Digitisation in the gas industry: Q&A with Thomas Sparks, VP Oil & Gas Strategy, Siemens

Mr Sparks is currently in Australia to speak at the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association’s (APPEA’s) 2017 Conference, which runs from 14-17 May 2017 in Perth. Ahead of his presentation at APPEA, Mr Sparks discusses efficient and cost-effective ways that the oil and gas industry can improve operations, and what Siemens is currently doing at this level.

GT: The Australian gas industry has said that technology can strengthen the role Australian gas plays in the diverse energy mix beyond 2030. What technologies has Siemens been working on that can play a role in supporting the gas industry to achieve its goals?

TS: Australia in their Gas Vision 2050 has identified three major transformation themes which constitute the energy mix that would drive the energy industry beyond 2030. The three key transformational themes are biogas production, carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen usage.

Siemens is aware that the Australian energy industry is undergoing major transformation and requires the deployment of niche technologies to address this transformation. Siemens is contributing with its wide portfolio to the whole value chain of gas exploration, production and use. This covers:

  • Large scale renewable energy with our offshore and onshore wind turbines;
  • Combined-cycle power generation with efficiencies beyond 60 per cent combined with our supersonic compessor technology from Dresser-Rand for cost-effective carbon capture;
  • Power transmission to offshore installations using high-voltage direct current (HVDC) power lines;
  • Energy storage using our solution for compressed air energy storage (CAES);
  • Conversion of electrical energy to hydrogen base on our Silyzer membrane technology.

What technologies do you see as being potential game changers for the oil and gas industry globally and in Australia?

The oil and gas industry needs to become more effective to reduce costs and achieve sustainability. This is driving electrification, automation and digitalisation. New development but also existing fields are increasingly becoming electrified.

With our subsea power grid, we are enabling the industry to build the subsea factory for cost-effective development, higher recovery and safe and environmentally secure production. Electrification goes hand-in-hand with automation of production. Siemens is offering complete automation of hardware and software including communication systems.

All of this is driving digitalisation.

Today, there is already an expansive set of proven digital solutions available that have been applied in various industries all over the world. Digital solutions turn existing customer data assets into value providing real-time knowledge for faster, smarter decision making, which ultimately means reduced lifecycle and projects costs, as well as improved operational efficiency and safety.

The use of data over the entire cycle from project initiation until modernisation is a key to increase asset efficiency. For that Siemens is integrating data from its product lifecycle management (PLM) systems like Teamcenter and COMOS with data analytics for lifecycle services on our MindSphere platform, to reduce maintenance and improve reliability. These have been implemented on the new North Sea platform Ivar Aasen, and will reduce the offshore personnel by 70 per cent by having a mirrored onshore control centre with online data connection and assessment.

What are the key benefits digitisation can bring to the future development of the oil and gas industry?

We at Siemens look at every situation as an opportunity for value creation. And digitalisation is the core in the process of value creation.

When the industry is going through the “lower for longer”? phase of oil price conundrum, Siemens digital capabilities are clear answers to optimise operations, eliminate redundant processes and turn data into value. A key aspect of our digital effort is to provide actionable intelligence to the customers leading to value added decision making.

The digital value chain helps organisations respond smartly to the internal and external business environments with agility. Digitalisation creates an ecosystem where companies operate without boundaries to leverage each other’s expertise, best practices, etc.

Let me give an example. Siemens MindSphere is an open industrial Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem where entire industry players including individual app developers collaborate to achieve operational and business excellence. In the years ahead, thanks to digitalisation, virtual drilling of oil wells with minimum or no men on platform would become a reality. This will reap huge benefits not only in financial terms but from health, safety and environment perspectives as well.

What is the next big thing in digitalisation that the oil and gas industry can benefit from?

Undoubtedly, it is Augmented Intelligence (AUI). It is an advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) technique and is one of the big mega digital trends that are defining our future, the way we live and work.

AI has been there for a while, but advancements in AI are taking the industry by storm. For instance, the oil and gas industry is moving away from conventional preventive maintenance to condition based maintenance of their critical assets. The industry is able to gain insights about their assets behaviour and organise maintenance accordingly. This has helped to achieve assets uptime significantly leading to production maximization and savings in maintenance costs.

However, the operational landscape is changing rapidly and one cannot confidently say that the asset operations are affected by the operating conditions alone these days. For example, in an upstream environment, the performance data set of an oil rig is culled out from various assets.

It is a complex task to establish the behaviour pattern of an asset in relation to other’s performance. Also, these critical assets are endangered by cyber-attacks which have devastating effect on operations.

So, the challenge is how to steer through multi-assets data integration complexity to ensure optimised performance? That’s where the benefit of AUI come in: combining advanced analytics with cognitive intelligence to predict and prescribe actions. Siemens is focusing heavily on this area. Can you think of self-behaving oil rigs depending on the oil price movements? This would be possible with AUI in the days ahead.

Do you see 3D printing as being an important breakthrough that can support the oil and gas industry going forward?

I see this as a boon to oil and gas industry with positive disruption in the supply chain arena.

In February 2017, Siemens achieved a breakthrough in the 3D printing of gas turbine blades. For the first time, a team of experts has full-load tested gas turbine blades that were entirely produced using additive manufacturing. The tests were conducted at the Siemens test centre for industrial gas turbines in Lincoln, Great Britain.

Over the course of several months, Siemens engineers from Lincoln, Berlin, and the Swedish municipality of Finspong worked with experts from Materials Solutions to optimize the gas turbine blades and their production. Within just 18 months, the international project team succeeded in developing the entire process chain, from the design of individual components, to the development of materials, all the way to new methods of quality control and the simulation of component service life.

From an oil and gas perspective, with the advent of 3D printing, it is possible to use this technology on offshore facilities in remote locations to manufacture critical components on-demand. To start with, 3D printing can be a stop-gap arrangement till such time actual spares arrive.

In effect, it can minimise the asset down time considerably leading to non-disruptive production performance. I foresee the uses of 3D printing are set to grow over the next decade as more suitable applications are being identified and new additive materials & equipment come into market.

Overall, I expect this digital disruption is here to stay and impact the industry in a positive way.

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