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A digital foundation for the chemical, oil and gas industry

March 15, 2017
Digital architecture builds on a foundation that is pillared and secure

What's so great about transforming perfectly good, real-world, analog process values for pressure, temperature and flow into digitalized ones and zeros? Much easier data accessibility, flexibility, analysis and communications for more optimal and profitable operations, that's what.

"Operational expenditures (OpEx) in the worldwide chemical industries is about $1.6 trillion per year, and OpEx in the oil and gas industries is about $600 billion per year, so making any little improvement in them is an opportunity worth billions of dollars," said Rami-Johan Jokela, head of digitalization, ABB.

At the same time, "research by McKinsey finds that 69% of oil, gas, chemical and other process industry projects have been running about 20% over budget in recent years; 79% of these projects have been missing their schedules, often by months; and 30% of their control loops are broken," added Havard Devold, group vice president and digital lead for oil, gas and chemicals, ABB.

These were some of the challenges explored by a three-person panel of experts from Microsoft and ABB, who also described how their partnership is benefiting process control users in the chemical, oil and gas industries at ABB Customer World in Houston. The panel included Jokela, Devold and Dania Kodeih, enterprise and solutions architect for oil and gas, Microsoft.

How the digital house is built

"Cybersecurity is on everyone's mind because more connections means more opening for possible threats." Microsoft’s Dania Kodeih explained at ABB Customer World in Houston how the partnership between her company and ABB will create a stronger defense against hackers.

"Of course, Microsoft’s definition of 'architecture' started with information technology, but the digital revolution is now bringing in more demands for efficiency from the operational technology side," said Kodeih. "And, because Microsoft's mission is to help every individual do more, we're developing strategies and digital architectures for oil and gas, chemicals and other industries."

Kodeih added that digital transformation in the process industries rests on three pillars: personal computing, handheld devices and new interfaces; intelligent cloud platforms; and reinventing productivity and business processes to give everyone access to the data they need to optimize their operations.

"ABB has been driving toward digitalization for 20 years in oil, gas and chemical applications, but these energy industries are now being transformed and diversified by shale oil and gas and renewable and alternative energy sources, even as they join with Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 technologies," said ABB’s Devold. "These are all new opportunities, and we need them. This is especially true because low oil and gas prices mean we have to become more efficient and develop smarter approaches and solutions. Even if prices were high, if we can save on maintenance and increase productivity, why shouldn't we?"

Kodeih explained that many industrial digitalization efforts will rely on intelligent cloud computing platforms. "These aren't random collections of software objects, but are instead organized environments with different components and functions like managing data and analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) that can provide answers to difficult problems," said Kodeih. "We're taking a lot of information that was originally from human interactions and adding it to intelligent systems, extracting content and then working with ABB to bring that intelligence to the edge and the field. This has been done by technical specialties in many other fields, and now it's coming to oil, gas and chemicals."

Powerful partnership

ABB’s Jokela reported that the two companies have several major tasks they're carrying out to make their partnership useful to end users. "ABB comes from the industrial systems side, and so digitalization meant we needed partners and platform tools,” he said. “ABB runs below the cloud, so we partnered with Microsoft, which runs above the cloud, so we wouldn't have to worry about maintenance.”

Devold said, “With so many projects running over budget and late, we have proof that our traditional execution model is often broken. We now have plants with hundreds of thousands of data points. Digitalization technology is the only way to handle this."

Beyond aiding process applications directly, Microsoft’s Kodeih reported, "Digitalization can help with personal safety by improving training with immersive, in-environment simulations; help technicians follow and track procedures and check off completed tasks; measure vital signs and fatigue with wearable devices; and help monitor, track and provide alerts about invisible hazards like natural gas leaks."

Security for digitalization

Of course, whenever digitalization or cloud computing is mentioned, the next question is about cybersecurity. Fortunately, ABB and Microsoft reported this base is covered, as well.

"Cybersecurity is on everyone's mind because more connections means more opening for possible threats. Microsoft begins by assuming that systems are compromised, looking for breaches and taking a holistic view of security," said Kodeih. "We look at every device and process, and we establish security with trust, compliance, reliability and response. We're also bringing machine-learning techniques to cybersecurity because there's more and more telemetry to gather."

And ABB follows up with endpoint cybersecurity at the lower levels, added Jokela.

"Microsoft probably gets the most hacking attempts of anyone, and so we've learned that you have to expect, prevent and address them as they happen,” added Kodeih. “Systems must be layered, so if there's a breach, it can be minimized. It's said that the cloud services aren't secure, but they really make cybersecurity tasks more transparent, and so they can respond more effectively."

The panelists agreed that digitalization of process applications and ABB and Microsoft's partnership are really all about simplifying tasks that would otherwise be a lot more complex. "Digitalization is going to be increasingly easy despite all the different elements users are handling," added Jokela. "Platforms will give way to cloud computing as a service. This is all about creating value, and that's what we've been doing all along."

For some added digitalization know-how, the panel also recommended ABB's recent whitepaper, "Next level oil, gas and chemical: harnessing the power of digitalization to thrive in the new normal of low oil prices," which is available on the front page at www.abb.com/oilandgas.

Download the full report from ABB Customer World 2017

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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