- By Melissa Landon
- February 24, 2021
At this year’s ARC Industry Forum, held virtually, discussions covered how pandemic-related disruptions have pushed digitalization efforts, enhancing what can be delivered. Insights came from 200 speakers, including ExxonMobil, ADNOC and many others.
The Annual ARC Industry Forum celebrated its 25th year and hosted the forum, this year titled “Accelerating Digital Transformation in a Post-COVID World,” online for the first time. “We have held this forum in Orlando, Florida, for the past 24 years. We are excited to bring this one right to you wherever you are,” said Andy Chatha, president of ARC Advisory Group. “ARC has planned to host all future forums in hybrid form.”
The event boasted 2,500 attendees, 400 companies, 200 speakers and panelists, and 75 corporate and media sponsors. As always, ARC delivered an impressive lineup of speakers. This year, they championed the phrase “IT-OT fusion” to describe the ongoing process of uniting information technology and operational technology into a single entity to address digitalization.
The pandemic as a springboard into further digitalization
During the event’s first keynote on Tuesday, Feb. 9, industry leaders shared how they are leveraging new technologies and processes to transform their business and manufacturing operations with digitalization —a process that has been accelerated by the pandemic. “Our customers are facing the biggest challenges of our time,” said Craig Hayman, CEO, AVEVA. “They say, ‘We want to reduce operation expense while increasing safety, reducing risk and providing more certainty.’ And that means more technology and putting that in the hands of workers.”
“While our digital transformation started long before 2020, the challenges of last year had a few significant impacts on that journey,” said Nick Clausi, vice president of engineering for ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. “It accelerated the rate at which we were deploying digital technology, and it revealed value in digital tech that we didn’t recognize.” Clausi noted that ahead of the pandemic, ExxonMobil had begun testing some tools for remote support but [managers] were hesitant because they believed remote support may not be as effective. However, the pandemic showed them that they could do a lot more work remotely than they previously thought, and the time efficiency allowed them to better leverage technical resources.
Like most organizations, ExxonMobil limited the number of people at its sites during the pandemic, necessitating the increased application of robotic inspection techniques that were under development. “Our Baton Rouge facility is home to the world’s largest IPA unit, which is a key ingredient in hand sanitizers,” Clausi said. “We were able to leverage our remote connectivity tools with our advanced dynamic matrix control capability to rapidly and remotely update control applications. We did that in sync with physical modifications we were making to the unit. We rapidly expanded the production capability of that IPA unit.”
Clausi also recognized potential opportunities in autonomous operations moving forward.
Operators are tasked with running fairly complex processes safely and efficiently around the clock. They need to synthesize large quantities of data and manipulate potentially hundreds of variables to optimize an outcome, making this a rich area to leverage digital technology. ExxonMobil is working on ISOP, or Intelligent, Self-Optimizing Plants. “The goal here is to take advantage of cognitive learning and adaptive capabilities based on AI and machine learning to automate, reduce human error, and make better decisions,” Clausi said.
Clausi discussed three projects: the Smart Lane Operator Assistant, which is currently being deployed; Cognitive Computer Vision, which ExxonMobil is currently piloting; and Sofia – Virtual Operations Assistant, which ExxonMobil is developing. Ultimately, ExxonMobil’s vision is a standards-based, open, secure and interoperable distributed computing system (DCS) architecture.
“We tend to simultaneously overestimate the risk and underestimate the value of our digital technologies and transformation,” Clausi said. “And that’s a really important lesson for all of us to keep in mind as we pursue some of the more challenging digital technologies and applications.”
Opportunities across the oil and gas value chain
Alan Nelson, chief technology officer of Abu Dabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), spoke next about how ADNOC is applying technology to frame the opportunities, the challenges and the call for increased digitalization that the pandemic has presented. Nelson emphasized that “digital and AI are not about replacing people but about enhancing what people can deliver.”
ADNOC is one of the world’s leading energy producers and a primary catalyst of growth and development for the UAE. “There are multiple opportunities to harness the power of digital and AI across the entire oil and gas value chain,” Nelson said. ADNOC uses digital and AI to unlock new opportunities in the subsurface, optimize production capacity, compare historical and live data to enhance drilling performance, monitor delivery against production targets, link the subsurface with surface operations, bring together processing and refining output with customer demands, manage inventories and product delivery, track deliver of our cargo around the world, and track and manage health and safety performance.
Nelson introduced Panorama, which he called the gateway to ADNOC’s digital transformation. “It represents the single source of accurate and timely information across our value chain,” he said. “It visualizes and streamlines our entire operations and our critical business information on a single 50-meter video wall in one secure facility. It puts big data at the fingertips of our sharpest minds.”
ADNOC also applied Panorama as part of its COVID-19 response. Its predictive AI models could predict, track, and model COVID-19 infections and recovery progress and simulate scenarios to practice health and safety measures.
ADNOC has also made advances in predictive maintenance with Centralized Predictive Analytics & Diagnostics (CPAD), which provides real-time, centralized predictive monitoring for critical plant equipment for all ADNOC companies. It uses AI algorithms to predict critical equipment anomalies ahead of time, as well as a smart expert system to deliver automated predictive maintenance advisories.
Nelson noted six major impacts that COVID-19 has had on the oil and gas sector: production and margins; business continuity; sustainability, health and safety; human interface; finances and forecasting; and access to real-time data. “To enable the massive step change in global development, our industry must think differently, embrace disruption, and harness the power of digital and AI solutions,” Nelson said.
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