Connected data can help businesses more toward ideal operations.
by Jeremiah Stone
December 28, 2015

While enormous amounts of time and expense have been focused on the design and architecture of physical oil and gas infrastructure, operators have spent little time designing the flows and management of data generated by assets. This has resulted in irregular, isolated data sets ranging from the individual asset to the enterprise.

Image 1. Operators are looking for any opportunity to enhance efficiencies and manage costs. (Courtesy of GE Digital)Image 1. Operators are looking for any opportunity to enhance efficiencies and manage costs. (Courtesy of GE Digital)

In current market conditions, operators are looking for any opportunity to enhance efficiencies and manage costs. A select few operators are turning to their data for opportunities to improve operational performance and are finding that integration of holistic, global data sets allows them to optimize not just assets, but entire operations. Data has the power to deliver maximum value from existing equipment, prevent unplanned downtime, and improve financial flexibility and operational scalability.

Savvy operators focus on predictive analytics for machine performance and reliability. To succeed in the current environment, operators must move beyond break/fix operations and anticipate issues before performance degradation or failure, taking a more proactive approach. Historically, experienced employees have made equipment tuning and maintenance decisions on the fly, relying on educated guesses. This reactive thinking can keep organizations from operating at maximum performance and profitability.

A new era of analytics technology allows machine experts to rely on complete data models extracted from the full realm of industrial assets to predict and understand the impact of future downtime and optimize the performance of entire fleets. Operators can determine what will break before it does and schedule maintenance and operations to deliver minimal disruption to the business. This is the world of the Industrial Internet, one that achieves three goals: avoiding unplanned downtime, maximizing profitability and growing business. Operators should follow these three steps to get there.

1. Get Connected

For industries such as oil and gas that employ expensive, geo-distributed, and remote and inaccessible assets, linking them into a standard analytical and reporting model is the critical first step. Gathering field data is not a new idea, and oil and gas companies have traditionally been ahead of the curve in understanding the value of machine data to engineering and operations teams. Now the focus is on standardizing access and structuring data in an operations- and business-relevant model.

For example, one of the world's largest independent oil exploration and production companies has recently made the transition to the Industrial Internet. The company operates and holds interest in almost 70,000 wells across the globe. The machines that service those wells gather millions of bits of data about their operations.

This data provides critical support for making important business decisions. Millions of previously unstructured data streams needed to be aggregated, so they deployed an enterprise-historian solution that secures and delivers one version of the truth to operations staff globally. At that point, data can be used to establish insights to help streamline operations, develop best practices, reduce production and operating costs and create a smarter workforce.

For oil and gas in particular, viewing assets remotely is critical. Having access to machine data without being on location has many safety and convenience benefits.

2. Get Insights

By analyzing sensor data such as vibration, rotor position, temperature and pressure flow, Industrial Internet solutions can identify changes in the operating condition of the machine and can determine when the machine is no longer performing at its optimal capacity. Identifying the early onset of abnormal operating conditions minimizes disruption and avoids unnecessary periods of downtime.

The most significant benefit of predictive analytics software is its ability to turn substantial problems that may be weeks or months down the road into minor, lower-cost fixes that can be done today. By learning what "normal" looks like for many variables, Industrial Internet software can identify when abnormalities arise. Changes in the viscosity of oil flows, the temperature of a cooling component or the pressure in a turbine are not critical issues in and of themselves. However, using software to track these changes creates new levels of insight that can have dramatic long-term financial impacts.

Recently, a global oil production company moved to predictive analytics. The company can identify potential problems in advance and provide an accurate diagnosis and intervene appropriately, resulting in a tremendous return on investment. This investment ultimately allows them to take a more proactive approach to maintenance and gives them additional insights to manage its risk.

3. Get Optimized

Once an operator can predict failure, the highest maturity level is optimization of each individual asset based on the knowledge gained from full field data aggregation. With full field optimization, assets can be tuned to perform at peak performance for target business conditions. Life cycle management becomes much simpler and cost-effective by timing maintenance and replacement on concrete data. Also, budgets are opened up more broadly because the supply of backup parts is significantly reduced.

Operators can optimize existing fleets and become more flexible and prepared for expansion. They can tune a new asset without ever having to evaluate it independently. The lessons learned from similar assets in similar environments help automate that process and reduce time and effort to full productivity.

One of the primary goals in oil production is to naturally produce more by getting new wells up and running. Data analysis and prediction allow operators to learn how historical data from previous sites can be used to teach crews best practices. This means wells get up and running in the shortest amount of time, especially when old wells are broken down and moved to new drill sites.

Ideally, the price of oil will rebound soon, and exploration and production budgets will return to pre-recession levels. Knowing how to monitor and analyze a well before it is built can have significant impact on an organization's overall costs of expansion, greatly reducing time to profit for new ventures.

As all oil companies understand, the industry presents many challenges, but with the proper implementation of big data and the Industrial Internet, variability of performance can be eliminated, predictability guaranteed, and uptime in oil and gas exploration and extraction hastened. The harnessing of oil helped drive the Industrial Revolution and now such transformative power is making way for the next technological revolution, the Industrial Internet.