Making money with mobile workforce management

Paul Boughton

If your projects typically yield one million or more in hard-dollar benefits and have a 3-6 month payback, then life is good. But if you would like to experience such gains regularly, then you might consider implementing in-the-field decision-support systems, which can result in tremendous ongoing cost savings and operational improvements. Charles D Mohrmann explains.

Mobility solutions accelerate and sustain new work process improvements and provide a framework for field workforces to execute best practices, and most major US refineries are either planning to implement or have already implemented them. Shell Oil, for example, is deploying a mobile workforce solution that will bring operating data from all of its global downstream assets into its enterprise decision-support tool. Chevron and Valero Energy have deployed a similar system across their wholly owned refineries, and ExxonMobil has implemented a mobile framework across its three business streams: upstream, downstream and chemical.

Mobile solutions typically implemented by petroleum companies involve a handheld computer or PDA running software tools and applications that process and transmit device-specific information to data historians, operators or enterprise decision-support systems. The IntelaTrac Mobile Workforce and Decision Support system from Invensys, for example, is a suite of products, including configurable software and ruggedized mobile hardware solutions, that enable workflow, procedural and general task-management capabilities typically involving plant operations, maintenance management, production tracking and compliance applications. These tools help operators, field engineers and supervisors create inspection and regulatory procedures; assign, schedule and execute rounds; and report findings with assigned levels of criticality and severity.

When some Chevron maintenance workers start their rounds, for example, they grab a PDA instead of a clipboard. As they check equipment, they enter data which is transmitted into process historian systems when the PDA is docked in a cradle, from which IntelaTrac software synchs the data with real-time process data from the control systems for viewing by operators and engineering. If a piece of equipment is not operating correctly or efficiently, field workers can collaborate with other personnel to take the optimal corrective action then and there. For example, control room operators can prompt field workers for on-the-spot diagnostics and field workers can speak with maintenance staff or others to receive focused direction.

The most dramatic savings to date have been downstream. Estimated savings are in the US$2 to US$3 million range per 100,000 barrels per day (bpd), a result of closing operating performance gaps through improved mechanical availability (Fig.1).

Companies integrating mobile data-logging technology with decision-support technology achieve such results through a combination of factors, including more cost-effective regulatory compliance, better energy management and execution of best practices through intelligent procedures in an easy-to-follow decision tree form on rugged HazLoc-certified mobile computers.

The hard-dollar savings are achieved through a 1-5 per cent gain in operating efficiencies, depending on the initial baseline and assuming an approximate two percent reduction in a site's overall maintenance budget.

Operator driven reliability (ODR) is the single largest area of improvement. A typical refinery might operate with more than two million data points yearly, 2-5 per cent of which might run outside of their defined operational envelope, making maintenance and monitoring more difficult and costly. Empowering maintenance personnel with mobile data-acquisition devices could enable these refineries to reduce the number of outlying data points by 1-2 per cent, providing plant personnel with more immediate, more reliable information on equipment operations.

Some major refineries have documented savings of more than US$500,000 annually per site. Other high-payback equipment categories include compressors, couplings, exchangers, fans, gears, motors, seal pots, towers and turbines.

Although upstream is a little behind refining in adopting mobile solutions, benefits are emerging here as well, mostly in onshore and offshore production, LNG plants and pipelines. Based on an upstream production margin of US$30 per barrel of oil equivalent (BOE), some mobile solutions can deliver annual returns of US$2/BOE or more.

The latest version of IntelaTrac supports dynamic procedures to improve asset responsiveness, from weather to changing business conditions.

Empowering the mobile field workforce with a multi-tasking and intelligent mobile solution enables them to consistently execute best practices and continually close performance gaps.

Charles D Mohrmann is Vice President, Sales Invensys Operations Management, Houston, Texas, USA.

Recent Issues