Digital transformation

Dan Walsh discusses re-energising oil and gas with the Internet of Things

Oil and gas leaders understand that there is a need for a new approach to ensure long-term growth. They are looking to new technologies to help overcome the industry’s current economic climate and better their businesses. This is where the Internet of Things (IoT) comes in. It plays a vital role in driving these goals of long-term growth by allowing companies to manage their processes more efficiently.

As of 4Q 2016, AT&T has over 30m connected devices1 with 1.5m Asset Management devices on its network2. AT&T expects pipeline and storage tank IoT monitoring of to have a compound annual growth rate of 21 per cent year on year3. In addition to the better management of production, transport, refining, processing and distribution, the real value of IoT is in the information generated.

This technology makes it possible for companies to collect and study data from across their systems. This allows them to gain valuable insights into their businesses and take steps to help improve operations.

Companies can study the connectivity service layer data to improve reliability. Building analytics, reporting and automation into network functions gives enterprises a distinct advantage. It reduces the cost to run these solutions as well as the impact of potential outages. When the analytics engine senses a problem, pre-defined remediation routines can bring the connection back online.

Additionally, connected devices are able to provide insights from the machine itself. If the remote agent senses problems, pre-built routines will make changes, increase data capture and even submit system tickets for repair. We already see this producing results when remote field assets correct the problem without human intervention.

The IoT data also runs through the enterprise platform to provide additional near real-time insights, giving you robust business intelligence dashboards. These are critical to a company’s ability to see longer-term trends and make decisions for future support.

Safety, time management and cost are also important to the industry. IoT solutions are able to help address all of these needs.

Safety first
A large integrated energy company needed to monitor employees working alone in the field. They wanted a solution for workers to be both active and reactive. A solution that monitored a lack of motion but that also gave them a panic button to call for help.

We created a wearable pendant with 900 MHZ cellular and satellite radio connectivity. This IoT solution helps reduce the risk to field workers, especially those in remote areas, since the client is able to respond to issues more quickly.

But there is potential to take this technology a step further. Personal sensor networks could monitor and track workers’ vital signs, such as heartbeat and body temperature. This would alert businesses straight away if any of their workers were at risk. These sensors could also let workers know if they are entering sensitive areas or even restricted safety zones.

Predictive analytics could also allow companies to design programmes to respond immediately to incidents – even before they happen. Emerging wearable display technology can overlay information into the field of vision to let businesses work faster, share information and warn workers of problems. By connecting such a wearable sensor network to an intelligent, cloud-based storage and processing facility, users could build rules and policies to lower risks.

Maintain control
Managing tanks and totes is another area where we can intelligently apply IoT. You find thousands of these in the petrochemical industry – holding everything from acid to chlorine bleach to process additives. Automating near realtime measurements allows for more efficient operations. This can mean large cost savings, especially in remote locations, or in a feedstock scenario.

Take a company with cryogenic tanks for carbon dioxide storage, for example. Old models used costly remote terminal units connected via expensive analog cellular or POTS lines. Reporting took place once a day and was stored in a data warehouse. But deviations caused serious problems for resupply.

This enterprise now deploys cellular-based gateways, which communicate from tank level sensors in near realtime to a cloud analytics and billing platform. The result? Increased efficiency in resupply operations, more reliable level control and huge cost savings.

Today, refining and processing plants monitor various points to maintain optimised throughput. The data lets operators make the needed adjustments to correct deviations. Gathered data also allows for regular reports and comparisons to determine overall efficiency.

With IoT layered on top of the existing process network, more data points become available. Global analytics can provide incremental improvements across all locations. This allows near real-time tunings for excellent performance. And decision makers – regardless of where they are – can receive this information via mobile business intelligence dashboards.

Deliver more business value faster
As energy companies are looking to IoT to improve operations, it’s vital that they assess the financial model and total cost of ownership. Companies need to compare capital expense limits, and the technology restrictions of legacy radio systems with expanding lower-cost operating expense models of carrier cellular networks. After all, current global instability and industry health have driven home the message that digital transformation is vital not just to survive, but to succeed in the future4.

When strategically deployed, IoT serves as a key contributor to this digital transformation. It can meet both short-and long-term needs for optimisation and efficiency. IoT can help reduce headcount and maintenance costs as well as improve safety in the short term. It can also leave lasting effects. It can help increase overall efficiency; lower operating costs and advance the awareness of and decision making for oil and gas executives.

1 AT&T SEC Form 10-Q report<
2 Finance 241 and Business Anytime IoT reports
3 Berg Insight, M2M Applications in the Oil and Gas Industry, M2M Research Series 2015
4 Frost & Sullivan, Digital Transformation in the Oil & Gas Industry, July 2016

Dan Walsh is SVP & Managing Director; Global Business Energy Solutions at AT&T. AT&T delivers advanced mobile services, next-generation TV, high-speed internet and smart solutions for people and businesses. In today’s world, business is fast, global and mobile. AT&T’s solutions help companies adapt to shifting demands, as well as giving businesses a competitive advantage by helping them react to change in near real time.

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