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How new automation technology can reduce operational offshore

Stephen Hayes explores some of the topics identified in SPE Offshore Europe’s whitepaper about technology and innovation in the sector

Robotics and Industry 4.0 are just some of the major technology trends impacting the upstream offshore industry. 

At this year’s SPE Offshore Europe show, my colleagues will be educating visitors about the many ways managers can improve operational safety, efficiency and reduce costs in the offshore upstream industry. 

Over the years, Beckhoff has already established relationships with several key partners in the sector and seen some impressive results – particularly with improving on-site maintenance in both static and subsea installations.

One of the ways this has been achieved is by the integration of predictive maintenance. While this is not a new technology as such, it is a development that more facility managers are recognising as pivotal to keeping operational costs down.

This is because predictive maintenance gives offshore companies the ability to monitor the condition of their components and assets, ranging from vibration on driveshafts and bearings to measuring real-time losses on subsea cables, with much greater clarity than traditional methods. 

Metaphorically speaking, it’s like using a flashlight rather than a candle to see in a dark cave.

Just as predictive maintenance is becoming a priority in industry, so is connectivity. 

In the next five years, being able to notify the operations team of any potential issues will be just as valuable as being able to collect and analyse data for each piece of equipment can assist managers with forecasting and upgrades.

A major challenge in the past for offshore companies, when considering connectivity, has been the ability to integrate the range of interdisciplinary systems. This includes property, plant and equipment (PPE) recognition systems, health and safety (HSE) alarm systems and augmented reality (AR) systems for off-site support. 

Together, these systems can significantly increase the efficiency of maintenance processes, but managers should consider how these systems are connected to avoid paying for unneeded add-ons or services.

To overcome this, it is extremely important that offshore companies switch over to standardised technologies that include open interfaces on control systems, modular system architectures and connectivity. 

At Beckhoff, our PC-based control systems, provide universal, open and advanced control automation systems that allow businesses to choose the best expert for each task and combine their capabilities within the projects as required.

At Beckhoff, we believe achieving connectivity like this should be something that all technology leaders should keep in mind while innovating. 

Modularisation allows systems to be scalable and more quickly deployed, eliminating the barriers that commonly occur in the integration of new technologies.

Looking forward, high performance controllers allow us to integrate vision systems and digital modelling into control systems. This will offer the opportunity for real-time optimisation of processes without significant hardware overheads. 

It’s an exciting time to be involved with technology for the oil and gas industry, but adoption in the next five years will be critical.

Stephen Hayes is managing director of Beckhoff Automation UK.

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