Virtual Presence: Extending digital technology to the field offers enhanced productivity

When problems arise on drilling rigs in remote locations, even minor ones, the solution can be extremely costly. Getting an expert to a rig to assess a problem, if that rig is in Northern Alberta or offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, for instance, can result in costly travel expenses and downtime for the rig.

Those costs can be dramatically reduced using today’s advanced broadband connectivity, cloud computing and analytics technologies designed to improve field productivity.

For example, using the live visual streaming technology provided by Winnipeg-based Librestream Technologies Inc., Baker Hughes has been able to shift to a rig monitoring, maintenance and repair system that is similar to aircraft control systems. “It allows us to do more with less,” Philippe Flichy, the Houston-based senior digital oilfield advisor with the company’s enterprise technology division, told New Technology Magazine.

As Baker Hughes is contractually responsible for non-productive time on offshore platforms, an equipment failure or other problems can cost the company $500,000 a day on an offshore platform. “By the time you fly a specialist [and other staffers] to an offshore platform with a helicopter you’re burning through a lot of money. Using this technology we can avoid that,” Flichy said.

Many other technologies exist to improve field productivity by connecting workers in the field with the information they need to perform tasks and the expertise they can call on to assess and solve problems. It is an area many in the industry already recognize as a mature technology and a good investment.

In a recent survey of Canadian oil and gas industry professionals for their opinions about the digital oilfield conducted by JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group, GE and Accenture, field productivity was ranked among nine other digital oilfield use cases as one of the top choices for both technological maturity and return on investment, as well as their company’s readiness to adopt them. Service and supply, and exploration and production industry verticals—both of which have large field components—were particularly positive about the technology’s potential going forward.

With widespread, and cheaper, availability of broadband connectivity, tablet and smartphone applications and cloud computing, many field productivity technologies are becoming widely available, offering potentially big savings. They provide workers with immediate access to data—such as the operational history of field equipment, up-to-date instruction on equipment maintenance and repair, and safety instructions—in addition to opportunities for on-the-job training and real-time access to expertise from head office.

The technology can also speed up data entry, illuminate time-consuming paperwork and reduce errors. When combined with fleet management technology, there is also opportunity to better coordinate movement of parts and equipment, personnel and expertise to where it is needed, when it is needed, further increasing productivity.

Using video conferencing formats, such as Citrix Technology, Inc.’s GoToMeeting and Cisco’s WebEx, Librestream has extended video conferencing and collaboration to allow workers from difficult to access locations to visually connect to work stations with mobile devices. Its Onsight Mobile Collaboration System enables full and immediate collaboration for remote workers using a range of handheld wireless devices—from its own rugged high-tech cameras to smart phones and tablets—allowing workers to connect with experts using a desktop and Librestream’s Onsight Expert software.

Video and still images and audio can be shared in a secure environment for advanced consultation. Combined with Baker Hughes complimentary workflow system, with a specialist at the helm, the company can guide field workers through a list of questions and tasks, with the Onsight systems providing visual access that is almost as good as being at the location—but without the associated costs. Baker Hughes uses the technology on 40 offshore platforms around the world, as well as in the oilsands and for conventional onshore drilling.

On the horizon, augmented reality offers another means of enhancing field productivity. By offering the ability to superimpose virtual information on real world situations, it allows workers to, for instance, perform equipment maintenance following step-by-step instructions provided on screen or via a hands-free head-mounted display.

This allows companies to replace paper maintenance manuals and checklists, which are more difficult to keep up to date, with interactive 3D capable displays in which instructions can be displayed and workers can zoom in and manipulate images to better understand their workings. GE, for example, is developing technology that will use augmented reality to replace paper maintenance manuals for the oil and gas sector. Such technology could also be a valuable tool for worker training, providing realistic simulations of complex fieldwork with which to teach in a controlled environment.

To learn more about digital oil, plan to attend the Canadian Energy Technology Forum (CETF), a unique industry event that explores the technological and operational foundation of the digital oilfield. The forum features innovation leaders who have increased revenue, improved operating margins and enhanced asset efficiencies by leveraging digital oilfield technology. CETF takes place October 27 at the BMO Centre in Calgary. Visit for more information.


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