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A digital future for oil and gas?

Published by , Editorial Assistant
Hydrocarbon Engineering,

It’s not if, but when, when it comes to digitalisation in the oil and gas industry. Those who fail to digitalise risk more than just their profit margins – outdated technology can lead to inaccuracies, a lull in productivity, and potentially business disaster. Ultimately, plants who do not adapt will be consumed by the market and risk losing ground to the competition.

Today’s businesses operating in the oil and gas industry are faced with a number of varying market forces – being prepared for these changes is essential in order to survive. Digitalisation operations will be the key to embracing new value, maximising efficiencies, improving safety and achieving operational excellence across the workforce.

While many plants are beginning to realise the true value of digitalisation, for some, they are still very much at the beginning of their digital journey. Knowing where to begin can prove challenging, and by not being fully prepared, plants risk getting lost in the complexities of the latest innovations. Here we explore exactly how plants can prepare to embrace the benefits digitalisation has to offer and get ready to act now.

Is your data up to scratch?

Data plays a key role in any plant and is a critical part of preparing for digitalisation. Despite this, many plants are not utilising this data effectively. Market research company Frost & Sullivan estimates that process industries utilise less than 5% of the data that is collected – 95% of the data is either siloed (used selectively), dark (unused data) or lacks consistency in use. They also identified problems of assigning context to data, and poor quality. To be ready for digitalisation, the impediments to data utilisation must be addressed.

Before a company is ready to use data to make decisions, a process needs to be in place to systematically assure its quality. Only then is it fair to declare it available for critical decision making and automation.

When assessing the quality of this data you should consider its sufficiency, and whether all the necessary values are being collected, should be considered. The instruments must also be of adequate accuracy and reliability, and data propagation and data governess must be reviewed. For example, when a change is made in the field, how does the system of record know about it? Is an audit trail kept of changes? Can automated data be overwritten and is there security set up to allow exposure of data within the organisation while limiting risk of exposure to the outside world.

Is your infrastructure ready?

Having data with a high degree of integrity is important, but it also needs to be accessible to the users and systems that rely on it. Critical communications and storage infrastructure must be put in place and designed with adequate capacity and security in order to protect it against mis-use and bad actors.

As a starting point, businesses should look to the physical infrastructure of their plant and establish whether the appropriate segregation of plant and business networks is in place. It is also important to consider the size, performance and scale of these systems and whether they are compliant with applicable regulatory requirements.

Security within a plant is paramount and so it must be up to date and tested to ensure adequate monitoring can be achieved. Are processes in place for adding, deleting users and allowing external access? Do such processes extend to third party access? Is there an incident response plan? What is the disaster recovery plan? Software and cloud infrastructure is also of great importance and should be kept up to date and aligned across the organisation.

Is data fit for consumption?

The data is right, it is in good condition, it is available on both the corporate network and through the cloud – but is it fit for consumption? For digitalisation to be possible data must be accessible and consumable to both people and software applications across the plant.

The reliability of data can often be a challenge – often sensors and measurements cannot be 100% accurate and instruments may fail or fall adrift. Process engineers are aware of the challenge of consistency within data sets; Control engineers understand the concept of dynamics, and IT people understand that only solid software quality assurance will provide a high level of integrity of information as it is passed around the enterprise.

A well-run plant that is prepared for digitalisation will have a simulation model of the plant in place to deal with these challenges. This may have been created during the plant’s design stage and is crucial for continued performance monitoring, adjustment and optimisation of the plant. To make this practical, the simulation model needs to be set up as a digital twin and constantly synchronised with the plant via up-to-date asset models. This will provide engineers with the real-time insights that will continue to improve plant efficiency.

In order for the digital twin to provide value, inputs need to be correct in context, so that they can be used to make informed decisions. If this is not the case, engineers need to know what to do when the data is incorrect. They must consider whether it is ok to substitute a bad or suspect value with a known good value or an estimate, and understand how the knowledge that is a substituted value propagates through applications. For example, is the model consistently a valid representation of the actual plant?

Are people on board?

Successful digitalisation solutions require informed leadership, and leaders who are strong enough to accept greater empowerment of users and consumers. Informed leaders will understand the digital world and champion the investments required. They will recognise that technology is changing rapidly, and the digital world is one of agile development, rapid deployment, continuous refreshment, recognition and acceptance of failures, and a willingness to kill off unsuccessful initiatives without punishing the proponents.

Strong leaders are comfortable that users will be able to make better decisions, faster, and will encourage them to do so. They also understand that software applications and control systems that consume data are going to make more holistic recommendations and take actions that will drive the plant closer to its operating limits in pursuit of the economic optimum.

The digitally wise will accurately understand the value that is derived from the digitalisation solutions and plants who failure to accurately tell ‘the value story’ to the organisation will leave plants unwilling to change. Committing to digitalisation must start at the top and filter through the organisation to gain adoption and acceptance. Successful transformations must be accepted by the whole organisation.

Despite the industry willingly sharing their views on which individual technologies the more mature organisations have been prepared to adopt, the value proposition of digitalisation is less about the technology itself and more about the environment that the technology is being installed into. Digitalisation will be the key to future for power plants and those who implement a digital strategy will be far better placed for future growth.

By Duncan Micklem, Director of Business Strategy, KBC (A Yokogawa Company).

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