Automation advancing in the oil and gas industry

Siemens’ Oil and Gas Innovations Conference in Houston highlighted developments in automation and data management products for an industry where few have upgraded aging technology and many struggle to be more efficient in an environment that demands it.
By Eric R. Eissler April 23, 2015

Raj Batra, president of Digital Factories for Siemens USA, speaks at the Siemens’ Oil and Gas Innovations Conference, encouraging use of automation to add reliability, visibility, and efficiency. Courtesy: CFE Media, Eric R. EisslerNow is the time for companies in the oil and gas industry to take a step back and look at systems, processes, technology, and equipment that need to be upgraded to increase efficiency in the field and at the refinery. Demand has dropped and oil prices have fallen, which means companies need to assess their facilities and upgrade them to save money and increase production. This was the main topic of the keynote speech by Raj Batra, president of Digital Factories for Siemens USA, at the Siemens Oil and Gas Innovations Conference in Houston.

Batra contrasted the oil and gas industry’s struggles with the automotive industry and aerospace industries in terms of industry growth. 2014 was a stellar year for the automotive industry with 16.5 million vehicles produced—the most in nine years—and capacity utilization at 80%. Batra said this was due to automation and smart manufacturing, which helped the automotive industry save money and increase production. The aerospace industry is currently backlogged till about 2022 with orders with no signs of slowing down.

Batra outlined the challenges and the solutions the oil and gas industry currently faces:

  • Efficiency: The problem is manual methods don’t scale. The solution is to integrate monitoring and control systems.
  • Visibility: The problem is manual localized standalone relay-based systems don’t provide enough data. The solution is to operate with real-time data via wireless connectivity.
  • Reliability: The problem of unplanned downtime and environmental issues hinder production. The solution is to implement safety that is built in and not built on.

He added that aging automation assets in the U.S. are at the highest level since 1938. Batra asked, "If we don’t feel comfortable with a smartphone for more than one year, how do we let an automation system become so dated?"

The time to upgrade is now. Doing this will allow the U.S. oil and gas industry to take off once prices come back up.

– Eric R. Eissler is the editor-in-chief of Oil & Gas Engineering, eeissler@cfemedia.com.

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