Recab UK and Congatec: Bringing digitisation to oil and gas
An article from the embedded computing company Recab UK.
The offshore energy industry, whether it is oil and gas or offshore wind, is one underpinned by remote and distributed assets, critical operations and harsh environments. As such, it’s one of the prime sectors to benefit from digitisation and embedded technologies to support improved maintenance and monitoring.
Where are the main application areas for embedded systems in the offshore industry?
Martin Frederiksen (MF): “The nature of all offshore operations lends itself well to the potential benefits of embedded computing and digitisation. Interestingly, one of the areas where we at Recab UK have seen a lot of projects recently is in offshore wind generation. Wind farms are high-tech and are an ideal Internet of Things (IoT) use case.
“Only last year, a highlighted the offshore wind sector as lagging behind in adoption and understanding of digital technologies. We’re certainly seeing evidence that operators are now addressing that and investing in edge servers for remote monitoring and predictive maintenance.
“We also see projects for mapping the seabed using lidar scanners and/or cameras, often involving unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). When using UAVs, the ability to process the data as effectively as possible is very important. We also have more traditional projects for ships, either for navigation or for transmitting data. The value of embedded systems and digitisation truly spans all offshore operations.
“The key with each of these projects is to consider the environmental conditions, which is arguably the biggest challenge for the development of embedded computing in offshore environments. These systems need to be IEC 60945 compliant, IP67 rated to protect against salt mist and water ingress and able to operate in a wide range of temperatures and pressures. Subsea projects in the North Sea, for example, will need to function effectively in the very low temperatures, as well as subsea pressure changes.”
Why are more businesses in this space turning to embedded solutions?
Diethard Fent (DF): “The International Energy Agency estimates that digitisation can reduce production costs in the oil and gas sector by up to 20 percent. According to auditing and consulting firm PWC, there is great potential for savings through more efficient maintenance and better operation of assets.
“Both the upstream and midstream oil and gas sectors, for example, are characterised by distributed assets and infrastructures in harsh environments. They therefore require ultra-robust embedded platforms for the digital transformation challenge that offers a huge potential for cost savings.
“There is also further potential for savings in the supply chain, through the use of artificial intelligence and integrated platforms that connect organisations with external partners.”
MF: “By digitising these processes, companies in the upstream and midstream sector can potentially save up to $1 trillion in capital and operating costs. Realising this potential requires extremely robust embedded edge server technologies, such as those offered by congatec. Recab UK’s IoT and solution-ready system platforms for solution providers, system integrators and end users are based on these technologies.”
How do you support offshore and oil and gas companies?
DF: “In late 2019, congatec introduced a new rugged class of embedded edge server technologies designed for the digitisation of the upstream and midstream oil and gas industry. The new embedded edge computing platforms are designed for extended temperature ranges, with optional conformal coating to protect against the effects of salt water or condensation caused by large temperature fluctuations.
“In addition, they offer comprehensive server class RAS (reliability, availability, serviceability) features that enable OEMs to dependably manage thousands of devices remotely. As multicore designs with currently up to 6 cores and a particularly low 25W TDP, they are suitable for completely fanless and therefore maintenance-free 24/7 operation in hermetically sealed housings with the highest IP protection classes.”
MF: “For us, we support with our expertise and experience in embedded edge technologies for harsh environments. We have been able to assist in several maritime projects where there is a need for an IEC 60945 compliant computer that is IP67 rated and resistant to salt mist. The sea is not the best environment for a computer and therefore a lot precautions are necessary for a computer to keep functioning for many years.
“We are mainly supporting the offshore business with our baseboard solutions for our COMexpress modules. These projects can be in a variety of applications, like remote operated vehicles (ROVs) for transmitting data from cameras or lidars to process the data before it is sent to the main server. It can also be controlling the sensors in an offshore wind turbine.
“In recent years, the oil and gas industry has reduced its staff and therefore some companies either do not have the in-house competence or do not have the time to do the development themselves and therefore they turn to us for a helping hand.
“The number of units needed in the offshore business is usually small- to mid-size volumes, which is where it makes sense to work with a company like Recab UK. It is also a sector that is heavily regulated and that appreciates close contact and cooperation with the developing party.”
The potential benefits of digitisation in the offshore industry are clear: reduced production costs, improved maintenance efficiency and lower capital expenditure. As more offshore companies move to digitise their processes and operations, choosing the right technologies and system partners will prove essential to success.
Taking the lid off digital transformation
Amish Sabharwal is Executive Vice President for AVEVA’s Industrial Engineering Business Unit which is responsible for delivering simulation, engineering, design, project execution, operator training and project management software to the Global Industrial Market. With 25 years' experience globally within the Energy, Chemicals and Power industries, he is focused on delivering Digital Transformation outcomes for Owner Operators, EPC and Suppliers by leveraging technology to create value added opportunities to business processes. Amish is a professional engineer who holds a Masters and Bachelors in Chemical Engineering from the University of Calgary. Here he reflects on the impact the pandemic has had on the industry and why it must be at the cutting edge of digital transformation.
