Q&A – Dr Chris O’Connor and Andrew Duncan

Materials World magazine
,
3 Jul 2015

Rhiannon Garth Jones talks to Dr Chris O’Connor and Andrew Duncan from DNV GL Oil & Gas about a new qualification to measure the quality of innovation.

 

Dr Chris O’Connor, Principal Consultant, Technical Advisory 

Chris is a materials scientist holding a BSc and PhD in Polymer Science and Technology. In his current role he is a non-metallics specialist providing technical advisory support to the oil and gas sector. Chris has a background in technical assurance and qualification focusing on the safe implementation of new innovative materials and technologies.

 

Andrew Duncan, Group Leader, Asset and Management Systems 

Andrew is an engineering economist with a background in asset performance improvement and technology decision making. He is originally an electronic and electrical engineering graduate and holds an MBA, focusing on energy finance, engineering economics and technology strategy.

What inspired you to create your Technology Qualification (TQ) process?

Novel technologies can enable projects, enhance their value and deliver significant benefits to industry and society. As companies innovate they continue to develop more complex and novel concepts that encompass new engineering design, materials and software that enhance production, create efficiencies and facilitate new ways of working and application in new environments. 

But innovation tends to involve products that function differently from existing ones or that operate in an unknown service context so that existing standards, rules and codes of practice are not applicable. In the absence of a relevant standard for a new technology, or if the new technology is not fully covered by pre-existing standards, traditional certification is not possible.

How does the TQ process combat that?

It validates requirements and provides evidence that the technology will function within those specified limits.

Experience has shown that many projects suffer delays, cost overruns or failure because of inadequately qualified technologies. DNV GL is full of risk practitioners, whereas innovators are rarely (constructively) pessimistic enough to thoroughly test the limits of their own technology. Additionally, when we run a TQ project, we are acting in the interests of all stakeholders, including the developers and the end users, so we can bring a level of independence and trust – when it comes to selling the technology to the market, this inbuilt trust has a monetary value.

How did you create this process?

DNV GL, supported by industry partners, proposed a joint industry project that culminated in the development of the Recommended Practice for TQ (RP-A203). Our recommended practice has now gained industry-wide acceptance, and has been adopted globally by oil and gas majors and independents. It has been used to qualify more than 120 technologies, ranging from downhole safety valves, tidal energy systems, pipeline welding techniques and LNG plants.

Why is this so important?

We want to help bridge the ‘valley of death’ and improve the uptake of great ideas by encouraging confidence in new technology. Few people are prepared to be the first to invest or use a new technology that could have significant downsides as well as upsides – they want to see evidence and track record. Often, that takes time and good fortune. We aim to substitute this period of trial and error with a systematic, targeted process. 

What does TQ involve?

The TQ framework provides a systematic approach to qualification and document technology, managing qualification at any stage of the development life cycle. The risk-based approach means it is scalable and can be tuned to different scenarios. 

Other investigations are often shown to be unnecessary, and otherwise unidentified risks are solved before deployment, where failure would have significant reputational and financial cost.

What are the stages of the TQ process?

The first stage is to define what the technology is, what it has to do, and what parameters are important when considering success. These may include concepts such as –

  • Functionality and performance
  • Safety
  • Reliability and availability
  • Environmental
  • Logistics and legislation

Armed with this information, the process can continue to the risk assessment and mitigation phase – 

  • Identification and documentation of technology constituents
  • Maturity evaluation
  • Risk identification and assessment
  • Mitigation identification and planning
  • Generation and compilation of evidence
  • Performance assessment, certification and deployment

The TQ Process is a structured sequence of steps, with feedback loops to capture and adapt to change. 

Which industries can this process be applied to?

TQ is used within the energy and maritime sectors but there are no barriers to its application to innovation within the transport, aerospace, medical and pharmaceutical sectors – anyone is welcome to use the process within their organisation to help manage and de-risk the innovation process

Examples of TQ projects range from large systems, such as subsea factories and whole LNG trains to specific components, such as new types of flange that can be mounted without hot work, or qualification of a general technology for wide application, such as a new corrosion-resistant reinforcement for concrete structures.

At what stage can the process begin?

There is a lot of value in being involved from as early a stage as possible. At the concept stage, we can help assess for feasibility and benchmarking against alternative technology concepts. During development of the technology, we can help ensure that all critical issues are dealt with, so nothing is found to have been forgotten when the entire budget has been spent. We can help force out uncertainty without disrupting the innovation process.

What are the benefits of DNV GL’s TQ Recommended Practice?

The TQ facilitates delivering certified innovations to market, while giving confidence in their safety, reliability and performance, building trust and confidence among stakeholders. We do so collaboratively with the customer, aiming to minimise disruption and maximise the benefits of any testing – this is not a compliance exercise. Not surprisingly, there are companies with technology that is so innovative that they need a way of robustly demonstrating its utility – the company can make as extraordinary a claim as it wishes to us, as long as it’s prepared to work with us to substantiate the claim (extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence).