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Ethernet switches provide mission critical reliability in subsea application

29 November 2015

FMC Technologies is putting severe duty Ethernet switches from Westermo to the test deep below the sea: an exercise that has been met with considerable success.

Ethernet switches from Westermo provide mission critical reliability deep below the sea (image courtesy of FMC Technologies)

Extracting oil and gas from subsea reservoirs is very challenging and requires sophisticated technology to ensure safe and efficient production. Subsea systems are constantly being developed and improved, and as a result, the boundaries of which reservoirs are considered economically non-viable or inaccessible are continually changing. Improving data communications are playing an important role, providing operators with increased production, equipment health, and safety information, to ensure efficient and safe operation.

FMC Technologies is a global leader in the energy industry, providing subsea systems for oil and gas extraction and processing on the sea floor. The company’s equipment can be installed as deep as 3,000m, which makes access very difficult. Any equipment downtime or failures would result in difficult and costly maintenance and significant economic losses from potential lost production. It is therefore extremely important that all the components of a subsea system offer the very highest levels of reliability and longest mean time between failures. 

FMC Technologies can offer communication system uptime just below 100 percent, but is continually developing and improving its systems to further increase performance and reliability. The data communication network that supports the subsea systems has been a specific area of opportunity in this regard. The latest communication technologies enable improvements in both reliability and performance, and FMC Technologies has been keen to take advantage of this.

For example, the company has deployed industrial Ethernet switches to handle a range of data from the subsea trees used to monitor and control the production of subsea wells and which are a central part of the production system. In simple terms, a subsea tree is a configuration of large valves, installed directly above the well head to control flow, pressure and other variables in the extraction process.

When procuring new data communications systems for its subsea trees, FMC Technologies sought high reliability devices that were able to offer a life span of up to 30 years. It was also important to find a partner that could demonstrate a track record of providing data communication systems for critical industrial applications, and also offer a high degree of future-proofing with its hardware, as Bjørn Haavengen, global R&D manager at FMC Technologies explains:

“Reliability and operational uptime are extremely important in these types of installations and it is critical that the data communications technology we deploy supports these requirements. When looking for new technology we needed a company that has a clear vision of future communications solutions and extensive experience in critical applications.”

Faced with these demanding challenges FMC Technologies turned to Westermo for support. With Westermo products providing a communication infrastructure for control and monitoring systems, typically used in mission critical applications where commercial grade products are not sufficiently resilient, the company was deemed well positioned to meet these needs. 

Westermo has a track record supplying data communication systems for complex and demanding environments. Using only the highest quality components and avoiding the use of electrolytic capacitors, relays, fans and batteries wherever possible (as they typically reduce MTBF) the company has developed what it claims are the most reliable Ethernet switches on the market, providing industry leading MTBF figures exceeding 500,000 hours. 

The Westermo Ethernet switch is the main data communication device deployed in FMC Technologies’ subsea trees and is based on its popular Lynx range of managed switches. Constant and reliable communications is critical and the Westermo Ethernet switches are used to transmit a wide range of critical data, including temperature, pressure and flow. The switches are installed in an electronics and communications pod which sits inside the subsea tree. The pod is used to accommodate a number of electronic devices and provides a controlled environment for these devices.

“The cooperation between FMC Technologies and Westermo has worked well and has provided solutions to difficult challenges,” says FMC Technologies’ project manager, Jan-Helge Kupen. “Being able to rely on each supplier is critical to the success of these projects, especially in crucial areas such as communication with equipment on the sea floor.”

As a result of the cooperation between the two companies, FMC Technologies subsea trees incorporating the Westermo switches are now being deployed in oil and gas projects around the world.

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