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Manual vs. Automatic Sampling: Which Solution is Best?

Posted by Rod Lunceford on 5/20/19 8:00 AM
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Manual v. Automatic Hydrocarbon Processing

With fluctuating demand in your Hydrocarbon Processing, how can you be sure that unit responsibilities aren't creating silos? Answer: Manual or Automatic Hydrocarbon Sampling.

Demand for oil is on the rise, primarily driven by expanding economies in China and India, and there’s the ever-increasing demand for hydrocarbons. In addition, the price of oil has rebounded from a volatile 2018 to more than $70 per barrel. As these oil prices increase, production costs are decreasing, allowing for increased profit and renewed investment to modernize hydrocarbon refineries and pipelines.

Not surprisingly, these factors are driving significant growth in the domestic hydrocarbon industry. Yet the oil and gas supply chain is reporting that an ongoing skills shortage and an aging workforce are major concerns. This drives the need for someone – or something – to fill the silos created by separate unit responsibilities and compounded by a tight labor market

Answering the Call: Representative Sampling to the Rescue 

Sampling allows hydorcarbon processors to identify what and how each unit is performing accurately. But traditional grab sampling methods – such as bucket and spigot collection – are unreliable, dangerous and prone to human errors, creating uncertainty in the sample analysis results.

On the other hand, representative sampling combines safety, simplicity and accuracy to deliver benefits unmatched by other sampling methods. In the oil and gas industry, sampling liquids and gases, such as crude oil, condensates, and oil and water mixtures, it is critical to ensure quality control and to determine product properties and composition. This will ensure accurate fiscal calculations, allocations and loss control.

A properly designed representative sampling system with the right sampling equipment ensures process samples are repeatable and reliable, every time to help refineries:

  • Achieve reliable and accurate analytical results
  • Maximize return on investment
  • Reduce waste, downtime and costs
  • Ensure operator, asset and environmental safety
  • Comply with industry standards for automatic sampling practices, such as API MPMS CHAPTER 8.2, ASTM D4177 and ISO 3171

Manual Vs. Automatic Sampling

Representative sampling is the act of capturing a limited volume of material from a process stream that accurately reflects the characteristics of the entire lot, batch or process stream. Most material within a production, storage and transportation environment can be sampled and then analyzed for product quality and process monitoring.

The material being sampled is collected into a sample container for analysis off line in a laboratory, or the sample is conditioned and sent directly to an on-line analyzer. Additionally, the number and specific locations of samplers have an impact on whether they truly will be representative of the complete process.

Many hydrocarbon refineries are challenged with choosing between manual sampling and automatic sampling.

Manual sampling allows an operator to safely and efficiently collect a fixed volume of high or low pressure liquid or gas. This common method for oil and gas companies isolates them from contact with high pressures, temperatures and volatile gases to maintain their safety and ensure sample integrity by preventing unintentional human contamination. Overall benefits of this method include:

  • Minimizing the escape of harmful vapors
  • Protecting your operators
  • Providing a low-emission, representative sample 
  • Easy operation and safe environmental impact 

Automatic sampling automates the collection of samples to accurately and efficiently represent the hydrocarbon process stream. It uses controllers to remove human bias in the sample, ensuring sample integrity and accuracy. While not as common for the oil and gas industry, this method provides:

  • Limited operator exposure to harm 
  • Composite sampling over time 
  • Little to no impact on personnel - no tying up valuable operators or engineers
  • A building block for an automated system 
  • Real-time data
  • Mitigation of human error risks 


Ready to learn more? It’s all in our eBook, Process Sampling 101: Five Things to Know When Sampling in a Hydrocarbon Processing Plant. 

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Topics: Downstream, Upstream & Midstream, Solids & Powder, Liquid & Slurry

Written by Rod Lunceford

Picture of Rod Lunceford
Rod Lunceford is the Hydrocarbon Business Development Manager at Sentry Equipment. During his 43-year career, Mr. Lunceford was past President of Cobra Sampling Inc. and held a variety of business leadership roles at process technology companies. Mr. Lunceford has been involved in process piping and instrumentation applications for many years and has held active officer roles in several industry associations. Mr. Lunceford graduated from West Texas A&M University and holds a BBA in Business Management. In his free time, Mr. Lunceford enjoys being a grandfather of two, fishing and playing golf.