Among the recent technological advancements in the oil & gas industry is mobile technology, which has far reaching implications in operating practices. All major oil & gas organizations have embraced mobile technology, though initially some had apprehension about it from a safety and security perspective. Today one can find mobile applications being used in the entire value chain of the industry.

The History of Mobile Technology

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 2000s as a tool enabling them to perform difficult and remote operations. Also, it improved process efficiency dramatically through greater visibility of their operations. For example, in the supply chain process the end user is able to identify the exact location of the goods during their movement and make changes to reroute delivery when required. Also, with seamless interfaces to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, proof of delivery is electronically transmitted in real time the moment the delivery is completed.

Mobile Application Areas

The petroleum industry quickly appreciated the benefits of mobile applications and espoused mobile technology in its day-to-day operations.

Upstream operations are complex and risky. Most drilling operations occur in remote areas and in harsh environments. Exploration and production (E&P) companies use mobile-based solutions to deliver on-demand intelligence, improved information flow and increased field workforce productivity.

Asset management is one of the key areas where mobile technology is widely used. Upstream production assets such as oil rigs, platforms, pipelines, and other equipment are dispersed in remote areas. Large amounts of data are generated from these assets, which need to be gathered and processed to ensure high availability of these assets for sustained production operations. (To learn more about asset management, read Asset Integrity Management Key for Smart Operations.)

Oil & gas organizations can realize substantial cost savings and improve operations through mobility deployment. One can easily collect large volumes of data and immediately implement corrective actions. Also, the functional process is expedited with mobility. For example, if it is discovered that a production asset requires immediate maintenance, an onsite technician can enter a maintenance request using a cellphone or table without having to make their way back to a computer system. This is a principal benefit of mobile applications because they save time and help avoid production disruptions.

Integrating Mobility with Other Tools

Recent technological advancements such as barcoding, radio frequency identification (RFID) and global positioning systems (GPS) have simplified the gathering and recording of important data. It is possible for mobile devices to act as sensors on production equipment and transmit the data to a central computer system.

Mobile applications are extremely user friendly, highly interactive and enhance productivity. For example, through the use of RFID and GPS one can locate critical assets that require immediate attention, and feedback can be relayed back to the control room. Modern mobile devices are equipped with touchscreen menu features, and technicians are able to record equipment vibrations and take pictures or videos through high-resolution cameras that can be forwarded to experts for analysis and identification.

Most of the E&P companies extensively use mobile technology to gather on-field data related to equipment, production and well performance. Mobile devices gather data online in real time, which can be processed for predictive and corrective actions.

In the downstream segment, mobility finds uses in areas such as stock management, refinery maintenance, environmental data collection and safety & security operations. (Related reading: Cyber Security Practices in the Oil and Gas Industry.)

In a refinery environment, distributed control systems (DCS) are used to monitor the plant operations. However, operating data on critical equipment must 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.

Previously, accurate data on this could only be obtained through field visits by engineers or technicians. Using mobility, it is possible to accurately record operating parameters such as suction pressure, discharge pressure, flow rate, pump speed and power, and bearing temperature. If a pump requires urgent maintenance based on its condition, it is possible to trigger a maintenance request though a mobile application. This helps to avoid production disruption due to equipment failures.

Refinery tank farm and stock management is another area where mobility finds an application. In a refinery, crude oil and intermediate products in the tanks are monitored on a continuous basis to ensure enough ullage is available to receive products from the production units. Tank dips are taken to ascertain the quantity of products available in the tanks. Dips are taken again once offloading is completed. Most refineries have automatic tank gauge systems to ensure the accuracy of the product or crude oil quantities available in the tanks. Mobile technology is used extensively to record opening and closing dips to account for crude receipts, production numbers, delivery quantities in case of sales to customers, and so on. These details are the basis upon which production and sales accounting is done and for generating invoices to the customers.

New Frontiers for Mobile Technology

Apart from these regular operating use cases, mobile technology could be used for more complex and innovative requirements. For example, in the case of any emergency situation on an exploration platform, personnel can be efficiently routed for a faster evacuation using a mobile application. Through the use of RFID, one can ascertain the number of employees present, their location, the nearest emergency exit points, and the best route to exit. However, there are some challenges to using mobile technology in remote areas, so the industry is making sustained efforts by working closely with technology companies and service providers.