March 2023

Executive viewpoint

Oilfield mindset shifts to quality over quantity
Alex Flores / SPM™ Oil & Gas, a Caterpillar Company

Operators have a new mindset when it comes to field operations: total cost of ownership (TCO) rules the day. Unplanned downtime is the enemy of today’s 24/7 operations. In the span of just a few short years, maintenance has become an activity that’s viewed as absolutely essential, to ensure equipment lasts longer to withstand around the clock use, while maximizing companies’ capital expenditures. 

Equipment longevity is more important than ever. No matter the current pricing environment, companies work continuously to drive the costs of producing a well lower and lower. Equipment looks and operates in a very different manner from the way it did five years ago. Individual pieces of equipment may be more expensive than in the past; however, there are fewer of them on-site, and they run for longer periods of time. 

Fracing operations are now running 24/7. Practices, such as simul-frac and connecting frac pads to each other, speed up the fracing process, but they take away downtime that was previously used to perform maintenance. Equipment must now run longer and more reliably than before. 

New technologies and appropriate maintenance work together to make this possible. For example, while traditional frac pumps with traditional fabricated frames have lifespans of around 1,500 hrs before an overhaul is required, a single-piece frame, such as the SPM™ WS 335 Frac Pump, can last 6,000 hrs before overhaul is required, with proper preventative maintenance. 

Maintenance and TCO are priorities. Preventative maintenance is key to keeping fracing equipment running smoothly, and operators and oilfield service companies are now eager to ensure it happens. While maintenance may have been ignored in the past, companies now realize that preventative maintenance is essential to avoiding major failures in the field that can cause expensive downtime. 

The greatest hindrance to maintenance today isn’t a lack of will; it’s knowledge. Continued workforce challenges have made it difficult for crews to possess the experience to perform proper maintenance schedules—especially if a variety of equipment is used. 

Service contracts have become invaluable to ensuring uptime and equipment reliability. With SPM Oil & Gas’ service contracts, for example, the correct maintenance is conducted on the correct schedule, and companies are advised of specific procedures, processes and intervals that can optimize their entire frac site. Being mindful of NPT, preventative maintenance is performed when equipment is stopped as part of normal operations. 

Standardizing on equipment providers is another way companies are seeking to improve TCO and reduce costs. Rather than rent a large bore, zipper fracs and flowback iron from three different sources and accommodate three different crews, companies are choosing to source equipment from a single supplier to have one crew on-site, operating all three pieces. This reduces labor costs while also simplifying maintenance requirements. 

Additionally, automation is increasingly used in the field to help reduce costs—and increase safety. New technology can automate opening, closing and greasing equipment, eliminating the need for human intervention for monitoring valves around the clock to keep them running. This lowers costs and improves site safety. 

Workers truly don’t have time to leave the field for replacement parts or request repair personnel to be dispatched to the job site. In the past, such practices led to components being used much longer than advised, leading to unplanned downtime. 

Utilizing on-site parts trailers ensures parts are immediately available when needed. Parts trailers are a vital element of service contracts, including our own, and help ensure a readily available supply that perfectly aligns with prescribed maintenance protocols.   

All of these elements taken together create a seamless, streamlined, integrated ecosystem. For optimal TCO, efficiency and costs, it’s crucial to combine the right maintenance with the right knowledge and the right parts. 

Only constant is change. As anyone in the industry knows, the oil and gas sector continuously evolves. Equipment, as well as service capabilities, evolves to support companies’ changing requirements. The ability to be on-site—with parts—to perform preventative maintenance properly adds tremendous value to companies’ efforts in the fields. Such capabilities help companies achieve greater success on the job and position them to potentially win more business. Finding the right service partner is a key component for successful operations in 2023 and beyond. 

About the Authors
Alex Flores
SPM™ Oil & Gas, a Caterpillar Company
Alex Flores is Vice President of Service for SPM Oil & Gas, a Caterpillar company. His oil and gas career spans 19 years and multiple roles of increasing responsibility within SPM Oil & Gas. In his current role, Mr. Flores focuses on improving customers’ operations through the strategic deployment of service resources in the field and utilization of lean principles in workshops to reduce NPT and turnaround time.
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