Big Pharma and Oil-and-Gas Industries Both Expand, Optimize Their Pipelines

Jan. 10, 2011
A quick glance at "Big Pharma" and oil-and-natural-gas industries shows they're expanding, shifting, optimizing and responding.
Big Pharma focuses on emerging markets for demand and supply, observes Alison Smith, vice president of marketing strategy and research, at supplier Aspen Technology Inc. (, Burlington, Mass. She notes that Big Pharma is also shifting to biologics—drugs or vaccines, for example, synthesized from living organisms. Simultaneously, the biggest pharmaceutical companies continue to buy back wholly owned active-pharmaceutical-ingredient (API) manufacturing from their partners, Smith observes.Internally, pharmaceutical companies are consolidating core business activities including information technology, finance and enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation to drive consistent technology deployment across the world, Smith says. Internal customers will benefit, she believes. "[There will be] recognition that not all facilities are created equally, and requirements will vary, site by site." And that will lead to better across-the-board accommodation between internal customers and services, she adds.There's talk about using cloud computing in pharma, but Smith suggests that this would be a private cloud. Its main challenges are validation of environment, she says. And mobile communications now gain traction in pharma, she notes, in mobile manufacturing execution systems.Meanwhile, the industry trims research-and-development activities, Smith says. "The days of hundred-million-dollar upfront investments are definitely gone. Companies are trying to leverage clinical research organizations, but doing so very cautiously."With the oil-and-natural-gas industry, caution may be shared with the excitement of expansion. "The biggest successes have surrounded the finding of new sources of unconventional gas like coal-bed methane as a source of supply for LNG [liquid-natural-gas] trains in Australia, and shale gas in North America," says Jerry Stanek, the Houston-based global oil-and-gas segment manager for automation supplier Honeywell Process Solutions (, Phoenix.He believes that headlines will continue to focus on shale gas and LNG. "There is room for both natural gas sub-segments," Stanek says. "[But] people tend to forget about LNG as an energy source, and its adoption will continue to grow as that awareness expands." Public perceptionIn the next six months or so, though, Stanek hopes that oil-and-gas companies' main success will come in health-and-safety practices. "The hydrocarbon industry has been portrayed as having a machismo culture, which plays well in the media. However, companies are actively working to change this," he remarks. "And I think in exploration and production, we need to do a better job of changing that perception."Generally, public perception challenges the industry. Most notably, there's the negative perception from the handling of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico. But more comes via the horizontal drilling practice known as hydraulic fractionation (fracking). "Fracking takes place at a mile or more below ground surface, with some reservoirs at 3,000 feet down, but most at 5,000 to 15,000 feet down," states John Gilmore, director of marketing, upstream oil-and-gas, at automation supplier Invensys Operations Management (, Plano, Texas. This new technology is required because, as he explains, in unconventional tight-shale formations such as the natural-gas-bearing Marcellus Shale Play area in the Appalachian Basin, flow is measured in micro-Darcys, a measure of permeability, vs. milli-Darcys in conventional formations."There are concerns about groundwater contamination when the practice is employed—a big public education issue in the Marcellus Shale," Stanek adds. "Many residents aren't used to the externalities and logistics that go along with living near an area of production," he says. Those issues include water being transported to and from the wells, mud, equipment left on site and materials stored in tanks, Gilmore notes.To obviate on-site separation of the natural gas from liquids, Invensys now tests use of its multiphase metering system at 20 to 25 North American wells. "We can measure water, oil and gas without having to separate them," Gilmore states. "So instead of having a separator and tankage, we simply move all the components down the pipeline."In mature fields, water also can be substantial, Gilmore says. The goal now is to optimize the production to fully load out existing separation technologies by tweaking the wells to get a mix of gas, oil and water, he says. One way to accomplish that is by linking modeling technologies—very precise multiphase modeling of the existing system and also modeling of the hydraulics—to supervisory-control-and-data-acquisition information, he explains. With that, "we have seen 2 percent to 6 percent higher production in old fields."As usual, good data can produce actionable information. But as Gilmore observes, "Ten to 20 years ago, we complained we didn't have enough data. Now, the trick is how to make sense of what we're gathering." That's an always-present chore, whether it's pharma or oil-and-gas, and whether it's expansion, contraction, optimization or whatever.C. Kenna Amos, [email protected], is an Automation World Contributing Editor. Aspen Technology Inc.www.aspentech.comHoneywell Process Operations

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