Collaboration Is Key Behind Digital Oilfield Announcements

May 17, 2018
With news about a new digital platform and project adding to the slew of announcements about operations centers and joint projects over the past several months, collaboration is a fundamental part of ABB’s oil and gas developments.

ABB showed just how deeply immersed it is in the oil and gas industry during the recent Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston—with announcements about a new digital platform and involvement in Statoil’s Johan Castberg oilfield, as well as demonstrations and discussions around robotic innovations, subsea developments and more. More often than not, collaborative efforts were at the center of the advances.

Since its launch of ABB Ability—a collection of more than 180 digital products and services—last year, ABB has been making sure the world knows about its digital capabilities and the services it can provide. The supplier has been building out a range of ABB Ability Collaborative Operations Centers around the world since then, with focuses on different industry sectors—shipping, pulp and paper, mining, power generation and more.

At OTC, ABB unveiled a digital platform that gives oil and gas customers access to a 150-person team of experts at a Collaborative Operations Center opened earlier this year for oil, gas and chemicals in Oslo, Norway, as well as advanced data analysis. With a focus on boosting profits and productivity, the ABB Ability Process Performance Dashboard enables oil and gas operators to use the ever-increasing amount of data they are generating to rapidly identify and fix performance weaknesses. The cloud-based service measures the performance of oil and gas facilities against various indicators, including startup time and operator interventions.

Analyzed by experts at the Collaborative Operations Center, results are fed back through the dashboard, quickly exposing areas of improvement and highlighting services that could address them.

Although the price of oil has rebounded a bit in recent months, the industry is still operating in an environment of deflated prices since the precipitous drop that began in 2014. As ABB notes, the dashboard’s launch comes as operators continue to look to improve efficiencies, cash flow and the performance of existing assets.

“Squeezing the maximum value out of every dollar spent is vital for operators in the current climate,” said Brandon Spencer, vice president of ABB’s oil, gas and chemicals business in North America. “Continual performance improvement can have a huge impact on the bottom line and enables firms to thrive in challenging conditions.”

The new dashboard accelerates the rate of ongoing improvement, Spencer added. With ABB’s technology, producers could see a 5 percent increase in production. On a 50,000-barrel-a-day platform, at a price of $50 per barrel, this amounts to about $35 million in additional annual revenue.

Collaboration significance

The idea behind the new offering—as evidenced by the name of the centers that ABB has been opening as well—is digital collaboration. As companies move toward digitalization to handle increasingly complex operations along with tighter margins, it’s become clear that no one company can go it alone. This is true in terms of shouldering the cost as well as  providing each other insights and expertise.

Services provided via the dashboard support collaboration between the ABB Collaborative Operations Center, the customers’ various assets and their operational headquarters.

At OTC, Spencer talked of “respecting the ecosystem,” referring not only to collaboration between suppliers and customers, but even among competing factions—each of which is unlikely to have all the answers needed for digital transformation. “Somebody might be a competitor in one area, but a partner in another,” he said, adding, “A little humility goes a long way.”

Less and less, customers want to be experts in the technology used to automate their operations, Spencer also noted. So ABB is typically more engaged these days in selling broader solutions rather than just specific products. Customers have also become more amenable to getting projects started to test out the digital technologies available. Whereas five years ago, they tended to be more focused on wanting to see where the technology had been proven, today they’re open to running some pilots and getting some data, he said.

Available now, the ABB Ability Process Performance Dashboard has been extensively trialed already. One large oil and gas company in the North Sea was able to break a 95 percent uptime threshold across its facilities through the use of the dashboard and its associated services.

Johan Castberg project

Also during OTC week, ABB announced that it will provide integrated ABB Ability automation and safety systems to Statoil’s new Johan Castberg oilfield development project in Norway. This follows on from an announcement ABB made early last year about Statoil’s use of ABB’s safety and automation system for the front-end engineering and design (FEED) stage of the project, which carried them through to the final investment decision that was announced this month. (Note: Statoil announced just this week that it is changing its name to Equinor.)

Located in the Barents Sea, north of the Arctic Circle, the Johan Castberg field will be developed with a floating production, storage and offloading production vessel (FPSO) and subsea installation with 30 wells. The new field has proven volumes estimated at 400 to 600 million barrels of oil, and is the world’s largest new offshore oil project. The field is scheduled to begin operation in 2022 and will have an estimated production lifespan of 30 years.

ABB will help to reduce capex for the project significantly through its integrated ABB Ability System 800xA automation and safety systems, including advanced simulation and related services for the offshore FPSO. The order is valued at about $25 million.

Working closely with design contractor Aker Solutions, ABB will provide engineering, installation and commissioning to execute the project and ensure that production runs efficiently.

“Digitalization and advanced safety and automation systems are key to safer, more efficient, more reliable and more environmentally friendly operation of oil, gas and chemical facilities,” said Per Erik Holsten, managing director of ABB Oil, Gas and Chemicals, in the announcement. “Combined with our vast experience in advanced process control, and subsea and power systems, project execution is streamlined, costs are reduced, and long-term operations are safer and more efficient.”

ABB has a long history of collaboration with Statoil/Equinor on numerous projects around the world. All major oil and gas installations above the Arctic Circle in Norway use ABB’s automation and safety systems.

Underwater endeavors

And speaking again of being immersed in oil and gas… ABB has long been collaborating with several industry players in subsea oil and gas equipment, including work with Aker Solutions and an ongoing R&D project with Statoil, Chevron and Total.

“We have a subsea model that we’ve been working on for about seven years. It goes live in 2019. So this year has been all about testing,” Spencer said. ABB is working in head-to-head competition with Siemens. “It’s us and Siemens in a race to the sea floor.”

The stakes are big as developers look at what they could take from a topside platform and put subsea instead. “It will reduce the cost and the risk, but you have to have the technology proven,” Spencer said. Subsea equipment has to be able to deal with pressure, corrosion, resistance and other underwater elements. And reliability is more important than ever. “If a transformer fails topside, it’s a big enough problem. Subsea, it’s much worse.”

That all circles back not only to the need for collaboration, but for the data analytics that will help improve equipment uptime and predictability.

There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle for enabling oil and gas to operate in a highly competitive, price-conscious environment. “There are so many things going on, but hopefully we have a tailwind,” Spencer said.

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