Castrol Offshore Launches New Dedicated Subsea Valve Testing Facility

Offshore industry lubricant specialist Castrol Offshore has stepped up its support for the subsea sector, installing two high pressure Directional Control Valve (DCV) test rigs at the Castrol Global Technology Centre at Pangbourne in the UK.
For critical subsea operations, where system reliability is paramount, these class-leading test rigs will be crucial in delivering the highest level of performance assurance for subsea hydraulic fluids. It means for the first time Castrol will have the capability to test these critical pieces of subsea hardware under real-life conditions.

These hydraulic valves are typically used to control the main production gate valves on subsea trees and form an integral part of a field’s subsea production control system. Loss of function and excessive leakage from a valve can lead to loss of production and costly intervention work in difficult subsea conditions which can run into millions of dollars.

Chris Morrissey, Castrol Offshore's product quality and performance manager, believes the use of the DCV test rigs at the Castrol Global Technology Centre will directly benefit the industry. The benefits from this research will be realized by:

  • Reducing wear in the DCV to increase its life and reliability
  • Reducing DCV leakage rates to benefit the environment and reduce fluid usage

Both of these benefits reduce operating costs.

"Designing equipment with high reliability is a difficult and complex task," said  Morrissey. "With limited in-service performance data, there is a high reliance on validation of performance through testing before equipment enters service. This in turn demands a deep understanding of the application, interfaces and operating environment if test methods are to truly reflect the in-service condition."

The DCV test rigs are highly complex machines performing a wide variety of valve function checks together with statistical process control and fluid condition monitoring. Both rigs -- one for oil-based fluids and one for water-based fluids -- are fully automated and have four valve stations per rig.

Once a valve test has been completed, a wide range of additional checks can be made using the extensive analytical facilities available at the Castrol Technology Centre. These include detailed fluid elemental analysis, changes in physical characteristics and valve component measurements. It means Castrol can drill down to a level of detail unavailable from other subsea fluid providers.

Fluid qualification tests can now be completed on valves from the major subsea OEM's including Aker Solutions, Cameron, Vetco Gray and Rotator (used by FMC and Dril-Quip). Previously, subsea valve testing of hydraulic fluid would have been conducted principally in-house by the OEMs.

Morrissey believes that the addition of the DCV test rigs underlines Pangbourne's status as one of the world's premier R&D sites into lubrication technology for subsea and offshore work, as well as in other industries such as automotive and marine.

"In addition to qualification testing, research work will also be conducted with the OEMs:

  • To gain a greater understanding of fluid lubrication performance and the effect of long hold periods on fluid films in the subsea environment.
  • To evaluate the effects of fluid contaminates on DCV performance

The aim is to form close partnerships with the OEM's to gain a greater understanding of valve/fluid interaction, with the ultimate goal of improving overall system reliability."