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KCF and SmartDiagnostics at Power-Gen International 2013. Image provided by KCF Technologies Facebook.

Technology: Talking machines

The shale gas industry uses several machines on a daily basis, and many of those machines are limited to the amount of time they can be used to due to the costs of replacing or fixing them if something goes wrong.  However, there may be an answer to this problem, and we have Jeremy Frank to thank for it.

Frank, along with Gary Koopmann and Weicheng Chen, founded the State College Pennsylvania company KCF Technologies in 2000.  Today, Frank has developed a new mechanism that will allow machines in the shale gas industry to tell us when something is wrong.

The device is known as the SmartDiagnostics, an egg sized device that uses sensors attached to pumps, motors, compressors and blenders to monitor a machine’s functions.  It monitors the machines through vibrations and temperatures, and sends data to an offsite KCF monitoring center.  The information is then viewed on a computer screen and is able to tell KCF staff members when a machine is near failure and will need to be replaced.  The SmartDiagnostics device can be used at all types of shale gas operations, such as drilling, well completion and midstream compressing stations.

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As reported by the Marcellus Shale Coalition Quarterly Magazine (MQ), “Many operators continue to employ a traditional approach to preventive maintenance: if it’s broke, fix it.  Or they may use equipment for a certain number of hours, per manufacturer’s specs, then replace it.  These options, however, can be costly, as they may result in premature replacement or, if the changeouts are too late, breakdowns that lead to down time.”  Frank commented on the time frame, safety and cost of using machinery in the shale gas industry:

Safety and up time are two big priorities for companies, especially in current market conditions … They want to get the job done without wasting money.

The first-year cost, including installation and monitoring, for a 110-sensor SmartDiagnostics system is around $235,000, according to KCF.  While this does seem costly, the yearly average savings makes it totally worth it.  With less downtime, extension of fluid end life and reduction in unneeded valve replacements, the savings can be anywhere from $470,000 to $3.7 million.

According to MQ, “Frank, a mechanical engineer with a doctorate from Penn State University, introduced SmartDiagnostics in 2000 – with co-founder Gary Koopmann, who now serves as senior technologist – and first deployed it as a consultant for both the government and private-sector clients such as Emerson Climate Technologies, Johnson Controls and Ingersoll Rand. With significant funding from the government, Frank applied the new technology to helicopters, submarines – even battlefield prosthetics.”

Back in 2007, Frank chose to commercialize the product, and after few failed attempts he finally managed to “hit the market.”  Currently, KCF employees about 30 people and has really grown, explained Frank:

As of 2011, we had a product that worked in commercial applications that we could really sell, and it started taking off.  Our sales revenue has tripled each year since then.

SmartDiagnostics has not only grown in popularity among companies, but also in awards and publications.  It was featured in the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s SHALE INSIGHT 2014 Technology Showcase and investment from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern PA.  KCF also won a $25,000 prize in the Shale Gas Innovation Contest in 2014, which is sponsored by Ben Franklin and the Shale Gas Association and Commercialization Center.

As of now, the shale gas industry is KCF’s main focus, and Frank believes that the industry is the company’s “most promising growth”:

We have less than 1 percent penetration (in shale), but in terms of companies we’re in dialogue with, it’s 90 percent … Shale gas is our strongest focus because it’s growing quickly and there’s urgent need.

To read MQ’s full article regarding KCF’s SmartDiagnostics, check out its Spring 2015 edition.

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