Rafael Stifano
Director General of Mexico and Central America
Rockwell Automation

Partnership Approach to Industrial Automation

Tue, 01/22/2013 - 16:43

Two years ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) finally presented its position on a discussion that had been looming over the oil industry for decades. In its World Energy Outlook 2010, the IEA concluded after comprehensive analysis that peak oil, the point where conventional worldwide crude oil production reaches its peak, had already occurred around 2006. However, the IEA predicted in that same publication that the world’s liquid energy resources would continue to rise at a modest rate, at least until 2035, thanks to technological advancement and increased production of natural gas, unconventional oil and gas, and crude oil from fields yet to be discovered or developed. These projections reflect the notion that, even if the age of easy oil is over, technological developments in the oil and gas sector will allow companies to discover and exploit increasingly complicated hydrocarbon resources. Given that a large proportion of the unconventional supply that is crucial to meet future global oil demand will come from extra-heavy crude and bitumen, Mexico’s relatively less complicated oil resources imply that the country’s future production challenges will be manageable, provided that the correct technologies are applied.

Automation is one of the solutions that are making an increasingly important contribution to the technical and economic viability of oil and gas production around the world. On one hand, higher production cost has led oil and gas companies to rely on automation in order to increase productivity and reduce costs by investing in automation solutions that reduce downtime, increase control, and optimize performance. On the other hand, stricter health, safety, and environmental regulations and requirements have pushed hydrocarbon producers to improve their performance in these areas through automation of their processes.

Rafael Stifano, Director General of Mexico and Central America at Rockwell Automation, mentions that this is also the case for Pemex. “We see that Pemex has evolved. In the past, Pemex was using a relay-based program controller, which was wired and thus required a lot of maintenance while its reliability left room for improvement. Years ago, Pemex decided to switch to an electronic-based system that allowed the company to increase the productivity and reliability of its operations and made plants safer. Pemex is investing a lot, because the company has the longterm objectives of raising oil production and increasing its occupational safety and environmental sustainability performance. In order to achieve these goals, Pemex needs to invest in automation equipment,” he says.

Rockwell Automation has responded to Pemex’s growing automation requirements by basing its solution delivery model on developments made in conjunction with other partners. “For example, we have very strong knowledge about compressors, but since our expertise concerning pipelines it not at the same level, we approach partners who have the knowledge that we need in this area and thus jointly develop the most advanced project possible for Pemex,” Stifano explains. This model stems from Rockwell’s acknowledgement that, even if the company is one of the world leaders in the industrial automation arena, the oil and gas industry demands a very high level of technical performance, which often no single company can deliver on its own. “By working together with our seven to nine partners, we believe we can create additional value for the customer. This enables us to provide the best service and fill any potential technology or expertise gap, setting us apart from competitors that are operating independently,” he points out. The company’s constant cooperation with specialized partners has indeed increased its capacity to innovate. “Rockwell is considered a leader in the safety and program controller systems, while we still have a way to go on motor systems, which we are investing in right now. For the first time, there is just one company that is integrating what is happening on the power and control sides. Now the motor and the controller are integrated into a single architecture and platform, so customers don’t need to invest in two separate systems. This product integration also provides additional input, facilitating early diagnosis and allowing customers to greatly reduce downtime.”

Thanks to its emphasis on technical support and solution delivery model, up to 150 of Pemex’s platforms currently use equipment from Rockwell or the company’s brands, Allen Bradley and Triplex. At a global scale, this focus has translated into the creation of an Automation University, located in the US and directed by Rockwell and its partners. “Our employees go there for one or two years to learn or update their expertise in technology and services, from how to diagnose to highly complex and specific skills. When they come back, they are better able to serve the customer,” says Sti†ano. In addition to these training facilities, Rockwell coordinates its global strategy for the oil and gas industry from Houston, where it has a specialized team. The coordination between the company’s o·ces all over the world strengthens the capacity of its Mexico subsidiary to take on increasingly complex challenges, such as Pemex’s deepwater projects.