Jun 11, 2020

Oil & Gas: COVID-19 and digital supply chain technologies

Oil & Gas
digital supply chain
John Bolto, GM, and James Done...
6 min
What happens when you urgently need a specific blind or a high-spec ball valve for your oil & gas operation in the middle of a global pandemic...

What happens when you urgently need a specific blind or a high-spec ball valve for your oil & gas operation in the middle of a global pandemic?

Your usual Italian valve manufacturer went into lockdown several weeks ago and your usual Chinese pipe fitting manufacturer has only just returned to work with a backlog a mile long; nowhere has such heavy and expensive items ‘on the shelf’.

Had this situation arisen even just a couple of years ago, you might have been stuck for a solution, yet the rapid digitalization of supply chain management has created new ways of working, just in time.

COVID-19 has highlighted the weaknesses in many oil and gas operators’ procurement processes: diversification. Seeking economies of scale, it is not uncommon to find operators sourcing as much as 70% to 80% of their supply from just three or four companies. This has now left many operators in a pinch, unable to source what they need, and not necessarily having the right processes and certifications in place to source elsewhere.

Importing something from abroad? You’re in for a long wait. The rapid decline in travelling abroad has had a knock-on impact on airfreight. With over 40% of air freight carried in passenger jets, and reductions on commercial air traffic exceeding 60% in some regions, this mode of logistics is under significant stress.

While many airlines have scrambled to offer commercial freight services to replace consumer carriage, the whole process is still being ironed out. Shipping lanes remain active, yet the virus has impacted docks and landside logistics; typically, a shipment from China to the Middle East might take four weeks, right now you’d be lucky to receive it in eight. Even overland shipments have struggled. At one point, deliveries from the eastern states of Australia to Western Australia were taking two to three weeks, instead of the usual two to three days. Everything is running much more slowly than usual.

Putting the pieces back together

In the case of our valve, you could be waiting longer still. However long that manufacturing site is in lockdown for, it will likely take just as long for it to get back up and running – reemploying, regrouping the supply chain and stabilizing stock levels will all take time. So, for a large, high specification valve, we could be looking at months, if not a year or more in stock disruption. If that product is not already on a shelf somewhere, you need to begin to diversify. Looking closer to home is a good start. What kind of manufacturing capabilities and raw materials options do you have locally that would allow you to make the rest of the supply chain work in the time that you have available?

You may also be contending with a run on prices. With the instability of the oil market, and shut-ins looming, many operators will see it as an opportunity to take on large maintenance projects that had been scheduled for later in the year. If they do not have that part to hand, they will soon be looking to source it. And, all the usual requirements for safe operation still apply. Plants need parts. But that’s not to say that they are not available, simply that the procurement processes many operators follow do not give them enough visibility to assess and access other options.

Out with the old

Many operators continue to rely on their tried and tested ERP system: Functional, yet often siloed and closed source, ERP systems leave no real room for improvement. Operators lose out on all the visibility that comes with adopting an end-to-end supply chain solution that can integrate with third party platforms, and it also typically lacks the same level of trust that digital solutions now build in as standard.

A digital twin of the procurement process is one innovation that can help companies gain better visibility over the weak spots in their supply. It can highlight a breakdown or bottleneck in the supply chain early on and incentivize procurement teams to reallocate resources or find alternatives. Having used digital twins to improve asset management, health, safety and performance, it is a concept that the industry knows works.

Yet, right now the disruption is so extensive that most companies will need to do a lot more than a real-time review. To maintain safety and uptime in the long-term, most operators will need to think about how to source the critical parts that could cause major outages and put in place thorough supply chain risk mitigation measures.

Trialing new pieces for size

The solution does not need to be to physically hold parts in stock. As an example, operators could roll out an asset performance management system on the most high-risk equipment to provide better early warning signals. It could be that the engineering team works with a bespoke 3D printing provider or a local advanced manufacturing facility to understand the timeline for manufacturing the parts locally instead. Or it could even be that the operator turns to those around it, to understand what inventory might be available locally through an e-commerce platform.

Going back to the valve and blind example, it was a couple of digital supply chain solutions that Worley combined and executed concurrently to solve the challenge. The team at AdditiveNow, Worley’s bespoke 3D metal printing and advanced manufacturing joint venture, set about designing a custom solution for the blind that would meet the specification and quality requirement in the timeframe available. Leaning on their background and expertise in oil and gas, the team were able to swiftly prepare a potential agile manufacturing solution.

In the meantime, a second team from Requis, Worley’s enterprise supply chain and commerce platform, accessed over one million asset listings from operators selling surplus equipment they no longer needed. The team were successful in finding the valve and handled the procurement including vetting the supplier and delivery to site.

