Offshore rig sunset

The future of offshore is digital

120 miles out at sea, 6,000-horsepower devices lift drilling equipment weighing up to 3 million pounds out of holes lying 10,000 feet beneath the water. Keeping such sea monsters in good working order, often for years at a time, is no mean feat.
 
Article by Azeez Mohammed
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Oil companies spend between 300,000 to 800,000 USD per day on each vessel drilling offshore. Any failures can result in losses that run into hundreds of thousands of dollars per day.

With such high costs and massive market pressures, including volatile oil prices, increasing competition and operations in complex environments, offshore companies are seeking new ways to boost efficiency and raise productivity. In the age of the fourth industrial revolution – the digital revolution – the industry is looking beyond traditional solutions.

This year, once again, OTC (Offshore Technology Conference) showcased the leading-edge thinking and innovation at work across the offshore industry. I had the opportunity to meet with some customers to share progress made in the digital offshore space, as well as our thoughts about what lies ahead for the industry.

Digital evolution

The word ‘transformation’ comes up often when talking about digitalization. But how transformational is it really?In this case, it isn’t simply a buzzword. Incorporating digital technology into offshore operations enables smarter decisionmaking, reduces CAPEX and OPEX, unlocks added revenue through increasing operational efficiency and productivity, and can even improve overall work safety. But transformation is a long journey that will evolve through multiple phases and take time.

Phase 1. Connecting minds and machines

A typical offshore production platform can have more than 40,000 data tags, not all of them connected or used. Our own research has found that just 3% of the data collected from industrial assets are currently used for decision-making.

Converting this ocean of information into clear insights will fuel a move from ‘gut-feel’ to datadriven decision making. Using data to create a digital twin of an asset can give deeper insights into its operation – such as helping spot and correct problems before they disrupt drilling or production. By moving to predictive maintenance, companies can avoid the expense of unnecessarily replacing or maintaining equipment, as well as lost revenue that can range from 80,000 to 465,000 USD daily, according to our customer.

Phase 2. Centralizing and sharing expertise at fleet level

With digital insights transmitted from onboard to onshore, knowledge and expertise can be collected centrally and shared fleet-wide. Rather than relying on experts operating individually as part of onboard crews, best practices can be scaled across the entire fleet to drive consistent operational excellence at enterprise and industry level.

With information collected from multiple assets, a centralized, expert team can make intelligent, informed decisions about everything from equipment performance and maintenance to logistics and energy
optimization. The digital pool can also ease the impact of downsizing onboard teams by providing guidance, especially to less experienced crew.

Phase 3. Shifting to remote-controlled, operated and self-healing rigs and ships

Human error accounts for an estimated 75 to 96 % of all ship losses and marine casualties. As offshore vessels operate within a ‘zero tolerance’ atmosphere for health, safety and environmental incidents, reducing the possibility for human error through increased automation could be crucial for reducing human error.

Moving towards remote-controlled vessels with reduced- or no-manning could also reduce operational costs for operating companies. Carrying crew accounts for an average 44 % of a ship’s running costs. Reducing crew numbers by incorporating intelligent digital solutions and moving people onshore, the offshore industry can enable more efficient and safer drilling.

A growing appetite

It’s true that the offshore industry has been late at recognizing the power and reaping the benefits of digitalization – lagging behind industries such as aviation, which has been acknowledged as a trailblazer in adopting digital and automation. However, I’m excited to see that today the industry is picking up the pace to digitalize assets and fleets, beginning to transform the vision of a more efficient and autonomous future into an exciting reality.

Co-creation has been at the core of this growing demand for digital innovation. At GE, we worked alongside global offshore drilling contractor, Noble Drilling, to link up the world’s first drilling vessel early this year. Our early results already indicate the possibility for increased efficiency and avoidance of costly unplanned disruptions to drilling operations, with GE’s Digital Twin analytics detecting potential failures up to two months before they occur. By enabling Noble to establish a detailed baseline of the rig’s operating costs, the company estimates that the Digital Rig will deliver a 20% maintenance OPEX saving when it’s running in full force in 2019.

Pioneers

We’re also collaborating with other pioneering customers to help them capitalize on digitalizing their operations. One of these is drilling contractor, Maersk Drilling. We’re in the process of co-creating a digital twin of 110 key assets on nine of their rigs, enabling them to gain a greater insight into operations and explore new ways to increase efficiency.

As the new levels of efficiency translate directly into reduced OPEX and added revenues, I firmly believe that digitalization is a much-needed currency for companies to make the most of new opportunities in the offshore industry, and thrive in these increasingly competitive times. Another enlightening OTC has shown that innovation is gathering pace across offshore. I look forward to witnessing how the industry develops into the future.

 

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