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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 and houses equipped with friendly robots. No doubt some millennials in Silicon Valley dressed in flip flops and hoodies are working hard on creating these Jetson-type” technologies, but there are plenty of 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 slow to adopt 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 in potential revenue, 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 (AR) and virtual reality (VR). These terms may be familiar to 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 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 Gear VR 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 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 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 (or 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 bestseller 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 acts as a type of hands-free smart phone and responds 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

A specialized service technician is often needed to fix a piece of equipment. For an offshore rig, flying a specialist out to perform the fix is costly and dangerous. With AR, 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 virtual hub and are available any time 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 crowdsourcing, 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 crowdsourcing 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 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.

Furthermore, technology can change the game of training employees and reinforcing safety procedures in the oil and gas industry. VR 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 scenarios. On a more basic level, this VR training has proven more effective than traditional classroom training, as workers can get acclimated to their environment without having to be there every day. The more practice and experience a worker can gain in their environment, the less likely they are to have an accident.

Today, BP is utilizing VR 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 VR 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 drives AR and VR technology development will continue to improve over time. The biggest challenge and opportunity is determining where your company would gain the most value from technology. The opportunities are out there, and there is not a better time to search and implement.

Trenegy’s non-traditional approach to consulting helps clients think outside the box and utilize available technologies to eliminate inefficiencies. Find out more: info@trenegy.com.

*For further insight on platforms, read: 4 Reasons Why Corporations Are Losing in the New World of Platforms and 5 Tips for Building the Right Multi-sided Platform for Your Company.

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