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Using sensor data to support decision making

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

UK start-up company Dashboard Ltd aims to help oil and gas companies better use sensor data to support their decision making, filling a gap, as it sees it, between the competencies of automation companies and software companies.

Dashboard Ltd (, a UK start-up company based in Bristol, is helping companies make more use of sensor data to support decision making, filling a gap, as it sees it, between the competencies of automation companies and software companies.

Co-founder Piers Corfield says that most of the companies which make oil and gas sensors are automation companies, with a background in engineering and control, but not necessarily working with data. They have many electrical engineers in their staff, and many legacy products which they are loathe to 'cannibalise' to allow a new range of data centric products. Some of the products go back to the days of analogue electrical engineering, so do not even generate data which is suitable for analysis.

To illustrate this, consider how bad the user interfaces on automation control systems usually are, he says. For example, the SCADA control system interfaces is 'horribly counter intuitive, the standard interface looks like Windows 3.1,' says.

As a result, oil and gas companies typically use SCADA data to monitor and control their processes, but they don't usually analyse the data to look for ways to optimise performance, he says.

However the companies which do have expertise with data, the software and consultancy companies, have less background in engineering, so are less equipped to be able to help oil and gas people work with it, he says.

There is a gap to be filled in the middle, using sensor expertise, tech / software expertise and domain expertise, to build useful tools which can help oil and gas people with decision making.

Dashboard makes a range of products involving sensor data and software, including dashboards, advanced visualisation, analytics, digital twins (making a digital model using sensor data) and mixed reality. The company sees itself as an oil and gas 'internet of things' specialist.

A by-product of the work is that a company's sensor data is more shared and more exposed, creating a holistic view of what is happening across the company, rather than keeping data in silos. This can sometimes show up areas of the business which are not very well instrumented, Mr Corfield says.

The company has a mission statement of 'helping people make better decisions faster', developing products around the idea that 'technology is there to empowered humans, do the drudgery, repetitive stuff, free up a human to do something more interesting - usually process improvement,' Mr Corfield says.

If the outputs from analytics 'can't be put into the head of a human,' or the human decision maker does not act on it, all the efforts are totally wasted, he says.

About Dashboard

Dashboard was founded in January 2015, and looks at the oil and gas, utilities, mining and infrastructure sectors. Co-founder Piers Corfield has been a founding director in three previous start-ups, covering wireless communications, electronic document management and mobile communications. Pete Stirling, co-founder, has a background in advanced engineering, having worked in a number of industry sectors including aviation and defence.

The company's technical authority for pipelines, Alastair Maclachlan, is former senior pipelines consultant with BP.

The company has 14 investors from the oil and gas industry, including from Shell, Schlumberger and BP. It has a Shell and Schlumberger representative on its board of directors.

The company's business model is around 'open book pricing,' where it works with customers to work out what new sensors should be installed and what systems should be built. The customer pays for the new technology at market rates plus a management overhead.

Pipeline telemetry

One of its first products is a pipeline telemetry system, which uses sensor data and machine learning to create a computer model of flows through a pipeline, so operators have an in-depth idea about what is happening between the flowmeters. It can use this understanding to spot if the fluids a flowing in a different way to expected, which may give early warning of a leak or damage to the pipeline.

This system is being adapted to run on subsea pipelines as a virtual multiphase flowmeter, giving companies better insight into how fluids are flowing through their pipelines.

It could also be used to spot underground leaks.

Dashboard is also looking at methane leak detection technology, working together with a laser scanning (LIDAR) based technology under development at Bristol University, UK. It may be possible to fit the device on a drone. This would create new ways for oil companies to understand methane emissions across entire facilities, a subject fast becoming a critical one for the industry.

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