Pump monitoring system developed for world's largest oil sand company

Zoey Tsang

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Dr Peter Tse Wai-tat, Associate Professor from the Department of Manufacturing Engineering and Engineering Management (MEEM) at City University of Hong Kong (CityU), has been commissioned by Syncrude Canada Limited, the world’s largest oil sand corporation, to develop a monitoring system for its oil sand pumps. The system ensures the smooth operation of oil sand extraction and its highly efficient output. Dr Tse’s three-year project will receive funding of about HK$1.5 million from the corporation.

The company, operating at the Athabasca Oil Sands Deposit in the northwest of Canada, is in possession of 173 billion barrels of crude oil. Its mine uses several hundred oil sand pumps to deliver oil sands to different plants for processing and refining. The pumps may break down suddenly due to excessive wear and tear as they process coarse sands during their 24-hour operation. The resultant suspension of production can prove costly for the company.

The system developed by Dr Tse can monitor the operation and rate of deterioration of the oil sand pumps. With the help of its pre-warning alarms, maintenance staff are alerted when accessory parts should be repaired or replaced before the pumps fail to operate.

“Oil sand pumps are very expensive pieces of equipment,” Dr Tse said. “By using the monitoring system, the company can replace those easily worn-out parts to avoid severe deterioration, which may ultimately require replacement of the entire oil sand pump. In addition, the system can help the company to determine the life cycle of individual pumps and make necessary remedy to reduce maintenance costs and ensure continuous operation,” he said.

Besides funding Dr Tse’s development project, the oil company is also interested in recruiting professionals from CityU to provide long-term technical support in maintenance. The company intends to hire qualified graduates from MEEM to further support and develop the monitoring system.

Dr Tse is an expert on signal processing and engineering asset management. His Smart Asset Maintenance System (SAMS) has been adopted by many local major corporations, including China Light & Power Company, Swire Properties Management, Swire-Coca Cola HK, MTR Corporation and Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals. Dr Tse has not only provided these corporations with monitoring systems and related technology but also served as their consultant.

“SAMS is fully automated, has a low operation cost and can evaluate the reliability and potentially serious flaws in equipment. It can be deemed a ‘doctor’ for machines, as it can identify serious equipment damage to prevent economic loss and industrial accidents,” said Dr Tse.

Dr Tse is currently the Group Leader of the Smart Engineering Asset Management Laboratory in MEEM.


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