Developing a Fracturing Pump Controller Using NI LabVIEW, Compact FieldPoint, and CompactRIO

 Read in  |   Print
  |   PDF  |  

"By enlisting Certified LabVIEW Architects to work with National Instruments hardware and LabVIEW software, we created the FPC application to reduce the overall project risk and total cost of ownership for the client."

- Gregory Cala, Data Science Automation

The Challenge:
Creating a real-time system to monitor and control a well site fracturing pump truck that can adapt to an ever-changing environment for reliable well fracturing control and supreme safety.

The Solution:
Using NI LabVIEW, CompactRIO, Compact FieldPoint, and C Series modules to create a real-time application with built-in safety procedures to communicate with a Windows-based LabVIEW application for operator-specific control.

Gregory Cala - Data Science Automation
Brad Westfall - Data Science Automation


Data Science Automation (DSA) is a National Instruments Silver Alliance Partner that integrates commercial off-the-shelf components from automation technology vendors to create custom, adaptive automation solutions for a diversity of research, manufacturing, government, and business operations. Our client selected us because of our experience with oil and gas industry field applications that require a disciplined software engineering approach for powerful deployment performance. Our numerous Certified LabVIEW Architects have extensive industrial experience to provide the client an extra level of confidence.

Our client needed a well fracturing pump control (FPC) system based on a powerful, reliable, and affordable hardware and software solution to control safety and cost. These systems involve several operational hazards to both the environment and personnel, along with high liability costs if an operational failure occurs on a well fracturing site. The client wanted a cost-effective hardware and software application that would compound the client’s investment.

On a well fracturing job site, an operator monitors many hazards while maintaining the correct volume and pressure for proper reservoir fracturing. For a reservoir to become fractured and start profitably producing material, the well fracturing crew must inject a certain amount of material into the well at a specific pressure. The pressures can exceed 15,000 pounds per square inch at an injection rate of more than 10 barrels per minute. At these high pressures and flow rates, it can be dangerous for an operator to be near the pumps. With the FPC, the human operator can be located safely away from any immediate danger. In addition, the FPC monitors not just pressure but also pump efficiency, engine, transmission, and a variety of other inputs to ensure pump failures do not endanger personnel or equipment.

Legacy Control System

Prior to the FPC application, for well fracturing operators to operate a pump, they had to either physically stand next to the pumping equipment and change physical dials such as the throttle and gear, or be tethered to a control box that may have been only a few feet away from the pumping equipment.

The legacy control systems, though they had a built-in safety setting, featured multiple turn dials and digital setpoint controls. These setpoints and controls were scattered across a large area, forcing the operator to move from one to another. This motion could become tiresome and dangerous. Also, the previous control system simply had a combination of multiple subsystems to control the pump. The subsystems worked together, but were disjointed in operational features. The FPC control integrates all legacy system functionality into a single control module with a common interface. The legacy control system did not incorporate a proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controller, which meant the operator had to continually monitor the pump flow and gradually adjust the pump throttle position or gear to ensure the correct volume was supplied to the well. This could entail continually changing the gear and throttle manually, which was often inaccurate.

FPC Conception

We created the cost-effective, user-friendly FPC system to significantly increase the safety and productivity of a well fracturing job site. To maximize the cost-effectiveness, we chose the NI CompactRIO field-programmable gate array (FPGA) control system with NI C Series module integration. By selecting the CompactRIO hardware architecture, we incorporated high-speed, high-channel-density hardware into a compact footprint without sacrificing computational speed or accuracy.

Figure 1. Validating FPC NODE Connection

The fundamental component driving the FPC application was the single touch panel computer running Windows 7 to communicate with any on-site well fracturing pump. The system can automatically detect pump availability and capability. Capabilities can include maximum continuous pressure, maximum flow rate, and available hydraulic horsepower. After establishing a communication connection, the pump operator can choose from several operating modes, each with a different function related to the fracturing job.

Figure 2. FPC NODE Mode Selection

PID Versus Manual Control

Before the FPC system, an operator had to monitor a sensor, such as a magnetic flow meter or densometer, which had inaccuracies and long settling times. Based on the sensor reading and the desired flow rate, the operator decided which gear and throttle position would accomplish the task. During the settling period, the operator monitored characteristics such as gear slippage and transmission temperatures. The operator even had to try to predict whether the requested rate was available based on the well head pressure, because as the pressure increases on the pump, the available rate decreases due to losses in hydraulic horsepower. We provided this legacy manual operation mode in a concise touch panel interface but expanded the system to include automated PID control.

Figure 3. FPC Manual Mode Screen (With Pump Warning Text)

Previously, the operator continually processed all of this information to ensure maximum pump efficiency. With the FPC system, the operator simply requests a volume. After the volume is accepted, the FPC determines the best course of action for maximum pump system efficiency. The FPC system has direct access to the pump rotation sensor, so it can quickly convert calculations based on shaft rotation to volume. Thus, we removed the settling times needed for the other sensors. An operator enters the setpoint and then can direct attention to other on-site activities, which increases personnel effectiveness.

Benefits of Partnership

The partnership between Data Science Automation and National Instruments helps us tackle many extremely complex engineering challenges while maximizing our client’s return on investment. The FPC project was no exception. By selecting the LabVIEW Real-Time Module, we created a software package that not only decreased the overhead costs but also greatly reduced the client’s productivity losses by eliminating operational mistakes. With National Instruments hardware and software, the FPC application helped the client reuse existing equipment investments, specifically CompactRIO hardware.


The FPC application reduced our client’s overall costs by decreasing the operational material lost as well as the operational errors created by operator interactions with complex equipment. By enlisting Certified LabVIEW Architects to work with National Instruments hardware and LabVIEW software, we created the FPC application to reduce the overall project risk and total cost of ownership for the client. With innovative approaches using National Instruments products, we methodically applied adaptive automation technologies to decrease risks and costs to the client.

Author Information:
Gregory Cala
Data Science Automation

Bookmark and Share

Explore the NI Developer Community

Discover and collaborate on the latest example code and tutorials with a worldwide community of engineers and scientists.

‌Check‌ out‌ the‌ NI‌ Community

Who is National Instruments?

National Instruments provides a graphical system design platform for test, control, and embedded design applications that is transforming the way engineers and scientists design, prototype, and deploy systems.

‌Learn‌ more‌ about‌ NI