What comes after digitization?

By Bob Vavra, CFE Media December 15, 2016

As the oil and gas industry embraces the idea of the "digital oilfield" discussed in October, it’s important to note that there already is a lot of digital information floating around out there. We’ve had sensors and data screens for years; all of this is generated by the collection and organization of that information.

The true digital oilfield is more than just data collection. Using cloud computing and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to provide real-time data analytics, a plant manager can see into the future state of his operation and understand operational trends before they become maintenance problems.

Because of the far-flung nature of many oil and gas operations-remote pipelines, North Sea drilling, single-well operations-sending technicians on their maintenance rounds to find out everything is a waste of time and talent. It may even put the right person in the wrong place at the wrong time if something breaks.

So if you could see into your operation’s future, what would it show you? That is the end game in the digital oil field. It’s not about maximizing time and money. That should not be the first goal of a digital oil field. The first step is to maximize the use of people and resources; the savings of time and money flow from there.

In fact, if you start with the goal of saving time and money, all you can save is what you set out to save. If you want to cut 4% from your operating budget, you can accomplish that, but you might be leaving another 4% on the table because you set your goals too low.

Set goals by optimizing people and resources through the understanding of how those resources should be spent at any given moment. Those potential savings have no cap; they are limited only by how well your operation currently runs and what variable costs might come into play.

Optimization is the next step after digitization, and it’s actually the most exciting part of all we’ve discussed with IIoT. Digitization is a software-driven, bits and bytes process. Optimization is the human action on all that data. It is the part of our entire supply chain that hasn’t quite been taken away from the humans.

You automatically can turn off a valve when it malfunctions; you still need a human to replace the valve. You can remotely monitor the health of a motor 200 miles away and see when it is beginning to overheat. You don’t want to send a technician out over those 200 miles to observe a motor in good shape, or to send him out after the motor has overheated and shut down. Either way, you waste time and money. If the oil and gas industry has been slow to embrace this optimization, it would appear the corner has been turned. Shell and BP are two of the major players in oil and gas that are counting on digitization to help run their facilities more safely and effectively-two achievements that go right to the bottom line.

As Ian Bush, director of BIM at Black & Veatch said at a recent symposium, "Asset management is not about managing assets, it’s about creating value. You tend to value those assets in economic terms; it’s really about outcome-based engineering. It’s about having the right information throughout the life of that asset."

-Bob Vavra, content manager, CFE Media

Original content can be found at Oil and Gas Engineering.