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Modelling and simulation of subsea control systems


For more than 20 years the oil industry has been

using computers for the dimensioning of hydraulic
lines in umbilicals. The need for accurate calculations
is heightened by the fact that the umbilical is one of
the most expensive individual components in a
subsea installation. If it is dimensioned incorrectly, it
will result in major time and cost overruns.
In this article we set out how a model for simulating
this kind of system can easily be set up and designed
using SimulationX software and the SimulationX
subsea hydraulic library. The model example is based
on available information from the various suppliers
of this kind of components and systems.

Hydraulic power unit (HPU)

The Hydraulic Power Unit (HPU) for these systems

is normally located on the deck of the vessel from
which the operation is being controlled. There are
different types of pumps, but the most common type
uses accumulators that are charged by fixed pumps.
These pumps which start and stop at various preprogrammed pressures, are controlled by a PLC.
Figure 2 shows a simplified schematic diagram of a
pumping unit as described above.

We have chosen to look at a system for the

completion and work over of a subsea well. The
principle is identical for traditional subsea production
Figure 2.

System specification

A typical completion and/or work over system for

subsea wells consist of four main components.

Hydraulic power unit (HPU).

Subsea control module (SCM).
Valve actuator.

Simplified schematic diagram

of a pumping unit (HPU)

The Surface HPU is an element in the SimulationX

subsea hydraulic library and Figure 3 shows the
graphical presentation of it.

Figure 1 shows a typical system with two valve

actuators and return to sea.

Figure 3.

Surface HPU

All parameters of the different components in the

Surface HPU element are easily accessed from the
parameter window of the Surface HPU. Figure 4
shows one of the pages from the parameter window.

Figure 1.

System sketch

These components are the main components in the

system and can be found as pre-made elements in the
SimulationX subsea hydraulic library.
By using a library like this, the user will benefit in
shorter time for modeling and easier re-use of
previous models.

Figure 4.

Surface HPU properties

As a general rule, to make models easy to reuse it is

important to keep them tidy and clearly laid out. The
documentation must be easily accessible so the next
user quickly gets to know the structure of the model.
Our experience is that many companies dont give
this high enough priority which again results in
difficulties sharing models between engineers.
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Modelling and simulation of subsea control systems

All the pre-made elements in the SimulationX
libraries have extensive online documentation which
explains the behaviour of the element in detail. This
makes the different elements easy to understand both
for new and experienced users.


All hydraulic communications go through separate

hoses or pipes that are bundled together into an
umbilical. In temporary systems, such as a Workover
and Completion System, hoses are most common.
These hoses have properties that must be taken into
consideration in the simulation. The ability of hoses
to accumulate liquid can be a disadvantage in
systems that require rapid bleeding of the lines. But
this property can also be turned into an advantage in
systems where large actuators are to be operated.
Using hoses with high volumetric expansion can in
some cases replace subsea accumulators.
The dimensioning of the umbilical is important to the
performance and operation of the whole system. It is
therefore important that the model of the hose is
accurate, and that it includes the delays that are
experienced in practice.
Different umbilical elements are available in the
SimulationX subsea hydraulic library, depending on
the configuration of the system. There are different
models depending on whether the umbilical is reeled
up topside (Horizontal first, then vertical), or if the
umbilical goes straight down to the seabed leaving
the extra umbilical lengths subsea (vertical first, then
Figure 5 shows the two different umbilical options.

Figure 5.

the restriction, inertia/acceleration of the fluid as well

as the flow. Between each line element, the pressures
are calculated as a function of the flow from the
previous linear element, flow to the next linear
element and the lines volumetric coefficient of
expansion (Ve).
By using this method in the Umbilical element, time
delays in long lines can be calculated with high
accuracy. This is important for systems in which the
pressurisation and bleeding of lines are used as
methods of Emergency Shut Down (ESD). These
functions often have strict time requirements which
now are possible to simulate with high accuracy.

Figure 7.

Typical expansion curve for a

3/8, 7500 psi hose.

