As I rode the elevator down to the hotel lobby on the opening Monday of the Offshore Technology Conference, I dropped my OTC name badge on the ground. A fellow riding the elevator with me said, "OTC, huh." I said, "Yeah, are you in town for the show as well?" He said, "Yes, I’m curious to see how the turnout is."
With oil prices lingering just above $50 a barrel, this was the sentiment of many attending last week’s Offshore Technology Conference in Houston. And while attendance was down a good bit from the year prior — a modest 94,700 this year compared to 108,300 in 2014 — there was still plenty of activity and plenty to see, as the offshore industry is clearly optimistic about its long-range future regardless of near-term oil prices. Here are five interesting things I learned during my two days at the show.
- Who knew enclosures had so much to do with Industry 4.0? I met with a company by the name of Rittal while roaming the vast exhibit spaces at OTC. Rittal, a privately held German company founded in 1906, makes a range of enclosures for industrial applications. I thought it would be a real snoozer of a meeting; I mean what can you really say about a stainless steel metal box? Apparently, quite a bit. In fact, Rittal has a whole Industry 4.0 approach, which focuses on Planning/Project Management, System Technology (CAD, SV models, SK models, et al.), Design Interface, Machining/Mechanics, Mounting Plates, Wiring, and Documentation. It’s really quite amazing how Rittal has positioned what would seem to be a very peripheral and traditional element of industry into something that makes sense in a world where Smart Factories and the Industrial Internet of Things reign supreme. Learn more about Rittal’s Industry 4.0 approach, here.
- Big Data is big business: I’ve long since grown weary of the buzz phrase "Big Data." But weary as I may be, the role of data in all aspects of modern life is undeniable. For industry in particular, the efficient gathering, storage and analysis of process, system, and equipment data represents a huge opportunity for optimization. At the same time, inefficiencies around data are a huge threat for industrial organizations, as effective/ineffective management of 1s and 0s will play a big role in determining the winners and losers of the future. Suppliers are responding accordingly, with the most obvious examples of industrial data analytics being in the areas of predictive maintenance and condition monitoring.
National Instruments, for example, was showcasing its InsightCM platform, which is a software solution for online condition monitoring applications with integrated hardware options for monitoring critical and ancillary rotating equipment. The National Instruments approach focuses on giving the system designer a base-level platform that is easily customizable to integrate with any systems and/or devices that might need to plug into the underlying architecture. Rockwell Automation had its vMonitor Digital Oilfield solution on display. The solution, a product born out of Rockwell’s 2013 acquisition of Vmonitor, provides wellhead, pipeline and remote tank level monitoring, as well as artificial lift monitoring and analysis systems. Through its Optilift RPC functionality, the vMonitor solution leverages surface-based sensors that use algorithms to evaluate conditions below the surface and downhole in offshore applications.
And GE Marine hosted a press conference, during which it made the case that data analytics provide a tremendous opportunity to improve oil recovery rates and drive efficiencies in the oil & gas space overall. Ashley Haynes-Gaspar, general manager of software and services for GE Measurement & Control, said data analytics represents an opportunity to optimize oil recovery rates. She said while recovery rates are currently in the 35-40 percent range, just a 1 percent gain would mean 80 billion barrels of oil or the equivalent of a three-year global supply. GE is betting that data can be leveraged to drive incremental gains that produce big-time end results.
- Offshore equipment moves from the platform to the sea floor: While visiting the Rockwell Automation booth at OTC, I was interested to learn that pumps and equipment are being moved to the sea floor for offshore applications, as opposed to operating from an offshore platform. The steadily increasing distance between subsea oil reservoirs and the topside control system on the drilling platform is making it more efficient, in some cases, to locate equipment on the sea floor. Given deepwater complexity – driven by more and smarter equipment at work directly on the seabed – data exchange between subsea systems and the topside central processing unit (CPU) requires a processing and information management solution optimized for high performance. Locating more production processing on the seabed means more intelligent, more complex instrumentation. The greater the device intelligence, the greater the amount of data used for feedback, diagnostics, maintenance and redundancies. Rockwell is currently engaged in providing solutions to enable offshore systems to optimize the efficiency and reliability of subsea installations.
- The ever-changing landscape of LNG: I remember attending an ISA conference back in 2006, and there was much discussion about Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and all of the LNG terminals proposed for construction in the United States. At that time, those proposed terminals were expected to receive LNG, and now many of them are being used to ship LNG overseas, as the natural gas boom in the U.S. has generated an export market. At OTC this year, much was being made of the Floating Liquefied Natural Gas (FLNG) terminal currently being developed by PETRONAS, the Malaysian national oil company. The PETRONAS FLNG terminal, expected to be completed this year, will be the first offshore natural gas terminal able to produce, liquefy, store and transfer LNG at sea before carriers ship it directly to end-use markets. Suppliers are watching this development closely, and some are developing technology specifically targeting FLNG applications. For example, the Industrial segment of Trelleborg Sealing Solutions is developing a flexible hose specifically designed for FLNG applications. The composite cryogenic hose features an insulation layer and embedded optical fiber sensing technology for leak detection and monitoring. The hose is designed to enable high flowrates to efficiently offload in FLNG applications where changing weather conditions require LNG to be offloaded quickly and efficiently.
- System integrators continue to gain traction: If you’re a reader of Flow Control magazine, you’ve likely seen our regular OEM/System Integrator supplement. Part of my effort at OTC was to prospect for content relevant for upcoming editions of the OEM/System Integrator, and I was pleased to find a significant emphasis on the system integrator community at the show. At each booth I visited, I made a point to ask some questions about whether the vendor had a system-integrator focus. Based on these discussions, it’s clear that the system integrator community is rapidly growing, driven in large part by the much-publicized loss of engineering talent to retirement combined with the increasing complexity of automated industrial systems, which many end-users are hard-pressed to design with in-house resources alone. We look forward to continuing to develop content that is relevant for the OEM and system integrator communities as we aim to more directly serve this growing market. OTC produced many article leads that you will likely see in upcoming issues of the OEM/System Integrator, which will appear in the July and November editions of Flow Control magazine. Stay tuned.
Matt Migliore is the director of content for Flow Control magazine and FlowControlNetwork.com. He has covered technology and industry for 12-plus years. Matt can be reached at 610 828-1711 or Matt@GrandViewMedia.com.