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Xian Du Develops Trailblazing Monitoring Sensors for Oil Pumps

Xian Du

Xian Du

Assistant Professor Xian Du of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department has obtained an $810,000 grant from the Aramco Services Company (ASC) to support the development of a novel sensing technology for strain-condition monitoring of critical oil-pump equipment. Du will complete this vital research in collaboration with researchers from the Aramco Research Center in Boston.

As Du explains, vertical crude charge pumps are considered crucial equipment in the oil and gas industry. “These pumps are responsible for boosting the pressure of their fluid content before entering the inlets of the main pumps,” says Du. “The operation and reliability of the pumps are highly dependent on the liquid being transported. Critical pump assets are not immune to failures.”

As Du notes, unscheduled repairs and poor reliability and monitoring capabilities can cause oil and gas companies to lose production and incur major expenses on maintenance and downtime.

With that essential problem in mind, Saudi Aramco’s affiliate, Aramco Americas, has signed a contract with UMass Amherst to sponsor a three-year project to develop an intrinsically safe and hermetically packaged and encapsulated sensor submerged in hydrocarbon fluid with diagnostics, health-monitoring, and prognostics capabilities.

“Specifically,” says Du, “our research team will target the development of next-generation nanosensors [to perform] condition monitoring and intelligent sensing for failure prediction and reduce the time and cost of maintenance and repairs. We will conduct a concept test on real pump equipment on the UMass campus in coordination with the Aramco Research Center in Boston and field proponents before the application of the sensing techniques in oil fields.”

Aramco Americas has established three R&D centers in the U.S., including one in Boston. Each R&D center collaborates with its region’s top research scientists to develop new technologies that address both upstream and downstream challenges.

Such collaboration led to the Aramco Research Center in Boston sending researchers to the UMass Amherst campus in April of 2021 to visit the labs of principal investigator Du and co-principal investigator Jeffrey Morse, director of the Advanced Print and Roll-to-Roll Manufacturing Facility.

As Du says, the company was “satisfied with the industry-academia research achievements and facilities at UMass Amherst. An in-depth discussion brought out the proposal for a novel sensing technology for strain-condition monitoring sensors of critical pump equipment.” 

Du looks forward to developing an intrinsically safe sensor and deep-learning technology to monitor the characteristics of the oil pump condition, which represents a new technology that has not yet been perfected in the oil and gas industry.

Du heads the Intelligent Sensing Lab, which  focuses on the scaleup of flexible electronics printing processes from lab to industry using high-precision, in-line inspection and pattern-recognition technologies for large surface quality control. He also works on automatic, high-resolution, accurate, and robust imaging tools for medical devices for noninvasive detection and description of biomarkers. (October 2021)