All in a day's work

Corry Brennan explains how satellite-enabled asset tracking is helping oil and gas industry players harness the power of IoT to work smarter in new ways

Whether you call it machine to machine (M2M) or Internet of things (IoT), organisations everywhere have woken up to what’s possible when you can communicate with your mobile and fixed assets. We have seen a dramatic uptake of applicationspecific satellite enabled solutions that can monitor assets ranging from cargo to trucks, oil pipelines, reservoirs, rail tank cars, even livestock and some of the world’s most endangered species.

Because of their ubiquity and availability, even in extreme environmental conditions, tracking solutions with satellite connectivity allow oil and gas organisations to reach deep into remote and hostile locations, as well as mitigating against land and mobile network outages and overloading.

Moreover, in geographies where oil and gas operations take place, including North Africa, the Nordic region and the Eurasian landmass, mobile coverage is often non-existent. To stay connected from anywhere in these thousands of hectares of terrain, as well as at sea, satellite communications is the only option.

Companies in the oil and gas industry have been particularly progressive in how they have put IoT to work. IoT has already proven to be an effective way to optimise the remote management of oil and gas pipelines and can reduce or eliminate the need to send a crew to an inhospitable location.

IoT solutions, made ubiquitous and reliable thanks to satellite communications, have proven revolutionary for fault localisation. They give engineers a powerful tool to more swiftly zero in on a problem that needs to be fixed, rather than expensively searching across kilometres of pipeline, effectively hunting a needle in a haystack.

Improving supply chain relationships through hybrid technologies
What’s more, IoT can transform the supply chain as oil and gas providers, and the extensive ecosystem of support companies that enable oil and gas operations both upstream and downstream, all look to introduce operational and cost efficiencies by better understanding the location and condition of their assets and cargo.

New hybrid communication solutions, which switch seamlessly between satellites, GSM or other kinds of networks dependent on location, are resulting in a raft of new IoT hybrid devices that constantly monitor and share valuable information. The key enabler is the size of the chip in the device. When the chip is small enough, it can be very cost-effectively integrated in dual-frequency tracking and monitoring devices.

Identec Solutions for example helps businesses in the oil and gas industry manage their land-based and offshore assets using an innovative combination of satellite technology and Active RFID features. Hybrid multifrequency capability means that users can take advantage of low power and long range Active RFID transmissions as well as reliable satellite transmissions. The system dynamically switches transmission types to deliver uninterrupted tracking visibility. The first-ever ATEX-certified, multi-frequency asset tracking solution, it also provides valuable metrics on movement, instantly reporting whether the asset has experienced damage or shock.

As well as reducing operating costs, satellite communications allows partners in the oil and gas supply chain to collaborate using near-real time data for better, faster, decision-making. Delivery times can be more predictable and reliable, and the amount of unproductive ‘downtime’ of any particular asset is minimised.

Satellites also help improve safety, manage costs, and safeguard valued staff
The business benefits of optimising the usage and maintenance of assets is demonstrable. And being able to provide supply chain partners rich and accurate data on delivery times and production schedules helps to galvanise business relationships and make operations more efficient.

These same systems can additionally play a valuable role in protecting staff. For example, oil industry companies operating in Africa have deployed satellite-enabled asset monitoring solutions that help manage assets and which also deliver critical safety support for staff and site visitors.

Early in 2016, a Tunisian civil works contractor, Kilani Enterprise for Public Works, deployed Integrated Vehicle Monitoring System (iMVS), developed by Globalstar’s Tunisia-based partner VMD, to track its fleet of 4×4 vehicles, with the goals of achieving better fleet security.

But the system also helps monitor driver behaviour. iVMS gives Kilani Entreprise the precise location of its fleet while transmitting engine data which indicates driver performance such as sudden braking or unexpected acceleration. Kilani Entreprise was already familiar with the usefulness of satellite communications because, it has been using Globalstar’s SPOT handheld devices since 2013 as its only means of safeguarding staff carrying out operations in southern Tunisia’s vast desert. A Ukrainian oil services company also uses this system to help its exploration and production customers monitor vehicle fleets and safeguard staff in the same region. The devices monitor vehicles used for transporting heavy engineering equipment, including scientific engines for seismic measurement, as well as monitoring vehicles used to transport personnel.

Another local support company, which provides oil producers with equipment, transportation, site maintenance and staff services, also deployed this satellite solution. The company is using 56 iVMS devices to track transporters and containers carrying mechanical and oil rig equipment used in petroleum production and refining.

VMD customised all three deployments by adding a one-touch SOS button onto the vehicles’ dashboards. If the driver or any passenger is in danger, requires emergency medical help or if the intervention of security forces is needed, a single button press alerts security teams and first responders can instantly know the precise location where help is needed. This level of always-on connectivity is an essential security measure in the remote regions in which oil operations take place.

A key benefit of iVMS is that the system seamlessly switches from GSM to Globalstar’s satellite network as soon as it detects weakening GSM signal. Smart harmonious use of these two types of network yields maximum cost efficiency, while delivering reliable, ubiquitous connectivity.

VMD decided to put Globalstar’s SmartOne B simplex asset manager at the heart of its dual-technology solution because of its dependability, long battery life and ability to automatically switch between battery and line-power as required. SmartOne uses motion sensors and comparative GPS positions to gather and transmit asset status information over Globalstar’s satellite constellation, the only complete next generation mobile satellite network in orbit today.

“The operational challenges posed by inadequate GSM coverage in the regions where oil is extracted are compounded by remote, inhospitable terrain, and additional security risks,” commented Karim Chagra, Health Safety Security Environment (HSSE) Manager with Kilani Entreprise for Public Works. “Thanks to the expertise and support of VMD and Globalstar, we have a cost-effective and capable tracking and monitoring system that enables us to work more efficiently and securely.”

From all of this, one thing is very clear – the applications and benefits of IoT tracking, supported by omnipresent reliable satellite communication, are limited only by the imaginations of people who need to monitor ‘things’.

As exploration and production once again starts growing in Africa and other regions, oil companies, and providers of logistics and other support services are being called upon to work in more and more remote locations. Knowing the location of assets 24/7, and safeguarding personnel so vital to the industry, is essential.

Corry BrennanCorry Brennan is Simplex Regional Sales Manager at Globalstar. Globalstar is a leading provider of mobile satellite voice and data services, leveraging the world’s most modern mobile satellite communications network. Customers around the world in industries like government, emergency management, marine, logging, oil & gas and outdoor recreation rely on Globalstar to conduct business smarter and faster, maintain peace of mind and access emergency personnel. Globalstar data solutions are ideal for various asset and personal tracking, data monitoring and SCADA applications.

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