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ITF event on digitech to improve performance - BP, Total and Incremental Group

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

ITF's 'Technology Showcase event in Aberdeen in March included a session about how digital technologies could be applied to improve operational efficiency and performance, with talks from BP, Total and Incremental Group

ITF (Industry Technology Facilitator) held a conference session on digital technology as part of its Technology Showcase event in Aberdeen in March. The full title was 'Applied Digital Technologies to Improve Operational Efficiency & Performance.'

In his opening address, Dave Lynch, vice president reservoir development with BP, stressed that BP sees digital technology in two groups - one is the mobility (including mobile computers, better tracking and tracing), and the other is around analytics, including cognitive computing and robotics.

To indicate the need for something to change, consider that BP currently has a reserves replacement rate of 61 per cent (so it is only replacing 61 percent of what it produces). 'We have to intervene, and digital can help us,' he said.

'We adopted digital as a key theme for the Technology Leadership Board,' he said. The aim is to figure out what the industry can collectively do.

Driven by disruption

Neil Logan, chief executive of digital consultancy Incremental Group, said that change in digital technology has 'fundamentally been driven by Moore's law.'

'20 years ago the average $1000 PC was 1 million times less powerful than a $1000 pc today. In 20 years, the average $1000 pc computer could be equivalent to a human mind (in spotting patterns),' he said.

Disruption might not be the best way forward, but there has been a lot of it around, he said. It typically comes from an external force - like the digital camera companies were disrupted by improvements in cameras in mobile phones.

Today the oil and gas industry is desperately in need for transformation, and the Oil and Gas Technology Centre should act as a catalyst for change.

Two interesting areas of focus are logistics and exploration. For logistics, the emphasis is on how digital technology could be used to better model the operation and propose changes to reduce cost. For exploration, the emphasis is on finding ways to apply the gigantic computer processing power to the most intellectually difficult problems in the industry, he said.

BP's approach

Greg Hickey, project manager for digital operations with BP, talked about what the company is doing to transform its business.

'We find ourselves in a new operating environment, tight margins and a lean organisation,' he said. 'We see the long term oil price being 50 to 60. We're in a fundamentally different business. Digitisation of upstream is the lever we need to pull.'

The approach needs to be more to digitise the whole business, rather than just technology adding value, he said.

If you look for technology which adds value, it leads to point solutions, such as to manage alarms or monitor equipment condition, perhaps a few points of efficiency increase in some areas.

But a digitised business is like today's cars, which have integrated digital systems which lead to higher reliability, better fuel economy and early advice of potential failures. It can lead to 2 to 4 per cent improvements in overall operating efficiency. 'This is the journey we are on in BP,' he said.

As an example, BP is developing a 'plant operations advisor', which creates a desktop for every engineer, with information covering their main business challenges, and which is aligned with the way they work. 'In 2 years we'll give every engineer this capability,' he said.

They will have data and documents available at their fingertips, notification of relevant plant events in real time (including to their mobile devices), and notification of possible future events, identified using analytics. There will be tools to identify problems and work out how to fix them.

All of the software will run on the cloud. BP has agreed a strategic partnership with GE, which will host the data and software on its PREDIX cloud platform.

BP is doing the same thing in drilling and wells.

Altogether it should be possible to reduce unplanned downtime and improve the reliability of plants. People with the relevant skills will be available 24 hours a day, working in different places and time zones around the world.

It will make it easier to migrate to 'new operating modes', including bringing in drones, robotics, and automated data gathering. There will be much more sensors on equipment and smart analytics.

The technology is only now becoming mature enough to use in this way, including with industrial analytics and cloud computing platforms, and better data infrastructure, he said.

There are big challenges, including integrating data and systems, aggregating the various 'point solutions', creating workflows and managing the organisations.

BP is finding predictive analytics 'very expensive to develop and maybe there's not enough data scientists in the world,' he said. 'The costs will be prohibitive and we will probably give up.'

Another challenge is working out how to automate configuration and deployment of the tools. Data gathering is still very manual.

It all leads to create the sort of business which 'the next generation of staff will want to work in and current generation is very excited about,' he said.

Total's offshore robot competition

Kris Kydd, Head of Prospective Lab Robotics R&D with French oil major Total, talked about Total's work to develop better offshore robots, by running a competition.
Total wants robots which can go anywhere a human can go, on an offshore platform. The robots should be able to do smart reporting, such as for detecting leaks or making checks.

5 teams are competing in Total's competition to build a better robot.

The third stage of the competition is taking place in March 2017.

The first stage in 2015 just covered ground level robot movements, in 2016 the robots had to climb stairs.

The goal is that the robots operate autonomously - the operator just presses a button and the robot starts a test and produces a report.

The problem is far from solved yet - the robots have to improve their ability to work autonomously, improve their reliability, and improve the visual and audio recognition.

The robots also need to find their way around obstacles, and provide information about the dimensions of the obstacle. In the next stage, there will be human obstacles. If the robot detects a human it should go into standby mode.

There are also experiments to see how the robot can manage without wi-fi communications - if the communications switches off, the robot should find its way to a safe area. It will be useful to know the minimum data bandwidth a robot can operate in.

There will be a Eur 500,000 bonus for the winner of the competition, and afterwards Total will carry out a pilot project with the winner.

If the autonomous functionality can work reliably, the robots cold be set to work on unmanned installations. There may also be robots running on rails.

Wi-fi turned out to be a weak communications protocol for robots, because there are 'black spots' with no coverage in quite a small area. So there will be a shift to the 4G LTE protocol.

Also perhaps Total was expecting too much from robots. 'Robots do not like to multi task,' he said. 'The shift is making robots simpler and more task specific.'

Making offshore logistics more efficient

Celerum, a spin-out company from Robert Gordon University, is developing software which can aim to make logistics to offshore platforms more efficient.

It is led by Professor John McCall, director of the smart data technologies centre at RGU.

Professor McCall believes that it ought to be possible to manage without 40 to 50 per cent of offshore vessels through better use and sharing of the deck space, and some algorithmic analysis.

With the software developed by RGU, the software can recalculate and update the vessel loading plan, every time there is a new job.

Celerum has worked together with oil company Nexen to improve its logistics. It has also worked with AAR Craib, a trucking company based in Aberdeen and the largest oil and gas haulier in the region.

The project was funded by Innovate UK, after Celerum won an Innovate UK competition.

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