The Athens Group Advantage

(1) Athens Group Implements Verifications as an Engineering Discipline

Verifications are critical activities performed over an asset’s lifecycle which are intended to answer specific questions about the safety, conformance, and performance of a system. Verification activities are well established and well described in numerous regulatory regimes, industry standards and best practices across multiple industries.

Athens Group’s 20 year track record in systems verification has taught us that determining the answers to those questions is an engineering activity — not a checklist execution or the random opinion of a qualified (or unqualified) surveyor.

Verification test plans and inspection checklists must be specifically engineered to provide the coverage necessary to match your specific risk tolerance for your specific system and operational plan.

(2) The Specific Engineering Discipline is Integrated Systems Test Engineering

The safe, efficient and effective performance of the Integrated System is at the center of the success or failure of your drilling campaign. The Integrated System is defined as the electro/mechanical and the controls taken together as a single functional machine, with controls at the heart of the integrated system. While verifying the electro/mechanical components can inform you about what the system could do, it is the verification of the controls that informs you what the system will do.

It is what the system will do that determines the success or failure of your plan. In the clear majority of cases, when integrated systems cause harm it is because of an unexpected behavior or an outright defect in a control system instructing the electro/mechanical hardware to perform an unsafe action.

The expertise to understand and determine if an integrated system will perform safely, in conformance to all regulatory requirements and successfully execute your drilling plan rests with verifiers that are well grounded in controls experience.

While the clear majority of hardware can be verified visually, there is not a single software control system that can be correctly and completely verified through visual means. Verifying controls is not in the same technical realm as verifying equipment hardware as they require radically different expertise. Verifying the safety, conformance and performance of integrated controls-based systems requires specific integrated systems test engineering experience grounded in software controls, not hardware.

Athens Group’s principal technical staff has been designing, building and verifying integrated digital controls based systems longer than many of these types systems have been in use in Oil and Gas. We begin from the controls perspective (the more complex elements) and add the hardware (the traditional elements). You just can’t do it the other way around – the controls are just too complex and require a mindset and skills base that can’t be easily replicated by a traditional inspector.

Athens Group verification plans are engineered specifically to help ensure verification coverage matched to your risk tolerance. We do not rely on a pre-existing library of test plans or checklist or test plan templates “hopefully” providing the coverage to meet your needs.

(3) We have invested our decades of experience in the processes and methodologies necessary to deliver properly engineered verification and inspection solutions on a consistent basis

One common problem with the verification and operation of complex integrated systems was characterized by NASA as “the normalization of deviance”. This occurs whenever the verification or operational procedures rely on the assumption that it worked in the past, therefore it will work in the future, rather than looking at each situation and designing verification and operational procedures that are based on the most recent engineering experience and system specific parameters.

The re-use of verification test plans and checklist templates from a library is the very definition of normalization of deviance. Athens Group makes considerable and ongoing investments in engineering the normalization of deviance out of the verification process. Our test plans incorporate the latest verification and test engineering best practices and help ensure your specific regulatory requirements and operational risk tolerances are satisfied.

One recent example of the normalization of deviance involved a subsea BOP stack that had implemented a new design for a ram locking mechanism. The longstanding OEM test procedures used a pressure level that was below the specified rated working pressure of the new design. Since the existing test procedures were sufficient to cover expected operational conditions in the past, it was assumed they would continue to work in the future. Instead, Athens Group created a verification test procedure based on the actual end user operational parameters rather than the OEM recommended procedures. At the rated working pressure, which the end user would be using, the mechanism would have failed if not for the application of the correct test procedure.

In summary, the Athens Group verification deliverable provides:

  1. Competitively priced solution provided in a timely fashion
  2. A qualified and experienced resource that works well with your team
  3. A verification plan engineered to eliminate the normalization of deviance and ensure your regulatory and risk tolerance requirements are satisfied
  4. Useful and actionable results that include recommendations for resolutions. Problems identified and resolved
  5. Clear and useful daily reports and issues management
  6. Clear and useful final report
  7. Verification results backed by an ISO 9001-certified Quality Management System
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