StatoilHydro places monster order for GE subsea computers

Avionics technology and open source operating system power next generation control systems.

StatoilHydro has awarded GE Oil & Gas a $70 million contract for subsea control systems on its Tordis Vigdis Controls Modification (TVCM) revamp. At the heart of GE’s offering is the new VetcoGray SemStar5 subsea electronics module (SEM). SemStar5 houses a new, high reliability computer system that was developed from GE’s experience in avionics and space research. Designing a systems that will spend decades on the sea bed is a similar problem to computerizing a space probe. Here the watchwords are reliability, redundancy and the avoidance of obsolescence.

GE’s Manuel Terranova told Oil IT Journal, ‘The SEM houses a computer plus communications to topside—think of it as a node for in a subsea LAN. SEMs sit on a production well or manifolds, collect and transmit them to the topside control room. They need to be ultra reliable as they may run for a decade and are very expensive to replace. Obsolescence is very real and problematical We spotted an opportunity to modernize subsea equipment dominated by proprietary technology that was based on 1970s avionics technology. Our experience of embedded systems in wind turbines led us to deploy an off the shelf chipset from Freescale to control the SS5’s computer driven valves. We also selected an open standards-based operating system—QNX ZSoftware’s ‘Neutrino’ real time system. This gives us protection against obsolescence, better I/O and cost of ownership and an easier upgrade path. We know that we will find engineers in 10 years time who can program QNX. This is not the case for pods that are coming out of the water now after only 10 years operations.’

The SS5 is destined to play a role in StatoilHydro’s digital oilfield initiatives—although so far this is limited to remote health check and diagnostics of subsea hardware. As bandwidth between the topside and subsea controls improves, the SS5 is expected to play a more active role in production optimizations. GE is currently looking at a control room interface for the SS5 although this is at a ‘very early stage.’

The TVCM order for 60 units in one go is the first global SS5 deployment. The contract will be executed under the GE’s 2007 subsea production systems frame agreement with StatoilHydro. More from

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