Collaborative operations between automation and IT companies provide the best customer service experience
The dependence of the oil and gas (O&G) industry on automation has increased in the last decade, and this is expected further to double by 2020. As a result of project cancellation followed by the fall in crude oil prices from 2014 to 2016, multiple rounds of industry layoffs were announced that left O&G companies with reduced number of skilled workers. This increased the dependence of oil companies on automation in order to complete processes without any delay. Initiatives to digitize oil fields are being implemented, and this has led to investing in instrumentation in order to increase productivity and complete projects within defined budgets and timelines. These initiatives have been found to be extremely beneficial, especially in offshore rigs, to gathering production data in a timely manner. However, the current industry challenge is not the inaccessibility of data, but rather how to make the large volume of gathered data more effective. In response to this challenge, the automation sector has evolved from supplying hardware equipment with aftermarket services to becoming more service-based and offering software tools that can translate huge volumes of data into meaningful, intelligent information that can be leveraged to make important business decisions.
Worker and environment safety in oil fields has to be given utmost priority because it deals with dangerous operations in remote locations. One way to ensure safety is to install safety systems at field locations that can detect unexpected events even before they occur by analyzing the pattern from historic data collected. The trend of selling individual control systems—such as a distributed control system (DCS), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), safety instrumented system (SIS), manufacturing execution system (MES), and industrial asset management (IAM)—has changed as demand for an integrated system with multiple functionalities has found to increase. Currently, automation vendors are working towards building Internet of Things (IoT) platforms to connect plants from various locations. These IoT platforms eliminate the need for workers to go to hazardous locations for standard monitoring purposes by enabling remote monitoring capabilities. These platforms can connect every system in every plant at every location, which improves the plant operations visibility to the service providers, customers, and plant managers are responsible for decision making. With IoT platforms, customers are provided with the option to choose the required services as per their specific needs.
Although there are many proven benefits of IoT services, they have limitations that are in the process of being addressed. The main challenge has to do with data security. Data collected from plants is extremely important and needs to be protected. Only authorized people should be able to access to the information, as the modification of data by hackers could directly affect the decision-making and strategic planning process.
Major automation companies have emerged with their own IoT platforms to help customers embark on their journey to digitize oil fields, including ABB’s Ability, Honeywell’s Sentience, Siemens’s MindSphere, GE’s Predix, and Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxture. These IoT platforms are individually explained below, as each provides a specialized IoT service.
ABB’s Ability was launched in 2017 to enhance customer value by providing dynamic solutions and services through the latest digital technologies. Ability consists of 70,000 control systems and 70 million connected devices. The main solution provided by ABB’s Ability platform is to monitor the performance of asset-intensive industries, control systems used by process industries, remote monitoring equipment, and offshore rigs. The next generation of Ability is working towards building a partnership with Microsoft’s Azure in order to integrate with its cloud services. ABB is turning industrial-centric business into software service-based business that will help its customers access the digital world. Customers have observed that by using the digital capabilities of Ability, they were able to achieve improvements in operational performance and productivity. By further adding cloud services, ABB firmly believes that it will help customers that are beginning to embark on digital transformation assess, optimize, collaborate plants, and automate their projects.
Honeywell’s Sentience was launched with a new cloud service called Uniformance Cloud Historian in 2018. Using the cloud services, it is possible to create a data lake by integrating data from production, enterprise resource planning (ERP), and other business units in order to perform analytical operations. Insights from one plant could be shared with all other plants, and this will enable smarter, more strategic decisions to be made with more useful data presented. This has benefitted the customers by enabling them to complete projects in a few hours that would traditionally take weeks or months. The data pool created consists of historic data points that enable data analysts to discover unknown trends that can lead to making wrong decisions. Additional applications and services are provided by Honeywell’s Sentience Internet of Things (IoT) Platform, and Uniformance Cloud Historian is the latest technology added to it this.
Siemens’s MindSphere is another cloud-based IoT platform and was launched in 2018. It is an open operating system with the ability to connect radio frequency identification (RFID) transponders to MindSphere. It works by equipping the customer’s machinery with sensors that collect thousands of data points. Collecting and analyzing the data gathered could be complex and expensive, but with the help of MindSphere, machinery, plants, and control systems (irrespective of the vendor) from various locations can be connected using Siemens’s software and hardware tools. Challenges related to cybersecurity are addressed by only providing access to authorized people, and these have the ability to access it from any remote location. The biggest advantage of MindSphere is the flexibility that it offers to customers. For example, customers can us it to access applications provided by Siemens as well as applications offered by other IT providers. For example, Ruggedcom is a communication technology used mainly in rugged and harsh environments, and data from this can be transferred to MindSphere via a gateway such as MindConnect Nano or Ruggedcom RX1400.
GE’s Predix with IoT cloud service platform was launched in 2016. GE uses its Predix cloud to save data that is gathered, and this paves the way for companies to become digitized. A more digitized oil company is benefitted by increased productivity and asset management. Predix provides tools for asset connectivity, security, and compliance based on the O&G industry. The Predix cloud is able to store, analyze, and manage the gathered data in real time. Because the cloud is an interoperable layer, it can gather data from many sources and perform analysis on the normalized data.
Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxture was launched in 2016. In addition to the digitization of energy management and automation, the latest version of EcoStruxture helps customers connect to their assets with edge control and provides them with a cloud-based analytical service. This platform also provides exploration and production (E&P) transparency. With its data analytics capability, it is possible to match history data with real-time data to perform more accurate simulations of planned operations. Asset performance can be enhanced by making better decisions with a proper understanding of the data set. Using this historic data and predictive analytics, models can be created to help avoid unsafe operations. In addition to Schneider Electric being a global energy management and automation operation specialist, it can now provide added capabilities of Big Data analytics through EcoStruxture.
The automation market has evolved with the changing demands of the customers, from providing individual control equipment to integrated control systems with multi-functionality capabilities. Since 2014, several O&G companies are have been collaborating with solution providers to understand how IoT technology can help them thrive in a low-price oil environment in addition to using advanced control systems. Major automation vendors have launched their own IoT platforms, which focus on providing services such as cloud services, predictive analytics, remote monitoring, Big Data analytics, and cybersecurity, which is of paramount importance in this industry. Increased productivity, reduced operational and maintenance costs, increased profitability, increased efficiency, and improved plant optimization are the common benefits realized by customers who use IoT platforms for their plant operations. While the end goal of customers may be similar throughout this competitive environment, this does not mean they all require the same software services. The services offered by major automation vendors give customers the flexibility and options when selecting the best platform for their goals.