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News Article

New Urgency for Automation & Remote Operation After COVID-19

By Miriam Bello | Thu, 07/15/2021 - 12:30

You can watch the video of this panel here.

In every industry the adoption of various technologies became essential for business continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the first three months of confinement, due to the sanitary restrictions, the digital transformation for all companies had to be implemented at great speeds to ensure their activity. For the oil and gas industry, this was no exception. Currently, technology has been integrated into a cost saving processes, decision making support and greater operational efficiencies, however, this transition was taken step by step. Today, the urgency for automation and remote operations faces other challenges beyond its adoption, where experts of this industry presented during Mexico Oil and Gas Summit on July 15.

During the panel “New Urgency for Automation & Remote Operation After COVID-19” moderator Amanda Duhon, Regional Director for North & Central America at Energy Industries Council asked about the role of automation and remote operation and how that has changed the approach to investment in new technologies.

Manuel Arroyo, Industry Solutions O&G Director of Emerson said despite the massive growth of technology use, there is still urgency for digital maturity. “It is not just adopting technology; companies need to mature the way we use it and have a coherent integration of processes.” Arroyo said despite over a decade of automation integrating into operational processes, “there is still people on the field gathering information manually, thus you can see the need to continue implementing automaton specially at this stage.” Arroyo highlighted that one of the benefits of automation and technology adoption was the ability to have more eyes on the process and to use cloud technology that enables remote access to company’s assets.

Aside from using technology, integrating technology is key for business continuity to deliver products and services, said Laurent Pagnon, VP Digital, External Technology of Technip FMC. “At the company, we integrated new technology and procedures like video assistance, which has changed the landscape of onshore operations, as we are able to connect to the field with operators.” Pagnon said COVID-19 catalyzed automation, which, in the future, “will allow us to remove field personnel from the red zone and track the operations remotely.” He also explained that automated equipment, products and solutions will allow for this remote operation.

Regarding the next step of technology adoption and integration, Augusto Borella Hougaz, Vice President of O&G Products at Intelie said that more sensors and real time screening   during operations will allow for a faster automation and thus, real time decisions. “Moreover, we need to adopt simulators to run real time, coupled with machine learning to have a mathematic approach that supports our decisions.” Borella stressed the importance of allowing champion engineers apply emerging technologies, “the human factor would be the key to success here, as it is what makes things happen.”

For his part, Eugene Spiropoulos, Global Systems Business & Consulting Leader of Yokogawa explained that this technology adoption will collect sufficient data, thus, there is the challenge of filtering the right data information. He said that a solid data infrastructure platform, will face the challenge to deliver information on different formats for the customer. "What we are seeing after COVID-19 is a difference of standards, particularly engineering standards, so additional costs in infrastructure needs to be considered," said Spiropoulos.

Duhon asked the panelists about the most significant breakthrough in 2021 after the massive tech integration, to what Ricardo Velazquez, Manager Application Engineering at Belden said that vulnerability assessment is becoming a trend, “cloud base and edge computing with solutions access for remote vulnerability assessment is what we, as companies, need.”

Regarding trends on services, Velazquez said that OT networks and services will be driving agreements for oil and gas facilities. Nevertheless, he mentioned that there is a lack of training that hybrid engineers can handle innovation for the OT Networks, and he urged companies to start focusing on that, which, as Borella had previously mentioned, make technology benefits really palpable. A challenge regarding assets is its security, Velazquez said that a network operation centered or a security operation centered (in house or outsourced) will be the drivers for public and private sector.

Fernando Arcos, Director of PMO at W-Industries introduced other industry trends  regarding automation and remote operation. “Companies are looking for cost reduction and increased profits,” said Arcos. He mentioned that current companies’ strategies center around keeping their facilities running all the time with no downtime; “once that objective is fixed, we can build a solution that responds to that need," said Arcos. He also stressed on the need of training engineers. In terms of services, Arcos recommended to remotely find people to look at what operators in the field are doing. “Take advantage of the chance to have experts from different parts of the world to give an input on your activities.”

Arcos added to what Velazquez previously said about assets’ security, “it is highly essential to invest in cybersecurity, technology should not function without continuous evaluation of your data security.”

Regarding cybersecurity, Spiropoulos explained that adding more devices adds a bigger surface area, thus, “monitoring and identifying your threats is a necessity. Companies need to have visibility and a strategy to respond, building that strategy will make operations more secure,”

At this point, Pagnon added that to permeate a cybersecurity strategy, this needs to be fully integrated and embedded in the team to avoid it filtering from simple emails.

Duhon asked the panelist about how the future will look like when technology is integrated, to what Pagnon mentioned that investing on data management to connect the business unit at different levels will support the process of each project. However, looking at a bigger picture, he said that the industry must align and standardize technology integration to achieve successful operations overall. He said that when unifying technology use for the entire industry, there are three points to consider; “data infrastructure, storage and transformation of data to handle it efficiently and data governance to own it and use it securely.” Finally, Pagnon recommended companies to align their use of technology with their business value proposition, “if the technology we intend to use resonated without business value proposition, then we will really materialize the benefits it offers.”

Borella said that in the future he expects to see companies having an inclusive innovation process with people, paying attention to their training and on building understandable and safe IT Architecture for their productive chain.

Arcos mentioned the importance of regulation and how it needs to respond in order to have the standardized practices that all panelist where mentioning. He called on companies to be the ones asking for the regulatory requirements they want to see to have equal, safe practices that favor the innovative environment and that allow automated and remote practices without fearing breaking the rules.

Photo by:   MBN
Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst