The Oil & Gas (O&G) industry prizes its physical infrastructure. It has been built over decades and spans vast geographies. As this infrastructure ages, managing it is becoming genuinely problematic. For example, massive storage facilities and immense lengths of pipelines have to be inspected periodically for leaks and vapour loss. When damage or wear and tear is identified, it must be documented and reported, spares and other repair material obtained, maintenance teams dispatched.
But autonomous, multi-tasking, software driven robots and drones with long-range battery life are changing Operational Technology in O&G. These self-directing robots inspect pipelines and other equipment tirelessly and are especially handy in hazardous environments. Automated systems work in tandem with these robots, triggering supplies, building spares and requisitioning the engineering teams based on their observations and analysis.
How will these digital technologies re-shape the O&G industry in the near future? The short answer is – dramatically. But not before we see a long phase where two different systems, the existing physical and the emerging cyber, will co-exist in an interesting mix.
Key Technologies to Track
Which are the key technologies that will force major shifts in the way the industry operates? We believe seven key technologies will demand special attention. These are technologies with the ability to improve efficiencies in the downstream business, driving IT and OT convergence.
Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): This dense network of operational sensors will work in two ways by providing real-time data and using machine learning to quickly solve operational problems and at the same time support business intelligence.
Industrial Robotics: These low-cost 24x7 physical and software bots will have the capabilities to monitor and run operations, manage maintenance, troubleshoot and improve safety.
Cloud Computing: The technology will enable migration of data and applications to scalable platforms such as Private, Public and Hybrid Cloud, lowering the cost and improving the speed of provisioning and consuming IT.
Analytics: Industry models and algorithms will surface co-relations between the vast amounts of data generated by sub-systems and partner ecosystems on a real-time basis, driving more accurate decision-making - and making the organization responsive to volatile market conditions.
Mobility/Wireless Industrial Communication: With Cloud implementations, the entire organization can be mobile-enabled for anytime, anywhere access to data and applications over multiple devices. Wireless mesh networks will aid in remote sensing and monitoring of geological events and equipment, reducing costs and improving efficiency.
Open System Architecture: Vendor-independent, non-proprietary, computer system or device design based on official and/or popular standards will enable integration between a vast variety of sensors and devices over disparate networks.
3D Printing: The ability to print spares and other equipment on demand will reduce inventory lock-ins and substantially reduce transportation costs with on-site printing capabilities.
Everything on Cloud: The IT Landscape Redefined
The most immediate and visible effect will be that thousands of miles of cables that connect data sources (see Figure 1) to the Control Layer (PLC, SCADA, OPC) and to Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) and Enterprise systems will vanish. Large racks and servers that are on-site as part of MES, ERP and BI will move to remote (and cost-effective) Cloud environments. Users and end-point devices will be able to connect to these systems, regardless of their geography over the Internet or mobile 4G/LTE networks. Every system will be integrated – from production to pipeline and from refinery to retail networks. Other than control systems that will continue to reside within refineries, everything else has the potential to get Cloudified.