For companies seeking to optimize their operations, accurate and up-to-the-minute production feedback is indispensable. Jan Peters, co-founder of Alia Instruments, explains why with the next generation of non-nuclear equipment, the benefits of production monitoring are now attainable for any company regardless of type of vessel, personnel, or existing on-board technology.
‘I think that the advantages of working with accurate and real-time production data are evident,’ says Peters, ‘Optimization saves costs, fuel, and time – job efficiency that can also lead to a smaller carbon-footprint. As a result, companies are able to offer more competitive tenders. But this is only part of the picture. Just as important as knowing when densities are too low, is knowing exactly when solids will reach a percentage that can clog or even damage equipment. So having the most accurate data available in real-time has benefits on multiple levels.’
Most industry professionals are well aware of this according to Peters, but when deciding on installing production meters they tend to give the disadvantages of specific types of meters more weight than the advantages of monitoring in general. Peters, ‘Alia Instruments saw this as an opportunity for innovation. This is why we set out to develop a robust and simple meter that can mitigate any caveat dredging companies may have as to make their decision easier.’
Looking beyond nuclear technology
The most common density meters use radiation to determine the percent solids of a slurry. Peters: ‘The costs of proper hazardous material disposal and RFO-certified personnel are valid reasons to decide against using these meters but more important are their inherent technical shortcomings. The nuclear gauging principle means that the data accuracy is affected by the half-life of the radiation source. Over time this meter requires re-calibrating in order to prevent deviation.’ Not all companies have the necessary expertise on hand (board) to perform this maintenance says Peters, ‘I’ve visited dredgers where the crew had stopped using their meter altogether.’ A sometimes overlooked disadvantage of the nuclear method is the poor way it handles high densities or low volumes, Peters adds. Then there’s the question of immediacy, or lack thereof. Although in theory nuclear meters offer the benefit of a continuous and direct feedback – certainly true in comparison to dry surveys – in reality there is a significant lag in their output. Therefore real-time, on site, adjustments to the dredging process become somewhat of an informed estimation instead of a true optimization.
Peters: ‘With Alia Instruments we set out to engineer a meter that addresses each of the disadvantages mentioned. A meter that is reliable, easy to install, and user friendly. We felt that companies should be able to use their density meter no matter where in the world they’re operating. Therefore we opted for a simple design, industry standard components, and a non-proprietary output signal that is compatible with all sorts of existing software applications. A plug-and-play device that is easy to operate and maintain by local engineers with standard tools.’
Fortunately these days the industry is becoming increasingly aware of the advantages production monitoring has to offer. As a result new devices are being developed that aim to provide a viable alternative to radiation based technology. Each of them presents their own drawbacks however. Drawbacks that could hold companies back even though they have a lot to gain says Peters. ‘It would be a missed opportunity because you can’t truly improve efficiency without accurate, real-time production feedback. It’s not just a matter of convenience, in a highly competitive, globalized market, it’s simply essential.’
Peters: ‘Firstly, production monitoring brings down costs – Alia Density Meters pay for themselves within a year. Secondly, it saves time, so vessels can be deployed in new jobs faster. Thirdly, there are environmental benefits to increased efficiency. Saving fuel means an overall greener operation. Especially in public contracts this offers a clear competitive edge. Add the fact that companies are also better able to minimize wear to their equipment by having real-time density values, an advantage that can safe both money and time.’
These advantages speak for themselves says Peters. ‘But without the right technology the point would remain moot. This is where Alia’s mission comes in.’ By developing a meter that provides immediate, full volume density values independent of slurry materials, densities, and pipe diameters, Peters is convinced that Alia Instruments offers more than compelling counter arguments to production monitoring skeptics. ‘The dredging world is a high-tech industry. The reason for not optimizing one’s production should never be a suboptimal meter.’