Time to digitalise asset integrity management for oil and gas industry

Amitava Sengupta | Updated on June 29, 2020

Unmanned production platforms can help oil and gas companies boost efficiency, safety, 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, digitalisation 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 end of an era of large crews working on offshore platforms.

The paradigm shift is especially relevant in the current, pandemic-struck reality, where social distancing, contactless operations, and automation are the new strategic mandate.

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 regular repairs to ensure that they continue to perform as per expectations. With the proliferation of IIoT (industrial Internet of Things) and advancements in sensor and communication technology, is the O&G industry finally ready to adopt a ‘no-touch’ approach to AIM? The answer is: slowly. But it’s coming.

Need to upgrade

Why change? The current situation with global lockdown in place has put the O&G industry in a tight spot. The US diesel margins are currently at $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 per cent less than expected and has been built to ensure that oil production costs stay below $20 a barrel over the next 22 years.

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.

From an organisational 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 — 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.

Digital solutions

Assets in the upstream O&G industry, such as storage tanks, pumping stations, filter skids, emergency shutdown devices, and well-heads are a part of a complex network of equipment. However, 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 centralised view of asset performance is key to ensuring smooth production operations. That said, digitalisation and cognitive technologies are a prerequisite to enable actionable intelligence and transition to a proactive and cost-effective approach to maintenance operations.

O&G companies can leverage a range of technology solutions to 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, 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 analyse new asset data digitally within the IDM software. The software will serve as a single platform to manage all equipment types 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: 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: 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, O&G 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.

The writer is Executive Vice-President, Digital Consulting, HCL Technologies

Published on June 29, 2020

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