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Driving digital transformation in the oil and gas sector

Published by , Senior Editor
Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Globally, we are seeing an executive focus on digital transformation across the oil and gas sector. Digitalisation is nothing new to the industry. Refineries have been pursuing it for decades. What is different today, however, is how quickly the migration is accelerating.

The volume of connected data available to operators continues to grow rapidly. Much of this growth is being driven by the ongoing expansion of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) market, which according to research firm, Markets and Markets, is expected to grow from US$64 billion in 2018 to US$91.4 billion by 2023, at a CAGR of 7.39% during that forecast period.

Coupled with this, we are seeing rapid growth in machine learning, making insights about plant and equipment available faster to decision-makers; and in mobility, visualisation and analytics. The ability to examine and model data and trends helps operators make optimal economic tradeoffs, maximising sustainability and profit. Digitalisation also helps them utilise assets close to design capacities in the face of fast-changing product demands and economics. But perhaps the most urgent driver is how asset reliability can be improved through predictive and prescriptive maintenance. This is key because these technologies have huge potential across the sector, offering a better alternative to the traditional calendar-based approach to asset maintenance.

With predictive analytics, the focus is analysing issues known to cause a problem such as vibration in a pump. Sonic monitors can be added to the device and when vibration exceeds a certain level, alerts can be sent to advise operators to take remedial action. Prescriptive analytics adds a new layer of sophistication to the methodology, moving it from a product-based to a broader process-based approach. Prescriptive analytics recognises that processes, activities and systems used in the plant are interconnected. It looks at data streams across these, and pinpoints sophisticated signatures and patterns of data happening in advance of an event.

The approach also tells the operator the root cause of the problem. It can inform them not only that the compressor is about to fail but also that the problem is linked to the leakage of liquid into the gas lines at a certain concentration, or even just a slow change in the pressure recorded. That effectively is the prescriptive element of the approach. It highlights not only the impending issue but also actions that can be taken to avoid it. Predictive analytics is still a nascent technology but through 2019 we anticipate the level of interest and excitement around it will continue to gather pace.

Ultimately though, prescriptive analytics is just one example, albeit an important one, of the drive to digital across the oil and gas sector. In terms of outcomes, we see three key trends playing out across the sector. First, the nature of work will change. As refinery and asset tasks become more autonomous and AI-assisted, productivity gain can be expected. Individuals and the businesses they work for need to understand that the requirement for workers will evolve. Organisations and people will need to retrain.

We also expect 2019 to witness the roll-out of a new trend: ‘networks of industry coopetition’. The opportunity to seamlessly connect elements of the value chain will give competitive advantage to companies who recognise that and can take advantage of the opportunity to build business alliances across the value chain.

The final key trend across this sector will be around organisational change. Knowledge-automating and powerful provision of data and models across refining organisations will democratise decision-making. The people who embrace this will make themselves more employable while organisations who embrace it will be best able to achieve digital transformation in a meaningful way and compete more effectively in the future.

As we move ahead into 2019 then, prospects look bright for operators across the oil and gas industry. These are exciting times for the sector. The push towards digital transformation and the advance of artificial intelligence and analytics-based technologies are opening a new range of opportunities. The prospects for this industry and the operators who work in it look positive indeed.

Written by Ron Beck, Energy Industry Marketing Director, AspenTech.

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