Automation: recreating traditions

Ask industry executives what trend is top of concerns; unequivocally the answer will be the pending shortage of qualified engineers.

You can talk about real-time data exchange, safety, security, Big Data, alarm management, contextualization, etc., but finding qualified people is difficult. Just where are the next industry leaders coming from? Engineers graduating today will be in the driver’s seat.

While that dearth of talent is huge and will be an issue the industry will have to grapple with for quite a long time, there is one answer that can help ease the extreme pain of a skill shortage a bit, and that is automation.

John Oyen knows that.

“Automation is allowing you to do more with less people for the health and safety environment on the platform,” says Oyen, business development manager for oil and gas at ABB North America. “The better visualization and control of these processes, and the integration of the various subsytems, and the electrical, fire and gas, and safety and subsea control as you bring that together allows the operators to quickly make a change to solve a problem.”

Automation is the future. That is why Offshore Engineer launched a series of publications called OE Review that will focus on the growing trend of automation moving into the offshore oil and gas industry.

It is easy to say the offshore oil and gas industry needs to embrace and employ automation, and that it will solve woes. But, we all know that just won’t happen. All the numbers have to add up and the technology has to be solid. There is no room for error.

History, though, is on automation’s side. Just look at the producers’ downstream brethren and it is easy to see that automation works. It did take a while for downstream to come to grips with the concept of taking advantage of what automation has to offer. Quite honestly, they still are fine tuning some issues. Some traditions die hard.

Downstream has been slow to embrace change – with good reason. Systems need to perform and stay running, because time is money. The catch is that over the past decade, downstream has seen great increases and benefits from automation. In essence, downstream recreated tradition, even with some growing pains.

So, why not upstream? The change is going to happen. It is just a matter of how quickly companies will embrace the inevitable.

Just take a look at some numbers. Industry research firm Visiongain found in its report: Oil & Gas Automation & Control Systems Market 2013-2023, that the value of the global oil and gas automation and control system market in 2013 will be $8.63 billion.

In the Annual Energy Outlook AEO2013 from the US Energy Information Administration, offshore crude oil production will increase over time, fluctuating between 1.4-1.8 million b/d, as new large development projects in the deepwater and ultra-seepwater Gulf of Mexico, come into production. To get to that higher pace, producers will have to pursuer greater degrees of automation. In addition, the deeper wells go, the more complex they become. Complexity often adds a greater risk, which is what automation can help control. Let’s face it, even with full staffs all with a great degree of experience, operations can have a hard time dealing with the complexity of automation systems, and can become overwhelmed by data.

This all circles around to how the offshore industry will manage complexity. It means more work, more risk, and more productivity while increasing profitability – all with fewer people. End users will have to shove aside the old ways and recreate traditions. OE Review

Gregory Hale is editor and founder of Industrial Safety and Security Source (ISSSource.com) and is the contributing Automation Technology Editor at Offshore Engineer.

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