The oil and gas industry is suffering through the effects of a severe and protracted price collapse. In fact, gasoline demand has trended down in the U.S. for the past 8 years and in Europe for the past 10, due to changes in technology, urban planning, shifting values, and superior energy resources are gaining a foothold. As oil prices keep skidding, producers are examining every conceivable way to improve operational performance, not only increasing production volumes but also lowering production costs.
Oil companies face discouraging fundamentals even before acknowledging that the commodity they sell can be displaced by far cheaper energy productivity. Renewable wind and solar power continues to fall in price as new records are being set, with 30% more installations added globally in 2015. Producers are going to increasingly feel the effects of renewable energy advances as we figure out how to more efficiently heat and cool our homes, power our vehicles, and run our cities’ electrical needs. Power generation and storage will become increasingly decentralized, while customers will have a larger number of options and can more directly influence demand.
On the plus side, mergers and acquisitions in the oil and gas sector are poised to step up in 2016 as investors look to capitalize on distressed situations and assets suddenly become available at reasonable prices. Consolidation will be the main focus as companies seek to expand into new areas and acquire key technology differentiators.
Technology in Oil, Gas & Power
You might think that times must be pretty tough right now for AV manufacturers and integrators serving the oil and gas industry, considering the declines, when in fact oil companies continue to invest in solutions at a fairly steady pace looking for competitive advantages and greater cost efficiencies.
In 2015, oil and gas saw a global push for 4K video and 3D technologies, used for real-time applications and “big data” visualizations. Video walls, 3D installations, and single screens made improvements from control rooms to reception areas.
This year, faster broadband, higher quality video cameras, and advances in video-over-IP are pushing collaboration systems to the top of most oil companies’ wish lists. AV systems are helping geographically-separated teams to work together on projects in real time, and are seen as a vital part of business improvement plans.
Since drilling is extremely costly, and shrinking reserves and geographies are forcing companies into riskier and costlier projects, oil companies are looking to new technologies to help them get at and share vital information for exploration, as well as to improve safety and create greater operational efficiencies.
Cameras & Drones
The downturn in oil prices has made producers seek ways to cut down on costs without compromising safety. Drones are being employed for less dangerous and expensive inspections of oil platforms, helicopter decks and cranes on drillships, eliminating the need for workers to dangle perilously to visually log damages. There are now 3,000 businesses or individuals in the U.S. with approval to fly drones for commercial reasons, with a third of them performing various types of inspections.
USB 3.0 interfaces now allow video cameras to stream footage in full HD and produce HD still images, allowing companies to visually inspect infrastructure, pilot unmanned vehicles, and allow remote robots to operate autonomously, to the advantage of a wide range of industries including robotics, virtual reality, drones, oil and gas pipe inspection and industrial endoscopy.
Smart products using embedded sensors, working with enhanced communication infrastructures, will lead to greater information being available to manufacturers in the future. Ultra-high-frequency RFID sensors will be used to track parts performance and wear, as well as optimize plant, asset and supply chain performance. For example, fulfillment systems will automatically coordinate ordering, delivery and technician visits. Other systems will be able to track consumables, automatically re-ordering and billing for those that run low.
Oilfield companies in China are testing being able to track drill pipes at well sites using RFID handheld readers and software. Steel RFID tags track the individual joints of drill pipes and then an antenna reads the tag when the drill is hoisted out and returned into the wellbore. This provides an intelligent way to identify drill pipes, which until recently were counted manually before and after the drilling process, creating potential for inaccurate inventory, inefficient asset utilization, and could compromise safety onsite.
Most large projects in the oil and gas industry require in excess of 10,000 mats, which companies need to move around to new projects. They typically send people to take inventory, which is time consuming, expensive and potentially inaccurate. New “SmartMats” are being tested using RFID and GPS technology to track the exact location of every mat in the field, reducing costs and improving asset utilization.
