Offshore vessel owners are already investing in digitalisation, but supply chain-wide digitalisation could help the entire industry reduce costs
Digital transformation, sometimes described as the fourth industrial revolution, is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and interact. It is disrupting almost every industrial sector, affecting many parts of our lives and creating new markets and new opportunities.
However, despite decades of innovation and engineering firsts, the offshore oil and gas industry has been slow to embrace digital technology compared with the others, such as the automotive or aerospace industries.
The offshore oil and gas sector also has huge volumes of raw, processed and real-time data, but until recently, as The Oil & Gas Technology Centre’s digital transformation solution centre manager Steven Ashley noted, the industry has struggled to manage, integrate and visualise this data and really benefit from it.
“We need to embrace the digital transformation,” said Mr Ashley, noting that this is true for almost every segment of the offshore oil and gas industry, not least its supply chain. That includes the way equipment and technology used offshore gets offshore.
“Investing in the type of data-driven solutions that are already used in other industries will transform the way we work in oil and gas. Detailed operational insights will help us to predict the future with greater confidence.
Using digital technology will drive improved performance, increase uptime, optimise production, enhance safety and reduce the cost of doing business.
All this represents a significant challenge – one that The Oil & Gas Technology Centre was specifically set up to address with the help and support of industry. It is working on six key themes to determine what the future will look like and identifying the technology barriers that will need to be overcome. These include a digitally enabled supply chain addressing the need to drive transformation in the supply chain towards a connected, smart and highly efficient supply chain ecosystem.
Mr Ashley made the point that, outside the offshore oil and gas industry, supply chain management has undergone an unprecedented revolution. Companies such as Amazon, Airbnb and Uber have disrupted their industries in ways that were unimaginable only a decade ago. They have changed the way we think about supply and demand. Now, The Oil & Gas Technology Centre argues, a digitally enabled vision of the supply chain in the offshore oil and gas industry and a similar level of transformation are required.
This would include the optimisation of logistics, onshore and offshore, through to the track and trace of individual items of equipment from a warehouse to the quayside to a vessel and to an offshore installation, ultimately including automation of invoicing and payment.
Mr Ashley and his colleagues argue that a digitally enabled supply chain will reduce inventory and costs, increase efficiency and agility and deliver greater resilience. “There will be risks – and rewards – so we need to collaborate,” said Mr Ashley, “and invest in and adopt the best digital solutions. We need to change our business models, and we need to start now.”
Looking ahead, the centre sees much greater use being made of robotics, or smart warehousing, drones, self-driving trucks, 3D printing, blockchain and unmanned or what it describes as ‘semi-manned’ vessels.
Elements of this digital supply chain have already been described by OSJ. Wärtsilä recently demonstrated remote-controlled operation of a platform supply vessel in the North Sea using a satellite link from California.
In December 2017, Kongsberg Digital acquired a 34% ownership share in NSG Digital, a subsidiary of the supply base and logistics company NorSea Group, which is controlled by Wilhelmsen. Together, the companies plan to digitalise the supply chain in the oil and gas and offshore wind industries and are collaborating on a new logistics system called NSG End-to-End, which will be offered as part of Kongsberg Digital’s application platform Kognifai to improve logistics management through increasing information sharing and collaboration in the supply chain.
As OSJ also highlighted in 2017, Peterson has developed a suite of software and programs for offshore vessel supply chain optimisation. The energy logistics provider was one of the first to implement paperless documentation and fleet management software and has now developed fleet management and vessel planning software to improve efficiencies across the offshore oil services sector. Working closely with technology partner Streamba, a Peterson company, it has introduced a process platform known as VOR, which it describes as “Google for the supply chain”. The platform interrogates others across the supply chain to provide customers with a transparent, streamlined view from the point of order for a piece of equipment to seeing what space is available on a vessel to ship it offshore.
Delegates at the 2018 Annual OSJ Conference heard that offshore vessels could be supplied with spares using 3D printers. The vessels that are used to deliver equipment to offshore installations could be remotely controlled.
Kongsberg Maritime’s sales manager Sondre Larsson told delegates that developments in vessel controls, battery packs, automation and navigation systems are driving design of remotely controlled vessels. He explained that Kongsberg had worked with naval architects at Robert Allan to produce a concept for remotely controlled fire-fighting vessels. Other applications for autonomous offshore vessels will depend on regulations and market needs, said Mr Larsson.
Digitalisation and use of data is being enthusiastically embraced by offshore shipowners, including Bourbon, which plans to upgrade more than 100 offshore support vessels with remotely monitored dynamic positioning (DP) and better connectivity
The three-year investment is part of Bourbon’s strategy to rationalise its fleet. Those that are modern enough will be enhanced with better connectivity and remote monitoring. The company hopes to capitalise on digitalisation by creating a ‘smart fleet’ of modern supply vessels.
Those that it is upgrading will get new VSAT connectivity and bridge systems. Part of this investment will involve upgrading the vessel’s DP systems for automated control and remote monitoring.
Bourbon worked with class society Bureau Veritas, technology supplier Kongsberg Maritime and Airbus subsidiary Apsys on a DP remote monitoring pilot project using platform supply vessel (PSV) Bourbon Explorer 508. This involved updating Kongsberg DP systems on this PSV for remote monitoring and verifying DP operations. A pilot project is being undertaken while the vessel operates on a long-term charter to BP in Trinidad.
The monitoring technology was developed by Kongsberg Maritime. It collects data from the DP system that can be used on board and by onshore support teams to improve DP operations. The company expects this to improve safety and reduce fuel and DP maintenance costs. Remote monitoring will become an automatic function of DP systems on the vessels.
Apsys is helping the partners to identify and mitigate cyber security risks linked to data collection and communication between vessels and onshore infrastructure. It will also help Bureau Veritas create certification and class notations covering cyber security.
Other benefits to Bourbon from DP monitoring includes using the data it collects as an advisory tool for DP management and to optimise DP configuration to reduce fuel consumption.
During the pilot project, the ship’s DP system will be monitored 24 hours a day from Kongsberg Maritime’s offices in Norway. However, as more vessels are added to the programme, Bourbon says the initiative will reach a critical size at which it can remotely monitor DP operations on its vessels itself. It is planning to build a remote monitoring centre to do so.
Once this facility is completed, Bourbon intends to extend its remote management capabilities to monitor engineroom machinery and maintain bridge systems. It said it sees opportunities to support ship’s crew with advice and use data to plan maintenance.