When you make a list of the most remote places on Earth, Kazakhstan ranks up there. So when we took on a project where the end-user’s location was Kazakhstan, we knew the remoteness was going to be one of the challenges we would face in completing the project successfully.
Project Engineer Chris Davis made two trips to the site during the course of the project and can testify to the remoteness. “It’s 30 hours of travel time from the Birmingham airport to the airport at the country’s largest city, Almaty. We then had to fly to Karagandy, followed by a five-hour drive to the site near Karazhal, which is close to the location of the Soyuz cosmonaut launch site.” It’s also 12 time zones away.
The Distance Challenge
The project was a barite processing facility for a US-based oil and gas extraction company. Barite is used to make the “mud” that’s required for drilling operations. Our piece of the project was the complete control system, from the power switch gear to the SCADA system. This is our “sweet spot” for industrial process controls and the type of system we’ve done often.
But the distance put a different twist on this one. The extensive travel time required, and all the associated costs, complicated by the fact that foreigners are not allowed to stay in country for more than 14 days at a time without exiting the country and then returning at least a day later, dictated an approach that minimized the on-site time required of project personnel.
The solution employed by the plant’s E&C firm, Mouat, was to assemble the entire plant here in the states, including all the control systems, test it completely, then disassemble it for shipping, and reassemble everything at the site. Our piece of it was constructed in an e-house that could easily be shipped like a container.
All of the HMI for the SCADA needed to be done in both English and Russian, a main language in Kazakhstan. Rather than wrangle with translation systems or services that may lack technical expertise, we turned to one of our Automation Alliance Group partners, Insist Avtomatika, a fellow integrator with expertise in oil & gas projects and an office just a nine-hour train ride from the site. They were contracted to do the SCADA system, which included sending one of their engineers to the US for a two-week testing of the system.
Winter temperatures in Kazakhstan can reach -40º F, well below the typical operating temperature limit for control instruments and components. This had to be taken into account in all aspects of the system design and implementation.
The language difference was also a challenge since our engineers spoke no Russian. Fortunately, the engineer from Insist Avtomatika was able to pull double duty as our translator. He was also very familiar with the ins and outs of procuring materials in that part of the world, saving the project many hours of time by cutting through red tape and expediting shipments.
Design and panel manufacturing took 5 months. One of the main considerations in the design process was to ensure the modularity required to support the disassembly-reassembly process. The entire system was then assembled in Oneonta, AL and put through two months of testing. Disassembly was completed in May 2015. The reassembly in Kazakhstan was completed in December 2015.
While everyone likes to see a client’s satisfaction with a successful plant start-up, for David Williams, VP OEM Engineering Services and the team supervisor, the aspect of the project he’s most proud of is the successful way the process with our AAG partner worked. He feels the parsing of design responsibilities was a major contributor to the project’s success.
For Chris Davis, this was his first large-scale project to take charge of, and he found the entire project to be very rewarding, even if it meant traveling to the other side of the world. As it turns out, you can get there from here, and be successful doing a project there, too.