[Interview] – Smart Technology in the Valve Sector
Juan Vesga, Consultant with over 25 years of experience in the upstream O&G Industry
Read the complete interview with Juan Vesga and Tim-Frederik Kohler
The 3 Main Challenges
Juan, you are an independent consultant for the industry when it comes to Advance Controls Systems and Automation. You and I both live in Singapore; we could see the struggle companies have here especially in the offshore sector. Have we reached bottom yet? And what do you think are the top 3 trends and top 3 challenges in the industry this and next year?
I do believe that the industry in general has reached a bottom line. The main concern now for the industry is how companies and their clients manage and survive the existing and current conditions of the industry.
As such, I believe there would still be a loss of a few of the mayor remaining players due to their deteriorating financials and this would keep leading the way for mergers and acquisitions in some cases.
The second trend and as a result of the previous observation is the retirement and/or retrenching of several of the remaining people with the most operational experience and technical knowledge in the industry.
The third trend I could see is the continuous deterioration of the different installations and their equipment due to different factors from reduction on budgets due to the market conditions, stacking – cold or warm – of the rigs, and as mentioned previously, the continuous loss of technical knowledge and experienced people as they leave the industry.
This smells like trouble, especially when the industry starts to recover.
Exactly, when it eventually begin to recover – slowly or at a fast pace -, based on my years of work experience in the oil and gas, and having started working in the industry when it was also in a depressed market condition, I would say there would be several challenges that will be adversely affecting the industry.
In my opinion and to answer your question, the 3 Main Challenges would be:
People. This is an extremely sensitive issue for the recovery of the industry. But not just people. What I am referring are people with the right operational experience and the technical knowledge to ensure the industry is brought back to, as a minimum, the same if not to a higher technical, operational and safe level as when the down turn began. This would be the hardest challenge to overcome. However, new technologies may be able to help, but again everything would be down to people with the right skills, knowledge and operational experience needed for the industry.
The second challenge would be the Supply Chain. From basic supplies to very specific pieces of equipment and technology. Due to the current market conditions and the unforeseen recovery at the moment, reduction of end users, oversupply of equipment, and others, manufacturers and vendors have and will continue to adjust their inventories down, which in turn will hurt the industry once a recovery begins to take place. In addition, new and updated rules and regulations are likely to create another issue for existing equipment to be installed and used on some installations. This would result in reduced availability, adverse deliveries and ultimately large financial impact.
The third challenge is New Technology. As technology keeps moving on and is adapted in the industry, new systems and equipment would not have the opportunity to be utilize and create a track record within the industry that results in a minimum required level of confidence when considered for installation, especially offshore.
We speak about “Smart Technologies” and “Big Data” and how it would help the industry develop further by using infinity amounts of data generated by the different pieces of equipment and systems for the different operational conditions, but unfortunately there is not really company and industry consensus as to the standards for these technologies and at least for the common data being generated. The challenge also is how big data can be divided, analysed and used at different levels and mostly what the mean significance is for each of the different departments within the organization, from operations to maintenance to engineering, to management and ultimately the economics.
We are becoming used to hear and speak about smart technologies and big data as the highest level of technology at the moment, but gathering big data with the existing technologies is not an issue and would never be. For the contrary, selecting, interpreting and analysing big data is the biggest hurdle and to do that we need SMEs with the right operational and technical knowledge and experience to help define the parameters of Big Data Management Systems or Data Information Management Systems and the create proper visualization of the data. Too much data and a lack of experienced and knowledgeable interpretation would create and result in other issues.
Very interesting. Based on what you just said, you see a big problem coming up especially when demand of equipment rises. I mean every company need skilled labour and subject matter knowledge to grow their business. Is the recovery threatened by the industry brain drain?
As mentioned, the main challenge would revolt around people with not just the needed knowledge, but with the technical and operational expertise to bring the industry to a competent and safe operating level. Unfortunately the industry has never been good in transferring knowledge and experiences down to new generations and that compounds with a lack of interest for new engineers and technologist to work in the oil and gas industry, especially in the upstream sector. No matter how much you are willing to pay for new people to work in the industry once it begins to recover or the technology being implemented, the lack of years of experience would create a vacuum that will adversely impact the recovery of the industry in general.
Right – got it, this will be a real challenge – I hope there will be a solution. You also mentioned about Smart-Technology as one of the major trends in the industry. You see a lot of opportunities in this field, and I couldn’t agree more with you. I believe that Smart-Valves will be the next big thing in the valve industry. Having said that, our industry is very conservative. How do you see the opportunities here, especially when it comes to preventive and predictive maintenance for example?
As with any other price of equipment or system being provided to different installations, Smart-Technologies are the future for the industry, and this goes together with Big Data.
For example, using Smart-Valves would provide a higher level of control and automation for the different applications where the Smart-Valves would be installed. At the same time, they are able to provide enough status and operational data, that coupled with the information provided by the control and/or automation system will allow for a more precise and reliable systems, mitigating down time and given an added level of safety to the systems where they are implemented. As such there are several opportunities for their application and if tied to the instrumentation and control and/or automation system and all the data being provided for the particular Smart-Valve and the system where it has been installed, preventive and predictive maintenance is greatly enhanced at the same time that unexpected down time is considerably mitigated.
Interesting. I do also see the benefit that manufacturers can get access to real data and learn more about their own products in real operating conditions. Alone the scale of it would be massive.
Correct. From the Valve Manufacturers to OEMs, System Integrators, and ultimately the end users, all will benefit. However, the main issue would be the data being generated and how it is shared between the different companies for analysis and evaluation.
You are right, it is all about collecting and analysing the right data and take the right decisions based on that. I see challenges when it comes to standards. How to communicate with the equipment and on which platform? I believe the industry would have to adapt a common standard. Otherwise the product will not be interchangeable and the end users would have to deal with many individual communication platforms which would make their life very hard. I feel if the products are not interchangeable, the end users wouldn’t go for it as they would be tight up to one brand and end up with several different platforms depending on the number of brands installed. How do you see that?
Again you are correct. Valve manufactures, as is the case with any equipment manufacturers under Smart-Technologies needs to adopt communication protocols that follow standards already established and that are used in different industries and their particular applications. Trying to adopt and use a proprietary protocol or one that is not widely used in the industry where the devices are marketed would create issues for the manufacturer. For the upstream oil and gas, the most commonly used communication protocols are Profibus, Modbus, ControlNet and a few others. Also, the connectivity to the different networks is to be considered with regards to Copper or Fiber and the location of the devices (Safe Area, Hazardous Area, Indoor, Outdoor, etc.)
Juan, one is for certain, we are in the middle of an industrial revolution, times are very exciting and there will be lots of opportunities. Unfortunately, we are going to an end now, but I’m looking forward to our next meeting where we discuss more about Big Data in the industry.
It was great talking to you Tim. Thanks!
(Images source: © Sergey Nivens / fotolia + xmentoys / fotolia + AS-Schneider/ Juan Vesga)