Out at the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston this week, I have had several interesting discussions with our industry suppliers about the exciting times going on in the oil and gas industry. There are several challenges that the industry faces, and suppliers are taking the opportunity to address those challenges.
Oil and gas exploration is going to further and further extremes—going further out in the middle of nowhere, to hotter climates, colder climates, deeper undersea, you name it. They’re dealing with an increasing amount of data, and need to know how to make that data actionable. Everything is getting connected together to an increasing degree, opening companies up to all kinds of security breaches. All the while, at least as much as in other manufacturing industries, the oil and gas industry struggles to find the skilled workers it needs.
I’ll explore further in-depth in the coming days and weeks about what automation suppliers are doing specifically to address those challenges, but I wanted to touch on a few keys points while I take a short break from the show floor.
Devices are becoming smarter and simpler. They’re designed for the new generation of operators that don’t have the expertise that their predecessors had. In some cases, the expertise is programmed into the software, with assistants to walk operators or maintenance personnel through procedures. There are more pictures and diagrams to get things up and running easily. In other cases, software isn’t even needed, and programming can be done with the push of a button.
There is more emphasis on security. Too many manufacturers are still being caught unaware, and it’s only a matter of time before something catastrophic happens to make people realize that they can’t leave their networks unprotected, no matter how unimportant they think they are.
Suppliers are coming out with some pretty cool ways to make it easier to get information from remote and/or hazardous locations, which are becoming more and more common within oil and gas exploration and production. There’s less and less need for personnel to have to go inside a fence and open a panel. They can check on meter conditions from their truck; or a smaller team of experts can keep track of conditions from a central location rather than spreading experts throughout the fields.
One overriding theme that I’ve found interesting… There is so much new technology available to address the needs of the industry. The technology is out there, and companies can come up with new technologies all the time. But that isn’t anywhere close to the end of the story. Companies need to understand that, of at least equal importance are the processes and people. Many of the changes that the industry requires have to do with the cultural change needed within a company to make a significant difference.