Engineers often suffer from not being able to extract business value from the mountains of data being collected daily by operations, peers and regulators. Many of the most exciting advances in industries today are in visual analytics projects.
Good visual analytics software offers engineers a single user interface that they can use to query, report, graph and export data from multiple data sources. Where before they had to learn a new application for every data source, it is now a consolidated system. Visualization software can turn raw data into color-coded time series where problems and possible solutions are immediately visible, with easy drill-down capability. The software typically offers a rich user interface, allowing engineers to construct free-form queries and reports in real-time to quickly get at key information.
While companies have always produced tabulated data, only by using a real visual analytics tool are we able to translate “big data” into meaningful insights, however, it continues to challenge most industries to translate this into action.
Visualization software can be used to identify the best extraction areas by turning geophysical data into 3D images of subsurface layers, displayed on video walls. Interactive touch displays then give engineers the ability to annotate drawings and plans and discuss them in real-time via video conferencing.
On the operational side, video walls are being used with CCTV security systems to monitor all areas of the manufacturing facility, to display information from GPS systems to track fleets of vehicles, to view live news feeds, web pages and spreadsheets, control room performance reviews and video collaboration.
Video collaboration is especially important to oil and gas due to their geographically dispersed operations. The ability to easily bring together global experts with online video has massively reduced costs, improved productivity, and decreased safety problems, where delays in decision-making can have real and dangerous implications. This would typically be done using Fiber and a dedicated Ethernet/IP network.
Since oil companies are continuously expected to liaise with external partners, customers, governments, environmental agencies, and disaster response services, interoperability is key so open standards-based technologies are vital. They also have other unique network requirements, such as needing to integrate with building management systems (BMS) and environmental monitoring system (EMS) platforms, and co-mingling legacy infrastructures.
For a dedicated Ethernet/IP network, Opticomm-EMCORE has several encoder/decoder options depending on the data rate of the network, the image quality needed, and type of signal. The NV Series works for DVI or HDMI with HDCP (using an adapter) or there is 3G HD-SDI model, but a Gigabyte network is needed for lossless transmission. The Eclipse HD (EV) Series is available for HDMI with HDCP, and requires a 150 Mbps fixed data rate for visually lossless compression. They also have the HD4 Series, also for HDMI (or VGA), and is for networks providing 256 Kbps to 30 Mbps variable data rates.
In areas related to production operations – security, remote monitoring, control rooms, abnormal situation management – solutions such as display wall processors, video switchers, multiviewers and control room management systems have a great deal of activity. There is less activity currently for systems such as codecs, recorders, high-end video processors for simulations and geophysical modeling systems, as exploration resources wait for higher oil prices.
In oil and gas, video matrix switchers connect computers housed in a safe rack room and operators’ terminals, allowing scientists and geologists to access the data they need remotely. They may be installed in unusual environments, such as onboard oil exploration vessels in remote parts of the world’s oceans, so they must be able to withstand all weather conditions.
The Genesis (GXD) matrix switch from Opticomm-EMCORE has a 40GB backplane that supports up to 8K resolutions, allowing plenty of room for growth. If there is a rack in a remote location, Optiva transmitters and receivers can be used in cooperation with the GXD for any signal over Fiber and CATx. If you would rather not have a rack-based system and are using HDMI, an alternative is the GBOX, a throw-down style transmitter box for HDMI or VGA over fiber.
Opticomm-EMCORE is soon releasing the “4-channel multiviewer with scaling” insert card for the GXD. The switch itself can route images to displays without the need for a multiviewer, but using it will route 4 individual images from any of the input sources onto a single display, built-in as part of the switching apparatus instead of using an external processor.
Times may be challenging for the oil and gas industry, but it knows it needs to continue to invest – whether that’s in exploration and infrastructure, or in the improved productivity and efficiency that is the natural result of today’s AV solutions.
Have an oil and gas project? Contact Opticomm-EMCORE for a free system design consultation.