The advent of industry 4.0 has made data more valuable than ever before for industry. With the right technology, it’s possible to collect, store and analyze information about nearly every aspect of any industry process.
Fleets of IIoT devices — which connect to internet or local networks to send or transmit data — have become key pieces of technology in the fourth industrial revolution, where they’re being used to provide companies with real-time data and streamline business processes.
Here is how the oil and gas industry is being revolutionized by IIoT — and how any oil and gas company can incorporate these IIoT devices.
What is the Internet of Things?
IoT is a catch-all term for the growing network of devices and sensors which connect to the internet to remotely send and receive data in real time.
While IoT has often been associated with consumer goods — as in “smart” security systems or home assistants, which wirelessly communicate with other devices and company servers to secure a home or connect a customer with information — a new category of IoT, industrial IoT (or IIoT), is applying this technology to heavy industry.
IIoT devices collect and transmit data in real time for variety of purposes.
Wherever data can be leveraged to reduce costs or provide more accurate information, IoT fleets can be installed to collect real-time data that will be usable by on-site supervisors and workers, as well as business analysts. This data is often analyzed with the help of advanced AI-backed analytics tools that are capable of sifting through the huge amounts of data these systems produce and detecting subtle patterns, which can be used to reduce costs or create more accurate forecasts.
How the Oil and Gas Industry Can Leverage IIoT
There are a number of different advantages the technology can offer.
For example, a fleet of IIoT devices can be used for remote site monitoring and inspection. With the right combination of IIoT and monitoring technology in place, it’s possible for workers and site supervisors to keep tabs on equipment and site systems without needing to be on site at all.
Workers can respond to changing needs and emergency conditions by remotely deactivating equipment or managing operating variables — adjusting temperature or flow — from remote operating sites. Some advanced systems that integrate IIoT can even automatically respond to emergencies, preventing disaster even if there is no worker present to flip the right swtich.
Reducing the number of workers on-site could, as a result, improve safety and also provide an answer to oil and gas’ growing talent crisis created by an aging workforce and the industry’s difficulty in finding younger workers to replace them.
Oil and gas work environments are often naturally dangerous, with certain types of industry work sites, like offshore oil rigs, being some of the most stressful environments for any American worker. Remote monitoring with IIoT can help pull back non-essential staff of those platforms, reducing operating costs and ensuring that the fewest number of workers possible are exposed to dangerous conditions.
Other applications of IIoT can help keep equipment working for as long as possible. With PdM (Predictive Maintenance) and system health analytics, IIoT sensors can be installed in high-value oil and gas equipment or machinery. These sensors can then record and transfer that equipment’s telemetry, the constant stream of measurement’s emitted by that machine over time.
With the real-time information provided by this telemetry, an AI-powered predictive model can pick up on subtle variations in instrument timing, pressure, vibrations or temperature — to predict when a piece of equipment needs repairs or is about to fail.
A predictive maintenance strategy can save oil and gas companies both on maintenance costs — as problems caught earlier can typically be resolved with cheaper preventative maintenance — and on downtime, which costs offshore oil and gas companies $38 million on average every year.
Some advanced predictive maintenance systems can even shut off equipment before it fails — reducing the risk that the equipment runs to the point of damaging itself and potentially injuring nearby workers.
IIoT can also provide oil and gas companies with advanced process optimization. With enough data, analytics tools can uncover subtle correlations between machine performance and operating conditions to provide analysts with the information needed to make tweaks to site equipment and processes or optimize for lowest possible spending and the highest possible revenue.
IIoT data can also help analysts manage assets and discover where resources aren’t being used efficiently, letting them know where business processes can be further streamlined.
Efficiently Incorporating IIoT Technology
Businesses that integrate an IIoT fleet should prepare for a phase-in period where baselines are established and stores of historical data — which will allow the system to detect patterns and derive insights — are built up.
When implementing IIoT technology, identify a specific goal — like reducing operating costs at a given site or for a specific piece of machinery — and use that goal to structure your implementation strategy. Avoid vague or overly-broad goals that can’t be easily measured. These can make it difficult to evaluate the success of an IIoT implementation.
Workers will need to be trained to use the new features provided by an IIoT fleet, like remote access to equipment, as well as the new information and predictive analytics available to them.
Businesses that plan to use IIoT will need to be prepared to handle significant amounts of data. This will require a robust network infrastructure and the adoption of new technologies, like 5G. Large-scale collection and storage of valuable information will also mean the data security may need to become a higher priority.
How Oil and Gas Can Leverage IIoT
Data is more important than ever for oil and gas. New technology, like IIoT devices, can provide oil and gas companies with real-time data that can be leveraged for a variety of purposes — including predictive maintenance, improved forecasting and process optimization.
Oil and gas companies wanting to incorporate IIoT will, however, need to be careful in implementing this new technology if they want to use it successfully. IIoT fleets should be incorporated with a specific goal in mind, and businesses should expect a phase-in period where workers are trained in the use of new IIoT technology and data baselines are established.
Megan R. Nichols is a technical writer who regularly contributes to sites like American Machinist and Manufacturing tomorrow. She also publishes easy to understand manufacturing and engineering articles on her blog, Schooled By Science. Keep up with Megan by subscribing to her blog or following her on Twitter.
Oil and gas operations are commonly found in remote locations far from company headquarters. Now, it's possible to monitor pump operations, collate and analyze seismic data, and track employees around the world from almost anywhere. Whether employees are in the office or in the field, the internet and related applications enable a greater multidirectional flow of information – and control – than ever before.