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Old Industry, New Tricks: AR and VR in O&G
On September 1, 2017 / By Mary Marionneaux

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Man wears a virtual reality headset that gives him the opportunity to experience the world in a new way. He operates the glasses by toucing them on the side. Content shows up in front of the man.

Technology seems to be moving at such a fast pace it may feel hard to keep up. Some may disagree – maybe they thought by now we would all be living in a world just like the Jetsons, with flying cars to get swiftly to and from any destination, and houses equipped with friendly robots to wait hand-and-foot on their masters. No doubt some group of millennials in Silicon Valley dressed in flip flops, jeans, and hoodies is working hard on creating these “Jetson-type” technologies, but there are plenty technological advances to keep everyone occupied and inspired in the meantime.

As fast as technology moves, it is no secret that the Oil and Gas Industry is typically a slow adopter to many new technologies. Making do with what you have and the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality is part of the industry’s culture. Why spend big bucks on today’s new technology when tomorrow’s is just around the corner? Not to mention newer technology is never tried and true, so companies realize they are taking a risk when implementing.

As it stands today, the Oil and Gas industry is not booming, and oil prices remain low. There may still be billions to be made, but companies are rightly cautious to avoid major expenses. Yet, a case can be made for shelling out some cash for technology in order to permanently reduce costs in the future. The only question is, in which technologies should Oil and Gas companies invest?

Two recent technologies to note are Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. These terms may be familiar to those gamers acquainted with the world of video games, but for the rest of the population, here are the definitions:

  • Augmented Reality (AR) – taking a physical object and applying a digital filter to that object (via glasses, a cell phone, an iPad, etc.) in order to enhance the object and/or reveal and track more information about the object.
    • Example: Snapchat filters which recognize your face through the screen on your phone, and add features to your face like dog ears and a tongue, a crown and scepter, etc.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) – a simulated image or setting that an individual can explore and interact with using special equipment, typically some sort of headset.
    • Example: Many different VR systems exist in the video-gaming world; however, Samsung GearVR took a different approach. Samsung’s technology and headset can be used with various Android smartphones to generate a mobile VR experience by applying lenses to the top of the smart phone’s screen. Users can then have a VR experience through their smart phone (e.g. swimming with dolphins, walking through a haunted house, or even standing in the middle of a battlefield).

It is easy to imagine the applications of these two technologies in all things entertainment, but the Oil and Gas Industry can also benefit greatly. Companies should take advantage of data-driven tools to maximize production while minimizing downtime without compromising safety standards. These technologies will allow companies to decrease the amount of issues with their equipment, increase process efficiencies, simplify their organization, and decrease accidents or incidents on the job. Sound too good to be true? The sections below explain how the improvements can be realized.

Increased Equipment Life and Decreased Maintenance Costs

Purchasing and maintaining or fixing equipment on a drill rig is extremely costly. So much so that when oil prices are down and cash in is low, maintaining equipment becomes a low priority – or is cut altogether. The logic is to put off maintenance so as not to incur costs until oil prices rise again. But the result? Unsafe equipment and much higher maintenance costs down the road.

Today, visibility into the life and history of a piece of equipment is sitting in a system that may or may not be updated regularly. Even if the data is regularly input, it is likely still inaccurate. However, with Augmented Reality, finding and tracking data on a piece of equipment becomes both easy and accurate. Imagine looking at a wellhead through glasses or a tablet application and instantly having visibility into valve pressure, lubrication, etc. There would also be the ability to determine if any cracks are present due to corrosion. An operator could look at a hydraulic pump and see operating pressure on the tablet’s screen. While standing in front of any piece of equipment on the job site, all the relevant information around this equipment can be captured and tracked in real-time. Maintenance costs can be kept low by identifying issues as soon as – if not before – they occur, saving time and money.

Increased Process Efficiency

Process efficiencies can increase greatly from these technologies as well. Tasks that typically require a significant amount of time and effort become simpler and faster with the use of AR and VR where it makes sense. Google Glass first came out 2014 and, while not a best-seller for average consumers, it allowed for significant reduction in the production time for Boeing, one of the largest global aircraft manufacturers. Google Glass is a pair of glasses that act as a type of hands-free smart phone and respond to spoken commands. When building an aircraft, each plan requires an intricate and complicated set of wires and other materials to be manually put together with the strictest precision. Before Google Glass, a technician would print out a diagram of the wires or have a laptop open for reference, looking back and forth between their screen and their task at hand. By implementing Google Glass, technicians could see the diagram through the lens of their glasses and work on wiring and constructing the aircraft while following a live tutorial. Production time was reduced 25% and error rates dropped drastically. And that was three years ago; today’s AR devices offer even more functionality.

Simplified and Safe Organization

Many times a specialized service technician is needed to fix a piece of equipment. For an offshore rig, flying a specialist out to perform the fix is costly and dangerous. With Augmented Reality, a specialist does not have to be physically present on the job site to perform the fix. The specialist can gain visibility of the equipment through the same tablet with which the issue was identified. Holding the tablet up to the equipment, the specialist can see what is causing the issues and walk an on-site operator through the steps to resolve the issue. This minimizes the need for a large amount of specialists who need to be available to travel around wherever a need arises. Instead, all specialists can be located in one central hub, available virtually, anytime an issue arises.

In addition, companies will find they can move away from employing teams of specialists and take advantage of a large range of specialists through platforms. Many service and support companies are taking advantage of crowd sourcing, or using the internet to share information and request the help of a specialist or expert. Crowd sourcing is the 21st century equivalent to asking a mechanic neighbor to help change a car’s oil. RigUp is a service-driven crowd-sourcing platform that allows Operators to sort from a list of specialists and choose the right contractor for a specific job. Instead of hiring a large team of people and training them with highly specialized skills, companies should consider using platforms to source one or several specialists with a specific skill-set on an as-needed basis. (For further insights on Platforms, read 4 Reasons Why Corporations Are Losing in the New World of Platforms and Five Tips for Building the Right Multi-Sided Platform for Your Company.)

Furthermore, technology can change the game of training employees and reinforcing safety procedures in the Oil and Gas Industry. Virtual Reality companies can create digital, 3D versions of each offshore rig and simulate many situations an employee might encounter on each of these rigs. Without this technology, it would be difficult to train an employee for emergencies like hurricanes, glaciers, blow-outs, and other dangerous and emergency scenarios. On a more basic level, this Virtual Reality training has proven more effective than traditional classroom training, as workers can get acclimated to very nearly their actual environment without having to be there every day. The more practice and experience a worker can gain in his or her environment, the less likely they are to have an accident.

Today, BP is utilizing Virtual Reality software to simulate the exact conditions of a drilling operation – same rocks, temperatures, pressures, and ocean currents – that mimic completed jobs to provide a more accurate and realistic training experience. With this technology, drilling teams practice critical jobs that replicate past scenarios and allow for entire teams to work together in a group environment just as they would on a real job. BP realizes there is no better way to train employees than by letting them experience and handle actual situations they would on the rig. While the implementation of this Virtual Reality software is recent, BP expects to see a significant drop in accidents and incidents.

In this era of pervasive data, implementing the proper technology to better analyze the data that drives effective decision making is crucial. As with all technology, the hardware and software that drive AR and VR technology development will continue to improve over time. The biggest challenge – but also the biggest opportunity for success – is in determining where in your company it would be best to apply technology to get the most value. The opportunities are out there, and there is not a better time to search and implement.

Trenegy takes a non-traditional approach to consulting, helping our clients think outside the box and to utilize available technologies to eliminate inefficiencies across the organization. Find out for yourself info@trenegy.com