Application of robotics transforming the oil and gas industry Apr 13 2018 Electroblog Print Article Apr 13 2018 Electroblog For decades the global oil and gas sector has lagged behind industry peers such as the automotive and aerospace industries in its adoption and utilisation of new technologies. And this is despite the upstream sector operating in some of the most challenging environments on the planet. The reason for the seeming reluctance of the oil and gas sector to move out of its operational ‘comfort zone’ has long been a puzzle to observers both within and outside the sector. Earlier in the decade when oil prices were high, i.e. above $100 a barrel, many in the energy sector voiced the view that ‘profit was king’ and there was no need to rock the boat. When more recently prices fell to below $50 the argument was made that this was no time for the industry to spend on expensive new technologies. Rather, what was needed was for the oil and gas sectors to just hunker down and await the market upturn. But there are signs of late that this view is changing. And despite the weakness of the recovery that has so far stubbornly refused to lift oil prices above $65 a barrel, there is now a widespread realisation within the energy sector of the need to adopt new technologies. This is prompted by the growing view that in an increasingly digital world the energy sector needs to transform itself or risk declining into oblivion. IDC FutureScape believes that before the end of this year, “75% of all oil and gas companies will have at least one digital transformation initiative in full operation deploying cloud, big data and analytics, process automation, or IoT [Internet of Things] for the organization to advance their IT environment.” Within the same timeframe, 25% of all large and major operators will have invested in asset performance management (APM) to monitor, analyze and react to real time operational performance for predictively resolving asset issues before they impact processes. IDC FutureScape further predicts, “By 2020, to rapidly diagnose and help solve oilfield-related problems, 25% of large oil and gas operators will have equipped technology focused talent with cognitive assistants and [augmented reality] AR-enabled devices, which overlay digital images on a real-world field of vision.” ABI Research, meanwhile, estimates that by 2022, energy and utility companies’ annual spending on AR devices and related technology will reach $18 billion. This will be among the highest spending on AR of any industry. Apple, Amazon.com, Google, and Microsoft are all racing to develop mainstream AR consumer gadgets in the next couple of years. But the oil companies are also making considerable advances. Indeed, some of them are moving beyond merely building custom software for existing AR devices. They are moving even beyond investing directly in AR start-ups and are starting to make the hardware themselves. An example is the ‘Smart Helmet’ co-created by Baker Hughes, a General Electric Co. subsidiary, with Italian developer VRMedia S.r.l. BP Plc, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp., are making similar moves. The rapid development of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) and remotely operated vehicles (ROV) technology is also transforming the subsea oil and gas sector. This growth is being underpinned by a raft of new technologies such as ‘video streaming’ that is enabling improvements in data transfer between subsea vessels and central data hubs. Although ROVs have been around for decades and are now commonplace in the oil and gas industry, the reality is that the oil and gas industry still has far to go. Speaking at a recent exploration and production (E&P) industry forum Luca Corrad at the Aberdeen-based Oil and Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) compared the situation at other industries. “In manufacturing, for example, they are on the next generation of robotics AI [artificial intelligence] and human-robotic interaction,” he said. Pluto Plus AUV for underwater mine identification and destruction. From Norwegian minehunter KNM HinnøyBy KEN – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link However, OGTC believes that the industry has only scratched the surface of what’s possible and the application of robotics in the offshore oil and gas industry “is almost limitless.” Texas based Oceaneering International, Inc. and Norway’s Statoil are making significant moves towards the development of subsea resident ROVs. The two companies are developing, manufacturing, testing, and mobilising a self-contained, battery-powered work class remotely operated vehicle (E-ROV) system to be deployed on the seabed. When fully deployed, the system will interface with Oceaneering’s onshore Mission Support Center via a 4G mobile broadband signal transmitted from a buoy on the water’s surface, without a surface vessel required onsite. The mood in the energy sector is clearly upbeat. And there is now a palpable belief that technologies, which for years have been a standard feature of other industries, will at last soon be able to play a similarly transformative role in oil and gas. By Nnamdi AnyadikeI have 30 years experience as a freelance business, economy and industry journalist, concentrating on the oil, gas and renewable energy, telecommunications and IT sectors. I have authored a number of well received in-depth market intelligence reports. And I have also spoken at conferences.