The seller of the valve was pleased too. As the industry turns to cost savings to weather market instability, many see the benefit in turning surplus and used assets into cash. Digital supply chain solutions make this far more time efficient while maximizing value by connecting the right people together.

A complete picture

The end-to-end digitalization of the supply chain has been on the oil and gas industry’s horizon for some time, but for many operators, the mass disruption from COVID-19 is accelerating the transition. Nothing dismantles resistance to change quite like the need for survival.

While there is a lot of fallout, the disruption is also helping to crystallize priorities and get decisions made. For supply chain procurement, there really is no better time to be trialing digital techniques that will create much needed agility and diversity. Many supply chains will remain fragile for quite some time, and trust will need to be rebuilt. But with digitalization, much of that trust will be built in from the start, whether that’s through complete visibility of the asset’s document history, or knowing your local 3D printer and advanced manufacturers who have the industry expertise, should you need a new part at short notice.

This article was contributed by John Bolto, General Manager for AdditiveNow, Worley and James Donegan, Director of Business Development for Requis, Worley.

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Jul 26, 2021

Form Energy receives funding power for iron-air batteries

Dominic Ellis
3 min
Startup Form Energy receives $200 million Series D financing round led by ArcelorMittal’s XCarb innovation fund to further develop iron-air batteries

Form Energy believes it has cracked the conundrum of commercialising grid storage through iron-air batteries - and some of the biggest names in industry are backing its potential.

The startup recently announced the battery chemistry of its first commercial product and a $200 million Series D financing round led by ArcelorMittal’s XCarb innovation fund. Founded in 2017, Form Energy is backed by investors Eni Next LLC, MIT’s The Engine, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Prelude Ventures, Capricorn Investment Group and Macquarie Capital.

While solar and wind resources are the lowest marginal cost sources of electricity, the grid faces a challenge: how to manage the multi-day variability of renewable energy, even in periods of multi-day weather events, without sacrificing energy reliability or affordability.

Moreover, while Lithium-ion batteries are well suited to fast bursts of energy production, they run out of energy after just a few hours. Iron-air batteries, however, are predicted to have theoretical energy densities of more than 1,200 Wh/kg according to Renaissance of the iron-air battery (phys.org)

The active components of Form Energy's iron-air battery system are some of the cheapest, and most abundant materials: iron, water, and air. Iron-air batteries are the best solution to balance the multi-day variability of renewable energy due to their extremely low cost, safety, durability, and global scalability.

It claims its first commercial product is a rechargeable iron-air battery capable of delivering electricity for 100 hours at system costs competitive with conventional power plants and at less than 1/10th the cost of lithium-ion and can be optimised to store electricity for 100 hours at system costs competitive with legacy power plants.

"This product is our first step to tackling the biggest barrier to deep decarbonisation: making renewable energy available when and where it’s needed, even during multiple days of extreme weather, grid outages, or periods of low renewable generation," it states.

Mateo Jaramillo, CEO and Co-founder of Form Energy, said it conducted a broad review of available technologies and has reinvented the iron-air battery to optimise it for multi-day energy storage for the electric grid. "With this technology, we are tackling the biggest barrier to deep decarbonization: making renewable energy available when and where it’s needed, even during multiple days of extreme weather or grid outages," he said.

Form Energy and ArcelorMittal are working jointly on the development of iron materials which ArcelorMittal would non-exclusively supply for Form’s battery systems. Form Energy intends to source the iron domestically and manufacture the battery systems near where they will be sited. Form Energy’s first project is with Minnesota-based utility Great River Energy, located near the heart of the American Iron Range.

Greg Ludkovsky, Global Head of Research and Development at ArcelorMittal, believes Form Energy is at the leading edge of developments in the long-duration, grid-scale battery storage space. "The multi-day energy storage technology they have developed holds exciting potential to overcome the issue of intermittent supply of renewable energy."

Investors in Form Energy's November 2020 round included Energy Impact Partners, NGP Energy Technology Partners III, and Temasek.

In May 2020, it signed a contract with Minnesota-based utility Great River Energy to jointly deploy a 1MW / 150MWh pilot project to be located in Cambridge, MN. Great River Energy is Minnesota's second-largest electric utility and the fifth largest generation and transmission cooperative in the US.

Last week Helena and Energy Vault announced a strategic partnership to identify additional opportunities for Energy Vault’s waste remediation technologies as the company begins deployment of its energy storage system worldwide. It received new investment from Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures (SAEV) in June.

Maoneng has revealed more details of its proposed 240MWp / 480MWh Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula in Australia (click here).

The BESS represents hundreds of millions of dollars of investment that will improve electricity grid reliability and network stability by drawing energy from the grid during off-peak periods for battery storage, and dispatching energy to the grid during peak periods. 

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