By Brittani Schroeder, Angelica Pajkovic and Sarah Bradley
With roughly 20 years of experience as a process engineer, Gabriel has leant his knowledge to a wide variety of projects. He began his career as a production engineer and quickly moved into a lead project engineer role in the water treatment industry before finding his passion in large offshore oil and gas projects.
“The oil and gas industry has given me the most dynamic engineering position,” Gabriel related. “In my opinion, the oil and gas sector is primarily a function of sophisticated technologies and the needs of the general populous. As there is generally more action and new inventive technologies, I find it to be very interesting and engaging.”
Gabriel spends his days leading multidisciplinary teams of engineers in mega methanol and oil and gas facilities. A mega facility is so named based on the investment that goes into it, as well as its output. A typical mega facilities cost over USD $1 billion, which roughly translates to putting out five thousand metric tons a day.
“My goal is to have all engineering teams to be on the same page. They need to know what the requirements of the project are, and they all need to know the schedule that they have to follow. You would be amazed at how many teams do not share this information with each other. They only know the specific information they need, and they will not try to learn any more. I try to eliminate that,” said Gabriel. “My ultimate objective is to make sure each team understands how their jobs impact others—once they understand that, it is a much smoother workflow.” In order to properly question specific processes, and possibly streamline others, it is crucial to ensure that each engineering team is informed of each engineering process.
Gabriel starts each project with a large team meeting. He covers timelines, requirements, deliverables from each team, and shows 3D models of the project. “Each engineering discipline will talk through their roles, explaining their processes to everyone. This way, the teams get the whole picture, not just one little snippet of it.” Through this process, Gabriel has had the opportunity to acquire extensive understanding of boilers, pumps, valves, and heat exchangers.
Boilers and Pumps
The importance of a boiler in a mega project is often overlooked. The day the boilers are started at a facility is a momentous occasion. “The stakeholders will show up, the lead engineers, everyone. When the boilers get started it means the facility is nearing completion. When the boilers start, everything else is in place; it marks the beginning of the project completion,” stated Gabriel. Once the boilers have started, the pipes will be cleaned by the steam from the boilers in a process called ‘steam blows’. At this point, the plant is 90% ready and will be operational within a couple of months. “It is a big deal,” he continued.
One of the principle concerns with a boiler is the possibility of accumulated deposits. Those deposits are minerals from the water that are left during the boiling process. For gigantic boiler, these deposits become a real problem. As these deposits will eventually block the tubes, and it will cause maintenance problems for the boiler, the water first needs to be treated.
Most large facilities have their own water treatment processes, and “their capacity varies between 3 to 10 million gallons a day,” Gabriel relayed. The facility will take water from a nearby canal or river, separate it from the city’s residential supply, and then treat the water. “After removing the suspended solids from the water they will do a process called demineralization. This is removing all the minerals from the water, which is done by ion exchange or reverse osmosis systems. Once minerals are removed you are left with demineralized water (pure water no minerals). The demineralized water goes into further treatment to adjust the pH, then it can be distributed to the boiler system. In the boiler system the demineralized water is pumped into a deaerator to remove oxygen and any other gases trapped in the water, then pumped into the boilers. From there, the boiler increases the water temperature producing steam; as the temperature increases the pressure increases inside the boilers until it reaches the design set point, which can reach up to 2000 PSI or more, depending on the downstream process needs,” he continued.
The importance of rotating equipment within mega facilities is also sometimes overlooked. “High pressure pumps, in particular, are necessary for a boiler, and by extension a facility to function,” Gabriel explained. “In order to get the pressure up to 2000 PSI or above in the boilers, you need to have high pressure pumps – what we call boiler pumps – that take the water from the boiler deaerator, pressurize it and then send it along to the boilers.” How does a pump create this pressure? “These pumps have multiple stage impellers, each impeller stage increases the pressure until it reaches the required pressure,” said Gabriel.
High-pressure boiler pumps are often complex system, as they reach very high pressures – usually between 2,000 and 3,000 PSI. To reach such high pressure the pump requires a high speed rotating impeller and driver, which in turn requires additional engineering and extra safety measures to allow for a safe operation.
A Variety of Valves
Along with boilers and pumps, Gabriel has vast knowledge of valves and which valve is required for each process within a facility. “All valves are made specifically to fit the application it will be used in. The material it is made out of will depend on what fluid or gas will be passing through it when it is operational. The corrosivity, the pressure, the flow rate, and so much more has to be taken into consideration,” he explained.
Gabriel works with many valves on his projects, including gate valves, globe valves, knife valves, butterfly valves, and more. “In each valve category, there are many specialized valves. You can have regular butterfly valves but then there are also more robust butterfly valves. There are high performance valves, and those have three points of contact to provide more fluid control and more sufficient means of sealing instead of a single point of sealing valves,” he explained. The valves can also be manually operated, or remotely controlled by a motor, or pneumatic actuators depending on the design and the intended function. Also, valves can have multiple accessors, such as positioners and switches, to send a feed back to the control room so computers can take the proper action, and operators can identify the valve position and detect any malfunction remotely.
The biggest challenge that Gabriel faces when dealing with valves is the delivery time. “There are so many valves involved with every project I work on, and there are variations in delivery time involved, so ensuring that the correct valve is delivered on time and in a timely manner can become complicated,” Gabriel explained. “This issue often stems from a lack of product capacity. When ordering regular valves, suppliers have them on the shelf and ready to go. But when we are ordering special valves from the supplier catalog, we must wait for manufacturing, delivery time, could take up to 36 weeks sometimes. That could cause problems if the project has a rushed schedule.”
OSBL vs. ISBL
In the industrial world, ISBL stands for Inside Battery Limits. This is defined as all equipment and associated components that act upon the primary feed stream of a process. It refers to equipment and other components that are solely dedicated to a single process, whether or not the equipment is physically located within the geographical boundaries of the unit.
In contrast, OSBL stands for Outside Battery Limits. This is defined as utilities, common facilities, and other equipment and components that are not included in the ISBL definition. It instead refers to systems, equipment pieces, and associated components that support several units.
Gabriel has experience working on both the ISBL and OSBL sides of projects. “Working in ISBL, you need to know everything that is going on, so it is almost like you are working OSBL as well,” he explained.
With today’s focus on renewable energy, and electric cars, the demand for oil and gas as energy source will be reduced. Yet, the demand as raw material for petrochemical industries will increase, as will the need of new materials.
Gabriel therefore advices to always be open for new ideas, as it may result in better design or extra savings and can also improve the team ethic. “Always be open to new challenges, and never be afraid of making mistakes; with every challenge we gain new experience and with every mistake we learn and add new knowledge,” he expressed.
Over Gabriel’s many years in engineering industries, he has gained valuable experience and built very transferable skills. From boilers and pumps, to valves and heat exchangers, Gabriel is able to stay up-to-date with the progressive nature of the industries he works in and pass on that knowledge to his team. Whether he is working on the ISBL or the OSBL side of things, he will continue to expand the knowledge of the engineering teams he works with. “Once you get everyone working together and with a comfortable understating of these different essential processes, you are set for the rest of the project,” he concluded.