Digital transformation initiatives have been creeping into oil and gas for several years now with new technology deployments ranging from outfitting front line workers with augmented reality headsets to using remote monitoring and big data algorithms to increase equipment utilization rates and optimize overall performance. And this trend is only accelerating as Covid-19 pushes many once optional technologies to become essential.
Metering has not been overlooked in the digital transformation process. It is a vital part of the process industries, particularly in fields like oil and gas where the materials being moved are of high value, meaning that even a minor measuring inaccuracy could cost thousands of dollars in revenue. Coriolis flow meters, which measure the twisting motions caused by the inertia of fluid or gas flowing through an oscillating tube to derive mass flow, density, and other variables, have become especially popular for oil and gas applications. A major reason for their popularity is their high accuracy and ability to provide numerous output parameters without the need for additional devices.
Though for all the benefits they offer, accessing Coriolis meters in the field can still be difficult. “One of the things we struggle with a lot is that equipment is not always [accessible]. Sometimes you have to climb up ladders, or reach across hot tanks,” said Tonya Wyatt, Emerson global product line manager during a presentation at the Emerson Exchange virtual event series. “It’s not always beautiful weather. Sometimes in Texas it’s so hot you can’t stand it, or it might be pouring rain or some other kind of nasty weather that makes it tricky to find a device and hook up to it or remove power. Not to mention the fact that you have to get a hot work permit—not a fun situation.”
However, wireless technology that allows for remote access is helping to alleviate this issue.
Emerson’s new 5700 Coriolis transmitter, which offers a Wi-Fi configuration option, is a prime example of how wireless technology can address specific industrial operation issues. The 5700 can be used with ProLink III for Windows, iOS, and Android to connect to, configure, troubleshoot, and download historical files from Emerson Coriolis meters from a range of up to 115 feet. In the case of historical files being downloaded from the device, ProcessViz software can be used to visualize the data and make decisions on how to improve process performance.
Once a user has accessed their meter through ProLink, an assortment of current and past alerts can be viewed, such as when power resets and other configuration changes have occurred. A visual dashboard also provides read-outs for mass flow rate, volume flow rate, and other metrics, such as the amount of energy being used by the device. Requisite configuration changes to inputs and outputs can be made remotely via the software.
In addition, data from ProLink can be exported into ProcessViz where it can be converted into a spreadsheet format and printed as a report, making Emerson’s wireless metering pipeline convenient not only for engaging in asset monitoring and making on-the-fly adjustments in hazardous or hard-to-navigate environments, but for easing the administrative burden of mandatory reporting to regulatory agencies for compliance purposes.
Still, some threats do abound, and wireless access via the 5700 does not come without its trade-offs. With oil and gas operations having been a target of hackers in the past, cybersecurity concerns must be taken into consideration. Although remote access has great utility, it’s important for operators to keep in mind that with each added point of connection comes an expanded surface for potential cyber attacks.
Emerson is well aware of such risks and has outfitted its 5700 transmitters with the appropriate safeguards. For example, access control allows for two separate sets of log-in credentials—one for administrators and one for operators. This means that while operators can access data and make some moderate changes to configuration without administrative permission, more consequential actions are restricted. Also, the 5700 cannot be connected to via web browser or external web servers. Only Emerson’s proprietary software can be used to limit potential vulnerabilities. Similarly, devices cannot be connected to automatically, but require an assortment of security credentials.
“I typically like to think of security and usability as a trade-off. You want to keep the product as easy and straightforward to use as possible, but you also want to minimize any vulnerabilities,” Wyatt said. “The Wi-Fi option is just that—an option. For people who have extreme security concerns, rest assured that if you order the 5700 without the Wi-Fi option, it doesn’t even include the hardware to make the device wireless, so there’s absolutely no additional security risk there at all. On the other hand, if you are interested in the Wi-Fi option, but you have security concerns, we have built in several levels of security, so you can customize it to get the best solution for your needs.”