Oil & Gas & Digital

As Oil & Gas companies head into another tumultuous year, here is how technology can help revamp the industry.

Predix

Predix by General Electric (GE) harnesses the philosophy of the Internet of Things but this is not about controlling your home heating with a smartphone. This is the Industrial Internet of Things, Predix is cloud computing for the industries; envision an offshore oil field where hundreds of sensors built into umbilicals, pipelines and Christmas trees, all churning out millions of data which are then streamed seamlessly to the Predix cloud, where industrial strength apps analyse complex data and provide operators with timely information. While GE rolled out the Predix to the general public early this year, BP had already a pilot program in place in 2015, where it connected over 650 of its oil wells to the cloud, each having at least 30 sensors to monitor the flow of oil. The idea was to make sense of the big data to predict the life of the oil wells; BP plans to roll out the Predix to over 4000 wells in 2016.

Offered as a Platform as a service (PaaS), it also enables other industries, where GE’s industrial prowess falls short, an opportunity to use the infrastructure to gather their own data for analysis. An example of this case was demonstrated by Pitney Bowes, makers of mail sorting machines, who used Predix to predict when a machine would likely be in need of maintenance. Predix differs from other such providers such as Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google by the security that it will offer. GE’s dedicated hardware will run from colocation sites local to customers, this will help contain sensitive information within national borders and the data will flow using the customers pre-existing IT system (with GE having no access to customers’ data) .

Predix will also set out to do what Apple and Google did to the commercial app industry. Built on Pivotal’s Cloud Foundry and being open-source, it will allow developers to create and deploy industrial apps. Customers will be able to choose GE’s or third party apps and quickly customise them around their service needs. GE plans to increase the number of current developers from 4000 to 20000 by next year. Indeed a good time to be an app developer or an expert in data science!

Wearables

Google Glass may not have hit the right note as a great consumer product but it’s finding increasing applications in various industries. Companies like Saudi Aramco and Schlumberger have adopted the glass to assist field service engineers. The engineer would now be able to communicate back visually without any intrusive or bulky gear. They would also have quick access to their job specification, drawings and critical checklists in real-time and do away with manually having to record and would rather use simple voice commands to capture data and have them streamed back instantly. Experts can remotely guide an engineer thus increasing the safety and efficiency. Other companies such as Vuzix, Epson and ODG also have their own industrial-grade smart glasses competing for a slice of the Oil & Gas industry with applications in field services, manufacturing and training.

Drones

Douglas-Westwood, a leading market research and consultancy services firm for the oil and gas industry has predicted nearly 146 platforms will be decommissioned form the North Sea between 2019-2026, this is due to number of platforms exceeding their usual design life of 25 years. With the passage of time the cost related to inspection and maintenance of these structures has also increased. Deterioration of these structures is caused mainly by corrosion and fatigue. Traditional inspection methods involve a few engineers scaling structures not easily accessible; this usually means shutting-down the area of interest which in turn lead to down time and loss of revenue.

Now drones are finding increasing popularity as an inspection tool ever since the oil price drop of 2014. Drones inspection requires two people; one is an inspection engineer and the other is the drone pilot. Armed with a barrage of equipment such as high resolution camera, thermal imaging and gas sensors, these drones are able collect and store information of the structures. Shut-down is not required which results in tremendous savings. This data is later analysed and sorted in order of urgency and priority. This helps in identifying the expertise required for a specific job, reduction in the number of field service engineers, and a lowered down-time.

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Drones and wearable technologies also form a perfect complement to the Industrial Internet of Things.

These are just a few of the technological innovations that the Oil & Gas industry needs to embrace, especially in the current environment. Though technical hurdles and privacy concerns (in the case of wearable technology) would still need to be ironed out, the advantages cannot be ignored.

Statoil Grane platform. Photo Courtesy: David Higgs

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