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Energy connects with the IIoT: Leveraging the power of information

How connected devices in the oil and gas industry create value.

May 24, 2018   by Michael Martin

IIoT gives the oil and gas industry real-time visibility in how systems are performing.
PHOTO: SUNCOR

The idea that any device with an on-off switch can be connected to the internet is capturing the world’s imagination. While this capability provides some personal utility, its greatest value comes from connecting and applying intelligence and analytics to the larger, more technical systems we rely on.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) connects big, specialized equipment and complex systems to cognitive and analytical intelligence so they can run better, safer, cleaner and more efficiently. The transformation of operating models to integrate IIoT is becoming more prevalent, notably in the natural resources sector. The global economic impact of this kind of connected technology for oil and gas, and mining alone, over the next decade is more than $1 trillion.

What can IIoT mean for the oil and gas industry in Canada?

IIoT gives a never-before-seen level of access to information through thousands of connected devices, with a real-time visibility into how systems are performing, any breakdown of equipment, and even worker safety.

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For example, before the IIoT, if a pumpjack in an oil field had a technical issue, there was no way to remotely determine the nature of the problem. It could be that torque and loads were off, or perhaps rod stresses were detected, or the pump was overheating. Without IIoT, diagnosing the situation would require man-hours, incurring the costs of a truck roll, and putting a worker into a potentially dangerous situation.

Through a network of sophisticated operational analytics software, oil companies monitor their systems at a granular level. Crews observe dozens of processes at once, locating, identifying and fixing issues in a fraction of the time, with far less cost and risk.

Safer option

IIoT also uses this same kind of intelligence and connectivity with pipelines. We already know it’s safer for people and the environment to transport oil by pipeline rather than by truck or train; but connecting every metre of that pipeline to the IIoT makes it an even safer option. Sensors along every link in the pipeline continuously report on its status. Even the smallest fluctuation provides information before there is a problem.

IIoT is present – or will be present – in multiple aspects of the oil and gas industry in ways we may have never even considered. These are just three examples:

Automation. Manual processes can be slow and cumbersome. Conveyor belts or wellheads, for example, may be unmonitored and so inspections would be human-managed. If inspections only occur on a weekly basis, the device could have been defective for up to seven days, bringing productivity of that system to a standstill.

Worker safety. Wearable technology allows real-time monitoring of employees in dangerous situations. An emission detector on a worker in a processing plant can sound an alarm for dangerous gases, such as methane. Wearable devices even sense if a worker is too exhausted at the end of a long shift to work within safety regulations.

Geo-location. In emergency situations such as an explosion or a fire, geo-location sensors pinpoint workers within three metres of where they are located.

By placing sensors and embedding devices in the machinery used to extract resources, companies enhance safety, improve efficiency, boost profitability and greatly improve the processes required for the extraction and movement of the oil and gas.

Further, gathering data from multiple sources provides information that enables teams to scale up or down very quickly while assessing and managing various situations. Crews download weather information, pull data from drill sites and evaluate a broad scope of conditions ranging from noise and vibration, to slurry ponds and leach residues from mine tailings, as well as vegetation and terrain data captured by drones flying over the property.

Analyzing this data – from any source – will enable companies to leverage it in some way.

IoT has excited the imagination of many, with estimates of 50 billion devices being connected to the internet by 2020. IIoT may command less attention, but it’s already generating substantial benefits by connecting our big systems and capital equipment to cognitive and analytic platforms.

Michael Martin is the Internet of Things lead executive for Network Services at IBM Canada.

This article originally appeared in the print version of PLANT’s January-February 2018 issue.


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