The last decade has been coupled with a few technological advancements in the Oil & Gas business and mobility is one among them. It has far reaching implications in operating conditions and the disruption has been positive so far. All major Oil & Gas organizations have embraced mobile technology though initially some had apprehension about it from safety and security perspective. Today one can find mobility applications being used in the entire value chain of the Oil & Gas industry.

Evolution – when mobility started?

Mobile technology was first introduced commercially in 1973 by Motorola and since then it has evolved into a cutting edge technological obsession for the world. Industries started looking at mobile, during the past decade, as an enabling tool in performing difficult and remote operations. Also, it improved process efficiency dramatically proving absolute visibility and updates of operations. For example, in supply chain process, end user is able to identify the exact location of the goods movement and follow up for speedy delivery when required. Also, with the seamless link-up of mobility applications to the Enterprise Resource Planning systems, proof of delivery is electronically transmitted real time the moment delivery is done.

Mobile application areas

The petroleum industry was quick to appreciate the benefits of mobility applications and it has espoused mobile technology in its day to day operations. Let us see in detail the functional areas which are affected by mobile applications across the value chain:

Upstream operations are complex and risky. Most of the drilling operations are done in remote areas and in harsh environs. Exploration and production companies use mobile-based solutions to deliver on-demand intelligence, improved information flow and increased field-force productivity. Asset Management is one of the key areas where mobility finds extensive applications. Upstream production assets such as oil rigs, platforms, pipelines, equipment, etc., are dispersed and most of them are located in remote areas. Host of data are generated from these assets which need to be gathered and assessed to ensure continued availability of these assets for sustained production operations. Key operating information regarding the performance and conditions of these production assets are to be monitored for which mobility is used extensively.

Oil and gas organizations can realize substantial cost savings and improve operations through mobility deployment. One can easily collect large volumes of data and immediately take the necessary corrective action in case of any requirements. Also, the functional process is expedited with usage of mobility. For example, if any production asset is requiring immediate maintenance work, it is possible for the on-field technician to raise maintenance requests using his mobile gadget on site without a need to have a computer system. This is a principal benefit of mobile application as it saves time and helps avert production disruptions.

Integrating mobility with other tools

With recent technological advancements like bar coding, radio-frequency identification (RFID) and global positioning systems (GPS), etc., gathering and recording data has become much easier through mobile applications. It is possible for mobile gadgets to act as sensors to read the details for the equipment with a simple swipe and the same can be transmitted for necessary actions.

Mobile applications are extremely user friendly and highly interactive and they enhance productivity. For example, through the use of RFID and GPS one can locate the critical assets that require immediate attention and feedback can be relayed back to the control rooms. Modern mobile devices are equipped with touchscreen drop down menu features and technicians are able to record the equipment vibrations or take pictures and videos through high resolution cameras and forward the same to experts in case of any interventions are needed.

Most of the E&P companies extensively use mobile technology in gathering on-field data relating to equipment, production and well performance. Mobiles help to gather data online in real time which can further be processed for predictive and corrective actions. In the downstream segment, mobility finds its applications in areas such as stock management, refinery maintenance, environmental data collection and safety & security operations. In refinery environment, DCS (Distributed Control Systems) are used to monitor the plant operations. However, intricate operating data on critical equipment needs to be gathered and analyzed through on-field data collection. For example, the vibration parameters of a centrifugal pump are vital information that should be gathered to facilitate condition monitoring. Most accurate data on this can be obtained only through field visits by engineers / technicians. Using mobility, it is possible to record these operating parameters like suction pressure, discharge pressure, flow rate, pump speed& power, bearing temperature, etc., more accurately. Further in case a pump requires urgent maintenance based on its condition, it is possible to trigger maintenance request though a mobile application so that the equipment can be attended on priority. This helps to avoid production disruption due to equipment failure.

Refinery tank farm and stock management is another area where mobility finds its application. In refinery situation, crude and products available in the tanks to be monitored on a continuous basis to ensure enough ullage is available to receive products from the production units. So, tank dips are taken to ascertain the quantity of products available in the tanks. Dips are taken once offloading is completed. Most refineries have manual dips systems apartment for readings in the automatic tank gauging systems to ensure the accuracy of the product or crude quantities available in the tanks. Mobility is extensively used to record dips such as opening and closing dips to account crude receipts, production numbers, delivery quantities in case of sales to customers, etc. These details are the basis on which production and sales accounting is done and for raising invoices to the customers.

New frontiers

Apart from these regular operating use cases, mobility could also be put into much more complex and innovative requirement. For example, in case of any emergency situation on an exploration platform, efficient routing of personnel present on board for faster evacuation can be done using mobile application. Through the use of RFID along with mobility, one can ascertain the exact number of employees present, location of the people, nearest emergency exit points, and effective routing for exit, etc. However, there are a few challenges in using mobility in remote areas and the industry is making sustained efforts in ensuring mobility as an integral part of the operations by working closely with technology and service providers.