Oil and gas companies faced formidable challenges to their efficiency, sustainability and profitability in 2020. As a result of the pandemic, prices collapsed severely and the urgency to tackle these issues intensified. The economic discomfort is being felt throughout the oil and gas value chain.
Upstream companies seek to maximise production from onshore and offshore wells safely and economically. In the midstream, the primary concern of hydrocarbon pipeline operators is to ensure safe, reliable and compliant operations - all while managing energy costs and minimising time and installed costs. Across the downstream, refining and petrochemical producers strive to achieve superior performance through better management of their energy usage and costs.
Considering these priorities, the lack of digital maturity across oil and gas is perhaps surprising. According to multinational professional services firm PwC, “One of the clearest and most viable responses to these systemic challenges is to accelerate digitisation strategies to help improve resilience and remain attractive to investors.” But, “of more than 200 oil and gas companies surveyed, only 7% identified themselves as digital champions while more than 70% of respondents considered themselves to be in the early stages of digital maturity”.
Optimisation and innovation
In today’s economic environment, capital budgets and overheads are constantly being cut. Oil and gas producers are faced with rising manufacturing costs, global competition and soaring energy costs. To meet these challenges, companies must optimise manufacturing operations and make performance improvements to positively impact their bottom lines.
Digital transformation offers new toolsets that enable oil and gas producers to increase their competitiveness. These digital toolsets help improve yields of valuable products while reducing energy consumption and increasing throughput. Using digital technology, manufacturers can create a complete digital twin of their processes and assets to respond quickly and easily to unexpected events, reduce shutdown time, work and train operators remotely and evaluate what-if scenarios in batch processing and manufacturing.
Through digital transformation, operators can combine real-time process data with current economic conditions, giving operators the ability to make informed decisions at an expedited rate. Information sharing increases while stakeholders also improve their ability to visualise results and key performance indicator data across processes and overall plant production.
Technology offers the potential to impact process yield, energy use and throughput optimisation. Here are some considerations:
Own and maintain your own engineering data
Engineering data tells you what equipment is installed on each plant, what size it is, how it is connected and where it is located through 3D visualisation. It is generated in capital projects, from newbuild plants to brownfield revamps, and forms the backbone of the digital twin.
Accurate data, kept in one place, ensures the reliability of a digital twin’s output and the efficiency of operations throughout the asset’s lifecycle. Global oil and gas producers are moving fast to invest in their own cloud-based data platforms for current and future capital projects, operations and maintenance as part of their digital transformation projects.
Evaluate process design in the cloud to reduce costs
By leveraging the almost infinite processing power and storage available through cloud-based architecture, companies can accelerate process design while reducing capital investment costs for process modelling and training.
Oil and gas producers can spin up cloud-based servers and computing resources as needed. This also accelerates the flow of information throughout process design. A cloud-based architecture for process design increases information accessibility, enhances availability and significantly reduces total cost of ownership.
Encourage online collaboration
Process innovations becomes seamless through collaboration. Separating the content from the product allows the content, such as simulation models, to be managed easily with file history logs in a central repository. Efficiency is significantly increased using cloud-based architecture as refineries can adapt to changing needs.
Computing power can also be scaled up or down with varying numbers of virtual machines to facilitate simulation templates for engineering test or training scenarios. Secure user access control allows administrators to add, delete or edit users and privileges as needed. IT overheads are simplified to a pure on-demand cloud-based architecture where machines are accessed via a secure URL, and new versions of process designs are available as soon as released.
Accelerate operational excellence through a digital engineering platform
Consider supporting the entire engineering lifecycle from representation of the actual piping and instrumentation diagram, mapping each equipment object to a detailed engineering database and 3D model; to building/testing the dynamic stimulation early in the process design; optimising the process and control design, comparing capital versus operating costs; and the continuous improvement of operations as the engineering model becomes a plant’s digital twin.
Unify your supply chain model planning and operations
A complete 360-degree view of the digital value chain means all aspects of the enterprise are visualised, analysed and optimised. Inputs to the enterprise, such as feedstock and raw materials, are analysed in real-time against planning, operations, scheduling and distribution. Full plant models are managed simultaneously within a supply and distribution network.
Combining data and analysis
There are three key technological trends that will continue to accelerate adoption and help businesses reinvent themselves. First, cloud computing allows companies to manage large volumes of data generated in operations and improves data quality, data availability and single-source transparency across complex value chains.
Second, connectivity and the Internet of Things, in which machines carry sensors that support remote performance monitoring and efficient equipment integration, will support energy use optimisation and costs across company operations. Third, AI and ML tools help analyse data and identify operational patterns and shortcomings that can be used to improve efficiency, for example, in predictive maintenance.
Digital transformation offers a fresh lens to improve workforce training, sustainability, productivity, safety and regulatory compliance - while adapting to unforeseen events. Through digital transformation, oil and gas producers can more confidently explore opportunities, reduce operational risk and shrink the gap between plans and results.