Accelerating digitalisation in the oil and gas sector

Online Editor

Nate Bridges explains why ineffective tech is damaging innovation and details how the oil & gas sector can successfully roll out digital solutions for a more efficient future.

Oil and gas companies are perpetually innovating to enhance safety, increase accuracy, save time, and reduce costs. This is achieved not only by redefining production capabilities and advancing clean energy technologies, but also through introducing transformative technologies and efficiency-boosting practices in their operations.

However, there is immense potential for future innovation, as many companies in the industry are still utilising traditional methods and older technologies. This presents a significant opportunity to usher in a new era of technology advancement and modern methodologies that could revolutionise the entire industry.

For example, current methods of physically searching and manually documenting a site – still a common practice in the sector – are time-consuming, expensive and introduce unnecessary safety risks. A lot of process drawings are schematic, so it can be labour-intensive to simply locate a specific area. However, when producing a digital alternative, it can still take organisations more than a year to capture a site if they rely on the more traditional static scanning technologies. This means data from the beginning of the project can already be outdated before the project is over. For scanning technologies to be truly effective, they need to be fast and easy to update and rescan. Capture also needs to be scalable, so that it can be done across multiple sites, enabling organisations to conform to more efficient ways of working.

This is where cutting-edge reality capture technologies, such as digital twins, come to the forefront, revolutionising the way companies operate. Digital twins – the output – enable organisations to replicate physical assets within a digital environment, allowing for accurate as-is conditions, remote collaboration and detailed analysis. Such a transformation offers unique insights into how best to enhance, expand, and optimise operations, irrespective of geographic constraints.

Here, we explore the impact of outdated and inefficient technology solutions on the innovation capacity of the oil and gas industry. Digital twins can be pivotal in ushering in genuine innovation, and this article will offer insights on how organisations can implement novel strategies to fast-track their plans.

Outdated technology is holding the industry back

Outdated technology is one of the key factors preventing parts of the oil and gas industry from unlocking its true potential.

Oil and gas sites are constantly evolving, and it can be difficult for an organisation to plan efficiently without accurate and up-to-date virtual information that reflects the physical reality.

Laser scanning is a key technology that the industry has embraced in a bid to gain a clear understanding of their sites. But while popular methods of laser scanning provide an organisation with remote access to a site – and are a step forward from having to physically walk around the entire location – the traditional approaches in the sector have their own challenges. They can be difficult to implement at scale and depend on many hundreds or even thousands of individual scans.

A laser scan is a snapshot in time and the longer it takes to secure that snapshot, the less value it can provide to businesses. What significant parts of the oil and gas sector lack at the moment are solutions that work reliably and quickly so businesses can have continuous access to the accurate data they need to successfully operate, maintain, and develop their site.

Failure to leverage more innovative technology can lead to missed opportunities for streamlining processes, reducing costs, and maximising results. It can also hamper decision-making, as data analysis and insights become more time-consuming and prone to human error.

Enhance operations with digital twins

As mentioned, of the best ways oil and gas companies can leverage technology to enhance their operations is by creating “digital twins” of their facilities.

A digital twin is a virtual replica or simulation of a physical asset, such as drilling rigs, production facilities, pipelines, petrochemical plants, refineries, and even entire oil fields. Creating a digital twin allows organisations to bring this physical asset into the digital world, so they can determine how best to develop, expand, and optimise the asset.

Digital twins play a large role in both the maintenance and optimisation of a physical asset. They enable real-time monitoring and analysis, providing a comprehensive view of the asset’s performance and condition and allow for both predictive maintenance and early detection of anomalies.

Digital twins can also be a significant part of the exploration process, allowing oil and gas companies to simulate and model complex reservoirs. By integrating geological and production data, as well as real-time monitoring, companies can, for example, optimise drilling strategies, predict production rates, and improve hydrocarbon recovery. The technology can then facilitate real-time adjustments and optimisation of production processes, helping to maximise output and minimise operational costs.

Along with helping companies get the most out of their assets, digital twins have the potential to aid the well-being of their workforce through safety planning and training. The technology enables companies to simulate various scenarios and assess potential risks associated with operations. By creating virtual replicas of their facilities and equipment, companies can conduct virtual safety drills, train employees for emergency situations, and develop robust risk-mitigation strategies.

Best way to create digital twins

The most efficient way to produce a reliable, up-to-date digital twin of a given site is by using advanced mobile laser scanning. This innovative form of mapping technology uses simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM) algorithms and cloud-based processing to enable reality capture at the speed of walking as well as more automated processing and alignment. This approach provides a more complete digital representation of the space in much less time than any traditional versions of scanning methods could realistically achieve.

Plant safety can be improved by limiting the amount of people and time on-site for data collection, meaning workers don’t need to be sent to dangerous or remote locations until they are fully trained and prepared. Producing a copy of the site using mobile mapping can improve project performance and employee productivity, both in the design phase all the way through to informing the supply chain in the operations phase.

For example, using the NavVis VLX mobile mapping system, one of Australia’s leading oil and gas producers was able to capture its fleet of facilities across the Australian continent comprehensively – an area covering around three million square metres.

By using VLX, the oil and gas producer can capture its assets three times faster than would be the case with a terrestrial scanner, while still producing highly accurate measurements. And with the VLX data, anyone can open a 360° view and check measurements quickly, all from their desk. This ability to check measurements for all facilities in a single system is still very rare in the oil and gas industry and can dramatically change the way oil and gas facility owners operate.

Accelerating growth

Legacy systems and processes hinder experimentation, data-driven decision-making, and the implementation of transformative technologies. Consequently, many firms find themselves grappling with the implementation of their innovative digital twin strategies, primarily because of the lack of rapid and comprehensive data capture at a scalable level.

The oil and gas industry is at the beginning of its digitisation journey, and companies need to consider how the technologies they implement today will lay the foundations for processes and technologies of the future.

This will help organisations boost project resilience as well as provide good insight into infrastructure and assets and seamlessly accelerate business growth.

Nate Bridges is an oil & gas specialist at NavVis.