The ‘connected worker’: the future of the oil and gas workforce

Operations and maintenance activities on Australia’s natural gas infrastructure is expected to grow substantially by 2020. So how can gas companies ensure efficient and cost-effective solutions for the workforce responsible for undertaking these operations?

According to research from Accenture and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), Australia is on the brink of becoming one of the world’s leading energy producers. By 2020, annual natural gas production is expected to reach 128 Bcm, nearly double the estimated production in 2015 of 66 Bcm. And, according to Accenture estimates, annual LNG sector operating expenditure will increase from close to $1.3 billion in 2014 to $4.9 billion by early 2020.

In addition to the growth in operational services required to support Australia’s new LNG assets, a significant amount of natural gas infrastructure – including wells and pipelines – will be in need of ongoing maintenance. By 2020 an estimated 15,000 km of new gas pipeline will have been built, in addition to the 33,000 km already in operation today. As the operations phase ramps up over the next five years, operations and maintenance activities are projected to grow substantially.

With this expected surge in production and associated operating expenses, it’s up to oil and gas companies to adopt innovative solutions that will ensure they are efficient, cost effective and most importantly avoid deferred production. That’s where the connected field worker capability comes in.

By enabling a connected field workforce that can use smart devices, the Internet of Things (IoT) enabled assets and optimising artificial intelligence – termed ‘new IT’, whole new levels of operational performance and safety can be achieved. To give an idea of the capabilities and benefits of a connected worker, take a look at a day in the life of a connected worker deployed to repair and maintain equipment.

  • The artificial intelligence (AI) planning and scheduling bot picks up from the IoT sensors that a well needs manual maintenance attention and creates a work order. It determines which worker should execute the work.
  • The connected worker begins the day by logging on through a smart device and receives their integrated schedule of work for the day and the associated route that they should take. Their control centre knows precisely who has logged on, when and in which location.
  • The worker’s device interacts with smart sensors in the work environment to verify that they are in the right location and have the right components, tools and materials to complete the tasks. It will warn them if they need extra safety equipment or if they are not authorised to be in certain areas.
  • The worker has easy access to smart operating procedures, and both generic and asset-specific instructions and checklists either on their device or through a wearable that can display pertinent information in the worker’s field of vision. Carrying hundreds of pages of unwieldy manuals is a thing of the past.
  • At the point of repair, digital coaching capabilities can be provided through a smart device or wearable, enabling the worker to interact virtually with offsite expertise. It can be a huge step forward in safety and efficiency, especially for less experienced workers.
  • Once they’ve completed their tasks, the worker simply updates the work order on their device, captures a picture of the asset and adds any comments. All of this is managed seamlessly in ‘on-line’ and ‘offline’ modes of connection.
  •  
  • The AI bot then analyses time taken on the work order, where the worker is and what are the highest priority jobs to be done and optimises the workers schedule; either directing the worker to continue their preassigned route or to a higher priority job.
  • In hazardous and large industrial work environments, the worker would also wear location and hazmat sensors that can monitor, for example, levels of environmental toxin exposure, as well as the worker’s location. This information is provided to the control centre personnel who have a holistic and consistent view of the safety and well-being of all workers.

This scenario demonstrates how a connected worker would be able to complete tasks in a more efficient manner, saving time and in the long run, operational costs. They would also be proactively directed to jobs that maximise production. Maintenance will become a faster process, reducing headaches for oil and gas companies.

With this expected surge in production and associated operating expenses, it’s up to oil and gas companies to adopt innovative solutions that will ensure they are efficient, cost effective and most importantly avoid deferred production. That’s where the connected field worker capability comes in.

Deploying these type of new technologies among a workforce can create challenges. There are three key areas that are essential in determining how to prioritise and implement your connected industrial worker journey.

Understand the outcomes that you’re looking to influence
Any organisation setting out on the connected worker journey should start by identifying its business objectives. Once these objectives are understood, an organisation should identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) most important for delivering them. Take the example of an oilfield worker tasked with maintaining a pump, the KPI could be extend the mean time between failures of the pump. To prevent the pump’s failure, information is collected including its location, the nature of previous failures, its performance over time and its maintenance and repair history. Using analytics, recommended preventative maintenance tasks and operating envelopes are developed. The workers’ activities and pump conditions are monitored and the analytics refines the tasks and envelopes over time.

Identify your data requirements
This means identifying what data already exists in the organisation and what new data might be required. Which existing systems can be tapped into and used to feed data to workers’ devices? What formats are these different data sources in – will new interfaces be required to translate them into a common standard for practical use? Where there are gaps in the data, what would you need to do to capture, format and distribute what’s required?

Bring it all together in a solution that addresses targeted outcomes
Building a connected worker solution begins and ends with the workers themselves. Don’t overlook how the workforce feels about the introduction of new technologies that may be unfamiliar and could disrupt established working patterns. Instead, engage them in the design of the solution from the outset. Demonstrate your solution’s potential to provide real world, day-to-day value for each worker, for example, by highlighting safety improvements.

In the face of growing production and cost pressures, taking advantage of ‘New IT’ to create connected worker capabilities will save operational costs and create workforce efficiency. The years to come will continue to be challenging for the oil and gas sector, so organisations need to embrace the connected worker now.

For more information on Accenture’s gas industry research, visit www.accenture.com

Enter your details to subscribe to the free fortnightly Gas Today e-newsletter

Thank you for signing up for the Gas Today Online Update.