 2010 to work for UK-headquartered Weir Pumps, again working on repairs in their service center. After spending 4 years working for Weir, Andres was offered a position with Saudi Aramco, and in 2014 he began to work at the Abqaiq plants. “I work in the Reliability Unit,” he says. “While every day is different, usually our main priority is to provide technical support to operations. Fixing critical equipment issues in a very short time and in a safely manner is key. Once operations has received the required support, we can then focus on ways in which we can avoid these failures in the future.”

The Abqaiq Plant receives sour crude oil from upstream, and then processes the sour crude into sweet crude before shipping it downstream to refineries and for exporting. The plant is broken into three main processing operations: the Oil Division processes the crude oil, the NGL (Natural Gas) Division processes and sends the gas through compressors to gas facilities and the Utilities Division produces the energy, steam and compressed air to operate the plant. “We receive the crude oil with gas, process it and ship it in a safe manner downstream to terminals and refineries. From there it is delivered to every part of the world; to the Gulf in the east or to the Red Sea in the west,” says Andres.

Going above and beyond
As the plant was built in the 1940s, some of the equipment was installed with minimum protection. However, the plant has undergone improvements over the past number of years, which involved upgrading the equipment to the latest standards in terms of reliability and safety. “Throughout the years we have worked on the critical equipment, installing temperature and vibration sensors to monitor its condition, of which most are connected to an ESD (Emergency Shut Down) system,” says Andres. “These sensors and monitoring devices aim to ensure that the equipment does not fail, or alternatively they will send an alarm to the operator so he can take action or shut down the machine.”

Of course, as with any plant comes the issue of obsolescence. Andres explains that the Abqaiq Plants have managed several capital projects to further maximize the reliability and performance of its facility. For equipment that become obsolete or, in some cases, the manufacturer is no longer in the market, the plant invests in installing new equipment and performs a complete replacement. Whatever decision is made, Andres emphasizes the effort that is put into upgrades for pumps, as well as for steam and gas turbines. “We are continuously looking for new technologies that can assist operations and increase reliability,” he says. “Not only do we install these new technologies, but we also pilot them or develop in-house tools to make daily activities easier.” Additionally, Saudi Aramco’s philosophy is not just to comply with international standards, but also to comply with internal standards as required.

To read the entire interview with Andres Gonzalez please email the Editor, Deirdre Morgan


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