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Unleashing "No-Touch" Asset Integrity Management for the Upstream Oil and Gas Industry
Amitava Sengupta Executive Vice President - Digital Consulting, Digital and Analytics | July 10, 2020
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Unmanned production platforms can help O&G companies boost efficiency, safety, and cost-effectiveness and prepare for the new normal. 

Ever since the world's first completely automated, unmanned, and remotely operated oil and gas platform became operational in 2019, digitalization has emerged as a strategic priority across industry boardrooms. The Oseberg Vestflanken H platform comes with the promise of driving significant business outcomes in terms of cost, productivity, and employee health and safety, signaling the beginning of an era of digitalization and digital transformation and the end of an era of large crews working on offshore platforms. The paradigm shift to digital solutions and cognitive technologies such as augmented reality is especially relevant in the current, pandemic-struck reality, where social distancing, contactless operations, and automation comprise the new strategic mandate.

Digitalization is essential to enable actionable intelligence and a proactive operations approach.

How does this new reality affect asset integrity management (AIM)? Assets on offshore rigs and vessels such as pipes and tanks require thorough inspection, maintenance, and repairs regularly to ensure they continue to perform as per expectations. Oil and gas majors also rely on AIM programs to track asset deterioration due to corrosion and structural damage. Traditionally, human intervention has been key to the success of any AIM program. However, with the proliferation of IIoT, augmented reality, cognitive technologies, and advancements in sensor and communication technology, is the oil and gas industry ready for digital transformation through a 'no-touch' approach to AIM? The answer is: Slowly. But it's coming.

Why change?

The current situation with global lockdown in place has put the oil and gas industry in a tight spot. The U.S. diesel margins are currently at USD 11 a barrel, the lowest seasonally in the last decade. As margins shrink and demand tapers, the most obvious way forward to ensure profitability would be to cut unnecessary costs. The launch of Oseberg H hammers that point home as the platform cost 20 percent less than expected and has been built to ensure that oil production costs stay below USD 20 a barrel over the next 22 years. The idea was to build a platform with simplification at its core, minimizing capital expenditure, and leveraging smart automation to reduce operating expenses over time.

The U.S. diesel margins are currently at USD 11 a barrel, the lowest seasonally in the last decade.

Profitability is also closely linked with asset uptime. However, asset operators in the petrochemical industry are faced with aging assets that may lead to unprecedented downtime as a result of unnoticed material cracks and corrosion. The problem is compounded when incremental changes are made to the asset design, making it difficult to keep track of its structural integrity. There is also a lack of skilled resources in the space due to technology upgrades over the years and scarcity of new talent. With oil and gas companies relying heavily on human resources, a retiring workforce could result in business continuity challenges necessitates the adoption of a holistic, digital-first solution for AIM.  

From an organizational productivity point of view as well, paper-based processes, excel-based spreadsheets, and monthly reporting cycles are no longer sustainable. With thousands of physical assets – pipelines, plants, facilities, and equipment – getting connected to the internet, these legacy workflows cannot keep up with the amount of operational data being generated and are not conducive to providing real-time visibility into critical production processes. The need of the hour is to enable intelligent analytics and enterprise mobility to empower the operator, and in turn, reduce maintenance effort and cost by having a data-driven preventive maintenance strategy in place.

Further, there has been a call for bolstering employee health and safety measures in the upstream oil and gas industry. And the implementation of automated, remote AIM solutions will be a step in the right direction, allowing operators to monitor assets safely from onshore facilities.

Digital solutions for asset integrity management

Assets in the upstream oil and gas industry, such as storage tanks, pumping stations, filter skids, emergency shutdown devices, and wellheads are a part of a complex network of equipment. Moreover, not all equipment is fixed. Some parts are regularly moved from one location to another, making inspection planning an arduous task. That means there are too many moving parts and having a centralized view of asset performance is key to ensuring smooth production operations. That considered, digitalization via digital solutions and cognitive technologies such as augmented reality, are a prerequisite to enable actionable intelligence and transition to a proactive approach to maintenance operations. Oil and gas companies looking to drive production in a cost-effective need to minimize the possibility of unplanned outages, and there isn't an alternative other than predictive maintenance. Time-based inspection planning is dated and needs to be replaced with risk-based inspection planning, which is impossible without being able to analyze real-time, accurate asset data.

Oil and gas companies can leverage a range of technology solutions to usher in holistic digitalization and enhance their AIM capabilities, starting with:

  • Mobile technology: Streamline maintenance operations by providing operators with access to real-time data from oilfield sensor networks and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. Boost collaboration and communication among operators and field workers and reduce manual effort spent on data entry. Using augmented reality, guide field workers through the oilfield and assist with inspection and overhaul, reducing mean time to repair. 
  • Inspection data management (IDM): Migrate all legacy data to a digital and reliable IDM database and put in place standard processes to collect, populate, and analyze new asset data digitally within the IDM software. The software will serve as a single platform to manage all equipment types owned by the organization and provide up-to-date data for powering risk-based inspection.
  • Global Positioning System (GPS): Know where all your fixed and rotating assets are at all times, and save time and effort spent on tracking their movement or locating the equipment at the time of inspection.
  • Integrity Operating Windows (IOWs): Keep track of operating conditions in near real-time with early alert notification and take immediate corrective action to mitigate downtime risk.
  • Risk-Based Inspection (RBI): Build risk models that consume real-time asset data to help produce smart inspection schedules and allocate resources accordingly while delivering maximum efficiency, efficacy, and safety.

By accelerating digital transformation and ensuring the digital robustness of their AIM environment, oil and gas companies would be able to redeploy scarce financial and human resources effectively, helping them achieve their business objectives and thrive in today's VUCA world.