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After Covid-19: why the upstream oil industry must get smarter by going digital

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Oilfield Technology,

Covid-19 has led to a crisis in the global oil industry with a dramatic fall in prices and weak consumer demand creating difficulties for the upstream sector right now. Keith Tilley, CEO, Intoware, explains why companies must re-think their digital strategies or risk being left behind.

In recent months many of us have been able to work remotely as digital technologies have helped to transform the way businesses operate. Upstream oil is no exception, but despite the benefits of digitising processes being understood, major operators have remained resistant to change.

In June 2020, Deloitte’s ‘digital maturity index’ announced that upstream oil is falling significantly behind other industries including automotive, process manufacturing and aerospace. This need not be the case, in the upstream sector digitisation can be used to better automate oil production, providing remote instructions to support field maintenance and facilitate the continuous processing of data for greater visibility.

But despite these business benefits, often the perceived costs to develop digital processes and integrate them with legacy systems or just lethargy has proved to be a ‘barrier’. The pandemic has led many operators however, to re-evaluate the potential of industry 4.0 in their workstreams. With businesses already disrupted, companies are now more willing to consider new, smarter ways of working.

They are looking for new digital solutions to keep their people safe and their operations productive, being able to tap into and monitor data from industry 4.0 solutions is a major differentiator, those that don’t adopt newer technologies and processes risk being left behind.

Digital transformation: where to start?

But knowing where and how to start, can be a challenge for many. Digital transformation is a case of identifying the business challenges that need to be met and addressing how these technologies can help. Whether it’s operational productivity, health and safety compliance or on-boarding.

Prior to the pandemic, Intoware developed its workflow platform WorkfloPlus specifically for use with both mobile and augmented reality (AR) technologies. The aim was to help digitise workflows, audit and compliance processes required by upstream operators.

By switching to digital work instructions, upstream operators not only get measured productivity improvements (over 200% in some cases), they build a huge bank of data for audits and also use the same information to predict when failures may occur. The very nature of high-risk oil exploration and production means that health and safety, compliance and audit checks are very detailed. Unless these processes are done digitally, they create a massive volume of paper which is difficult to tracks and impossible to measure with any degree of accuracy.

Done digitally however, anybody from the worker, to the supervisor or auditor can see the characteristics of a check in real-time, the impact it has and provide digital evidence, such as a photos, videos or data, to know if done correctly – all in a faction of the time.

The capture, analysis and utilisation of this knowledge is therefore, a real ‘game-changer’ for upstream operators. By providing real-time data capture, workflow technology is allowing analytics to deliver new insights that will help deliver greater efficiencies, cut costs and drive innovation. But how do these technologies improve worker safety when operating, inspecting and maintaining equipment used in upstream oil production?

When our automation platform WorkfloPlus is integrated with wearable computers (e.g. HMT-1 headsets from our partner Realwear), it helps make safety a reality by allowing workers to make decisions using a single ‘hands-free’ device mounted to a hard-hat. Offshore technicians comply with safety protocols and that compliance is recorded so there is electronic evidence.

Offshore technicians, especially those who are new to the job may require maintenance support. The HMT-1 headset enables them to contact a remote expert, who can use live video to instruct the technician and send them annotations that they can see on their device as if they were projected on the equipment itself, ideal for an emergency repair.

The ‘hands-free’ workplace

Currently, government rules mean it’s not safe to be within two meters of another person and we won’t be able to touch our devices without wiping them down or eliminating them completely. This means it’s more difficult than ever to make inspections and take photos or videos or rely on your handheld or wearable device. Covid-19 has made everything more challenging, so operators are looking to introduce more contactless solutions to safeguard lives.

While we all hope the crisis from Covid-19 is now under control, can the industry really afford to bide its time on new technologies that deliver operational productivity and efficiency improvements? According to a 2019 study by Rystad Energy, ‘up to US$100 billion can be saved from E&P upstream budgets through automation and digitisation’ – so why risk being left behind?

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Upstream news Digital oilfield news Oil & gas news