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Opinion: The changing face of process automation

by Guest on Apr 23, 2018

Stefan Chapman is vice president of Euro Petroleum Consultants.
Stefan Chapman is vice president of Euro Petroleum Consultants.
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What was deemed impossible yesterday is an option today, and will be a must and routine practice tomorrow, comment Stefan Chapman and Ekaterina Kalinenko of Euro Petroleum Consultants.

How has the oil and gas industry changed over the years in terms of process automation and enhanced control systems? Looking back, it all started very simply and gradually; but, the last ten years or so have seen a tremendous boost to overall plant automation systems, use of data and interest in digital technologies.

In different regions and industries, there is much talk about this new incoming era whilst others say that it is already here. The latest trends seen in the hydrocarbon sector are very promising – in terms of using interesting state-of-the-art developments related to process automation.

Since 2015, terms such as digitalisation, innovation, sustainability, Big Data and Industry 4.0 are attracting real interest from leading national and international oil companies and technology/solution providers, alike. The reason is the understanding that in order to remain competitive it will be important to apply state-of-the-art systems in the business processes and as a result securing the right place in the market.

Digital transformation

Many industry experts admit that downstream companies were not the first to buy into the idea of digital transformation and are now jumping on a bandwagon of existing technologies and solutions. However, in comparison to other industries, the oil and gas sector has already come a long way and the pace of change is really significant.

We note that the leading companies with regard to growth margin and operational efficiency (pacesetters) are doing things differently. In addition to using the latest process automation systems, these organisations have built state-of-the-art complexes, and created joint ventures with different partners, sharing knowhow and experience.

It should also be highlighted that they are not only using ‘ready-made’ solutions that are available in the market, but looking to develop custom-made solutions, and further stimulating R&D in this area. Proceeding in this manner has helped many interesting solutions see the daylight in the past few years.

The topics that have been ‘hot’ in the areas where automation is concerned are: (i) Drones and Robots; (ii) Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning; (iii) Smart and Digital (From a well to a method: We are now talking about Smart Refineries and Smart Corporate Systems.); (iv) Cloud, Big Data and E-mobility; (v) 3D-printing (For any type of purpose, starting from a building to equipment manufacturing: This technology makes the process cost-effective by up to 75% and up to 90% faster, compared to traditional methods.); (vi) Industry 4.0, Advanced Process Control and IIoT; (vii) Agile/Lean Principles; (viii) Modelling, Visualisation, and Simulation (For example, for safety and operator training, tools like Operator Training Simulators, etc.) – models become more precise and accurate, which help understand process flows and construction issues better, which has a positive impact on many indices that are used to measure efficiency.

The most modern designs in the above-mentioned areas share several common features. These are generally quite expensive, sophisticated, complex, highly selective, flexible and adaptive. The latter characteristics are becoming key for any solution to ‘win the favour’ of a client. Since the requirements and limits today become more stringent, clients are more demanding, and competition between providers is fiercer than ever before.


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