We live in an exciting period where we are currently standing on the brink of the fourth industrial revolution. Its size, scale and complexity offer something that human kind has never experienced before.
The first industrial revolution was the advent of the steam engine allowing for the first time massive power to mechanise production. The second utilised electric power to allow Henry Ford to master the moving assembly line and ushered in the age of mass production. The third utilised electronics and information technology to automate production and can be measured from starting in the 1950s. Now a fourth industrial revolution is building on the third, the digital revolution.
Compared with the previous revolutions the fourth is occurring at a blistering pace. It is exponential in terms of time and scale compared to those preceding it and will change our lives in terms of breadth and depth that, at present, are difficult to comprehend.
The oil field has been part of these revolutions since the first successful oil well using a new technology known as a drilling derrick, was drilled by Drake and his investors in Pennsylvania in 1859. It has seen its own technology revolutions as part of the world-wide progress but as any insider knows it remains a very conservative industry in the uptake of any new idea or technology. However, is our turn coming with the fourth revolution to overcome this for the benefit of the industry and consumer?
Right now, we have the technology to digitise our offshore worker, from body/helmet cams, Ex-rated tablets for digital inspections, blue tooth enabled sensors and inspection equipment etc. We have an enormous opportunity to harvest, manipulate and utilise real time digital data to optimise production, extend the life of our assets, reduce incidents and accidents offshore and reduce human intervention in the hazardous offshore environment.
We now have a 4G network in the North Sea, and along with fibre optic links we are now we are wired for this revolution. We now need to populate this IT infrastructure with robotic operators, automatic drone inspections, and autonomous underwater vehicles. This hardware exists but we need to overcome our conservatism to reap the benefits.
We can today equip an offshore operator with an Ex rated tablet, along with an electronic work pack for him/her to execute their daily routines digitally, relaying their activity/data/reports to the office in real time. But today we still send people with a pen, paper and standalone camera to perform these tasks manually, submitting native files after a potential 3 week trip offshore to be eventually uploaded and made useful in a client operating system. A wholly inefficient process to what could be done real time digitally.
It is essential as an industry that we grasp the digital potential before us and embrace it to maintain our sustainability in the global market, as an investible hydrocarbon basin that has longevity. Otherwise we face the risk of a spike in operating costs and a flight of capital from our market from which it will never recover.
With the advent of champions such as the OGTC, we have the ability now to break down the conservatism that exists in our organisations and harness this digital potential for the benefit of all: the whole supply chain – from operator, service contractor and consumer. I predict that the oil industry will be swept up in the fourth revolution and proper digital transformation will be evident in our basin in 2018.
Richard Bell is the managing director of Apollo Technical Software.