Figure 7 shows a typical expansion curve for a 3/8,

7500 psi hose. We can see that the curve is not linear.
It is therefore wrong to use linear approaches in
models such as constant bulk modulus or volumetric
coefficient of expansion.
SimulationX allows us to enter curves describing
the volumetric expansion (Ve) across the whole
pressure spectrum.
Note that the Ve input is the derivate of the values
found in the data sheet.

Umbilical elements in

Note that both options can be parameterized as either

steel tube or flexible hose. In addition the elements
can be parameterized with variable pressure
depending on the water depth.
To calculate accurate time behaviour in the umbilical
element, a method called distributed line model is
used where the line element internally is split into
several separate elements as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6.
Distributed line model
In simple terms, a distributed line model is a series of
line elements in which each line element calculates
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Figure 8.

Input of the hose Ve

Modelling and simulation of subsea control systems


Subsea control module

Todays systems are usually designed with a subsea

control module from which the valve is operated.
There are many types of subsea control modules, but
the majority include an incoming supply line, return
line and several function lines that operate various
types of actuators. The number of function lines
depends on the type of application that is to be
operated by the subsea control module.

Valve actuator

The valve actuator for a subsea gate valve is often a

linear actuator. Including the valve differential
pressure across the gates/seat sealing, the model will
be somewhat more complicated on account of the
variable friction.



Figure 9 shows a simplified schematic diagram of a

subsea control module.

Figure 12.

Typical gate valve in closed

and open positions.

The SimulationX subsea hydraulic library contains

pre-made elements for both gate valve and ball valve.
Figure 13 shows the graphical presentation of the
Gate Valve element.
Figure 9.

Simplified schematic diagram

of a subsea control module.

Subsea control systems often use water-based oils,

and therefore allow return oil to be released into the
sea in limited amounts. The simplified schematic
diagram in Figure 9 shows this type of return system
including the return volume compensator.
The SimulationX subsea hydraulic library comes
with a pre-made control valve for a subsea control
module. The valve element includes operational
parameters as opening, and closing time behavior,
internal restrictions and a detailed description of the
valve reset function.

Figure 10.

Subsea Control Module valve

element in SimulationX

Figure 13.

Subsea gate valve element

These valve elements are built up of different

physical sub-elements where each individual element
represents a characteristic of the valve behaviour.
As previously mentioned, with a differential pressure
across the gates/seat the friction will be variable.
Figure 14 shows a typical opening force curve for a
gate valve with differential pressure. At point C the
valve opens and the differential pressure is equalized
resulting in a reduced friction force. In point I the
valve closes and the friction force is increased when
the differential pressure increases.
This behaviour is important to include in the gate
valve element since this influence on the
opening/closing time of the valve.

As previously mentioned, it is important to limit the

number of elements in a model to the elements that
are active in the sequences that we will be simulated.
In Figure 11 shows a subsea control module
modelled in SimulationX with the necessary number
of valves, which is two in this example.

Figure 11.

Figure 14.

Subsea Control Module

modeled in SimulationX
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Opening force curve for a

Gate Valve

Modelling and simulation of subsea control systems


System model

The SimulationX subsea hydraulic library contains

all main elements required for the model. The
remaining elements such as restrictions in connectors,
internal piping, check valves etc. are standard
elements found in the standard SimulationX
hydraulic library.

Figure 16.

Figure 15.

System model

Figure 15 shows the complete system model as it

appears in SimulationX. We can easily recognise it
from the system diagram in Figure 1. The graphical
presentation makes the models much easier to reuse
and share with other engineers.
7.1 Results from the system model
When the system model has been completed and all
elements are parameterized, the simulation itself can
start. It is important to clearly understand what you
want to demonstrate through these simulations. Often
it is sufficient to demonstrate that the requirements of
standards and specifications are met. We have chosen
to show three such sequences in this article.

Pressurisation of an umbilical line

Operation of a gate valve
Emergency Shut Down (ESD)

Pressurisation of an umbilical line.

The initial status is that the HPU is ready with full
accumulators and the umbilical supply line vented to
return. After 1 second the HPU valve opens and starts
to pressurise the umbilical line. The umbilical is 600
metres long, and the line has an internal diameter of
3/8. Transaqua HT has been chosen as the hydraulic

Pressurisation of a line in the


The subsea equipment is at a depth of 500 metres,

and with the chosen fluid, the initial pressure will be
approx. 52 bar subsea. This can clearly be seen at the
start of the blue line in Figure 16.
The HPU header valve is commanded to open at t=1
second. The valve opening time is set to 0.2 seconds.
The umbilical is fully pressurized and at steady state
after 5 seconds.
Operation of a gate valve
During the operation of a gate valve, it is important to
check whether the operation affects other valves in
the system. This is done by operating a valve and at
the same time monitor the pressure variation in the
neighbouring gate valve actuator. If the pressure
variation is too high, opened valves might start to
close and an unwanted shut-down might be the result.
The options that we then have are usually to increase
the dimensions of the lines in the umbilical or to
install a subsea accumulator. Both options will affect
the time it takes to pressurize the umbilical, and to
bleed it when shutting down.
The model is set up with two gate valves and we
operate one valve whilst the other is set in the open

Figure 17.

Pressure response curves when

opening a 7 gate valve.

Figure 17 shows the pressure and position during the

operation of a gate valve. The opening time is
approx. 50 seconds and the minimum pressure
differential over the actuator piston is approx. 62 bar
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Modelling and simulation of subsea control systems

when opening and 61 bar when closing. I.e. the valve
starts to close at a pressure difference of 61 bar
across the piston.

Figure 20.
Figure 18.

Pressure response curves for

the open gate valve.

Figure 18 shows the pressure and position for the

open gate valve. We can see a clear drop in pressure
when the neighbouring gate valve is opened. The
pressure drop across the actuator piston is 71 bar
which is above the pressure drop as the valve starts to
close (found in Figure 17). This shows that our
system is appropriately designed for these two
We must also investigate whether the drop in
pressure between the supply line and the return line
to the subsea control module is higher than the
control valves re-set pressure, which is set to 60 bar
in this model.

Figure 20 shows how the pressure in the umbilical is

bled off during an ESD. After 1 second the HPU
header valve is set vented at surface. The red curve in
Figure 20 shows that the supply pressure drops
rapidly at the surface. The blue curve shows the
pressure to the subsea control module. This pressure
falls rapidly, to approx. 123 bar. At this point the
valve actuators start to close and the fluid from the
valve actuators' open chamber is bled to the surface
via the control module and the umbilical lines.
After 159 seconds the gate valve is in its final
position and the remaining pressure in the line falls
rapidly to 52 bar.

Figure 21.
Figure 19.

Pressure response curves for

the subsea control modules
supply and return lines.

Figure 19 shows that the drop in pressure between the

two lines is 69 bar which is above the valves re-set
Emergency Shut Down (ESD)
All systems of this type are built so they
automatically shut down if an accident occurs. These
shut downs should not be dependent on a power
supply. The normal solution is to design the system
in such a way that the gate valves close if the
pressure is bled off up at the HPU.

Pressure response curves for

the supply and return lines in
the umbilical during an ESD.

Pressure response curves and

valve position for the gate
valve during an ESD.

We can see from Figure 21 that the gate valve is

completely closed after approx. 159 seconds. If the
system had been set up with more valves and subsea
accumulators, more liquid would need to be bled off
via the umbilical. Naturally, the whole shut down
sequence would then take longer time.
Comment to the results:
These results are only to be seen as examples.
Acceptance levels including safety margins are to be
decided by the system suppliers and will vary from
project to project.
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Modelling and simulation of subsea control systems



By using a simulation tool we can test a system

virtually before putting it into production. Various
alternative solutions can be tested, and the results will
form the basis for choosing the components and
dimensions to be used.
When using a tool with existing libraries and a
graphical interface, a good understanding of the
system and of the individual components is much
more important than detailed mathematical modelling
knowledge. An understanding of the applications is
particularly important when interpreting the results of
the simulations.
Simulation software will also allow you to test the
systems in ways that are not practicable in real life.
This may involve testing with pressures that are far
higher than the system pressure, or with accumulators
with severe gas leakage.
If a company wishes to start using modelling and
simulation, it is important to note that this will not
replace part or all of the development process. It is,
however, a supplement that will help engineers to
design a better product at a lower cost.

Rune Lien
Agito AS
Postboks 792
3611 Kongsberg


+47 95199038


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